Unite the union has demanded more legal protection for transport staff after the death of Stagecoach North Scotland driver Keith Rollinson, 58, following an alleged assault in Elgin bus station.
A 15-year-old was arrested after the incident late on Friday 2 February. Mr Rollinson was taken to hospital, where he later died. The teenager has been charged in connection with Mr Rollinson’s death and was to appear at Elgin Sheriff’s Court on Monday 5 February.
Mr Rollinson was a Unite member, and General Secretary Sharon Graham says that the tragedy has “shaken our union to its core.” Threatening incidents have become “an intolerable occupational hazard for bus drivers on a daily basis” and more must be done to prevent them, she adds.
Unite has repeatedly called for legislation to be enacted that makes it a specific offence to assault, threaten, or abuse transport staff while at work. Ms Graham says that the union “will continue to do everything possible to ensure that proper measures are in place to protect workers.”
Unite Scottish Secretary Derek Thomson has called on the Scottish Government to help to deliver that change. He adds that “Unite will ensure that ministers introduce the necessary measures.”
Continues Mr Thomson: “We need legislation that provides stronger statutory protection for transport workers, which is fully enforced. Unite is committed to making this a reality in the interests of thousands of workers who urgently need protection.”
Unite has mounting evidence that transport staff, including bus and taxi drivers, are particularly vulnerable to assault and robbery, and that assaults and abuse directed towards bus drivers have increased “exponentially” over the past decade. Many who suffer such events are fearful about returning to work, the union adds.
Mr Rollinson’s colleague Kirsty Robson has created a GoFundMe page in his memory. Within 18 hours, it had raised over £16,000 from around 1,100 supporters, well ahead of the £10,000 target. Donations will go to Mr Rollinson’s family.
Stagecoach has expressed its shock at the incident involving Mr Rollinson and noted that it is working to support his family and colleagues. Local media sources showed police and a cordoned-off Stagecoach vehicle in Elgin bus station on the morning of Saturday 3 February, along with a large number of flowers that had been left by colleagues and well-wishers.
In 2020, Stagecoach South East adopted a zero-tolerance policy on abuse towards staff after a driver was left with a broken cheekbone following an assault. National Express West Midlands has issued drivers with ‘spit kits’, and work with the area’s Safer Travel team has seen the jailing of multiple individuals for spitting at the operator’s staff.
Specific legal protection of public transport workers already exists in some locations. In New York State, laws were toughened in 2022 to enable the charging individuals who intentionally injure public-facing transport staff with second-degree felony assault, which can draw up to seven years in prison. Bus drivers in New York State have had that protection since 2002.