‘We’re out of time’: Charlotte bus drivers pleading for changes after shootout

CHARLOTTE — A group of bus drivers in Charlotte are calling for changes to keep them safer on the job.

The event happened less than a month after a shootout between a bus driver and a passenger in Steele Creek.

Channel 9′s Crime Reporter Hunter Sáenz covered that shooting and got new information from the Charlotte Area Transit System about their safety measures.

There have been calls for a long time for CATS to enhance safety for both riders and drivers. CATS told Sáenz this week that a new team of unarmed guards are riding along on certain buses, but some operators want more to be done.

“I’m not certain how CATS is expecting their workers to show up every day without an assurance they’ll make it home,” said Nichel Dunlap-Thompson, a former CATS employee and current advocate for transit employees.

Dunlap-Thompson and other drivers will be holding a rally for bus operators at noon Saturday at the American Legion Post 262, calling for more action from CATS.

“I’m looking forward to elevating this conversation on a higher level since, clearly, the city is not listening to the words that are coming out of my mouth,” Dunlap-Thompson said.

Last month’s shooting near the Charlotte Premium Outlets isn’t the first time bus drivers have had to face shootings. The pleas for more safety measures follow multiple instances of dangerous and deadly situations on the job, like the Steele Creek incident and the killing of Ethan Rivera, a CATS driver and father of two.

While everyone survived the shootout in Steele Creek, Dunlap-Thompson says it never should have come to this.

“It is disheartening to hear that a company that I used to work for is not working for the operators,” she said.

Even those who ride the bus say they are worried about their safety.

Channel 9′s Erika Jackson spoke with Perri Payne. Payne said he takes a CATS bus to and from his job at the Charlotte Douglas Airport.

“Everybody has bad days but I keep an eye on my surroundings. I’m watching my back at all times,” Payne said.

Payne said he believes more needs to be done to protect everyone on board.

“It’s not just for the passengers. Everybody is a human being,” Payne told Channel 9.

CATS told Channel 9 that it signed a deal with a new security team to put unarmed guards on various buses this week. That move came after we found previous lapses on buses that were supposed to happen.

“It’s a step in the right direction as long as it’s executed quickly. We’re out of time,” Dunlap-Thompson said.

During Saturday’s rally, the drivers and supporters will be calling for additional protections, like metal detectors for passengers to go through and bulletproof partitions around drivers.

“These operators don’t understand why the company won’t place these safety measures, so they’ll be able to perform their job without the high level of stress,” Dunlap-Thompson explained.

CATS told Sáenz in a statement that the “safety of their operators and passengers is their top priority.” The transit system added it is launching a safety survey for operators as well.

(WATCH: Passenger went into ‘survival mode’ when gunfire erupted on CATS bus)

Hunter Sáenz

Hunter Sáenz, wsoctv.com

Hunter is a reporter for Channel 9.