Bus drivers are under attack and lives are being put at risk by a group of violent hooligans in the Rutherford area, according to the Transport Workers’ Union.
Hunter Valley Buses has refused to service two stops in West Mall until further notice out of fear from the evening attacks.
The union claims the group of kids, believed to be aged between 10 and 16, have thrown rocks at buses and drivers, played “chicken” by leaping out from behind parked cars, and climbed the back of the bus to ride it.
One driver was even hit by rocks when he got off to warn another driver about the group.
But the most concerning, according to Transport Workers’ Union Newcastle and Northern Sub Branch secretary Mick Forbes, is that kids are running alongside the moving bus and pulling a safety feature on the side panel which opens the doors and triggers the brakes.
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“If they trip and fall under the bus, it would be disastrous,” Mr Forbes said. “It could happen so easily.
“Could you imagine the trauma to the driver, the passengers, the kid’s parents and emergency services all for a silly prank?
“At the least it’s abuse and at the worst it is legitimately life-threatening.
“The drivers are terrified, they’re really freaked out by it.”
Mr Forbes said the bus company had deployed security to help protect drivers and the public from the senseless behaviour.
He said drivers were seriously considering boycotting the whole loop, but hoped the security would help fix the problem before it came to that.
Maitland police are also aware of the issue and said they treat the matters “very seriously”.
“It is so dangerous,” Maitland police officer in charge Chief Inspector Glenn Blain said.
Police said there were a number of possible actions that could be used in response, including increased patrols and targeting known offenders.
But Mr Forbes said it was not an isolated incident. He claimed drivers in all different areas had to deal with violence and abuse and said the problems at Rutherford were ongoing since October last year.
“There needs to be stronger penalties for attacking bus drivers,” Mr Forbes said. “And they need to be given better training to deal with this.
“Something has to give and it can’t be the drivers’ safety.”