News that Stagecoach North Scotland driver Keith Rollinson died after an alleged assault in Elgin bus station last week has shaken the industry, and many people outside it. A man losing his life while doing his job.
Events surrounding the tragedy are not yet clear. But antisocial behaviour towards bus staff has been on an uptick for a decade, Unite the union says. Some operators even issue ‘spit kits’, and at least three individuals in the West Midlands have been jailed for spitting at bus drivers.
Google turns up numerous local news reports of comparable offences in other areas. Multiple buses are lost each year to arson. In Walsall, a route has suffered such sustained vandalism that it barely runs beyond 1530hrs to mitigate a chronic problem with broken windows.
Keith Rollinson’s death has garnered significant national media attention. A GoFundMe page set up to support his bereaved family by Stagecoach colleague Kirsty Robson drew around 1,600 donations and over £25,000 in less than two days.
The terrible incident has also fostered significant cross-industry solidarity. Could Elgin be a catalyst for antisocial behaviour towards transport staff to be treated as seriously as it should be? That will remain to be seen, and challenged budgets among public agencies will no doubt be a factor.
To its credit, Unite – of which Mr Rollinson was a member – says it will move heaven and earth to gain improved legal protection for transport workers against abuse, assault, and threats. The bus industry has no excuse not to stand fully behind that work.
Law and order is the responsibility of neither operators nor Unite. But lobbying and education is. The message that enough is enough, and that change is required, must go far and wide. Drivers and other staff have a right to feel safe when at work. Such an assurance has gone missing in some cases, and it manifested itself in Moray on 2 February.
The bus sector has worked hard to tackle antisocial behaviour before. It must do so again, and quickly. There can be no repeat of the terrible events that claimed Keith Rollinson’s life. Achieving the necessary change will require effort from everyone within the industry.