SINGAPORE: On Sep 15, financial adviser Clement Tan was waiting at a bus stop in front of Block 201 Pasir Ris Drive 1, when a bus for service 21 pulled up in front of him.
The 29-year-old realised something was amiss – the bus remained stationary and passengers began alighting en masse. Mr Tan noticed then that there was a “conflict” between the driver and a passenger.
Separately, Muhammad Mu’tasim Kassim approached the bus because he was curious about the small crowd that had gathered outside.
“I saw someone verbally abusing the bus driver,” said the 25-year-old university student. “I called the police because he started shoving the bus captain around.”
He saw then that the passenger had started raining punches on the driver, and moved to subdue the man with Mr Tan and another passerby.
The three pulled the man out of the bus and pinned him to the ground while waiting for the police to arrive.
Mr Tan and Mr Mu’tasim said their respective experiences in National Service – as a commando in the armed forces and a police officer respectively – had helped them in restraining the man.
READ: Man charged with assaulting bus driver, SBS Transit says the accused boarded vehicle without mask
On Sep 17, Ja’afally Abdul Rahim, 52, was charged with voluntarily causing hurt to the driver, Mr Low Kok Weng.
He was also charged with possessing an offensive weapon – a knife with a 6cm blade and a 6cm handle – on the bus.
“I didn’t feel any fear, because I was pretty sure that he wasn’t carrying any weapon, so I just thought that he was maybe intoxicated. So I just focused on subduing the person,” said Mr Mu’tasim.
Mr Low is back at work, albeit having been temporarily deployed to another route as a precautionary measure, said SBS Transit’s acting chief executive officer Cheng Siak Kian. He described the bus driver as “very resilient”.
Mr Cheng said Mr Low had expressed interest in pursuing civil action against his alleged assailant, and that SBS Transit was providing him with any legal aid necessary in the matter.
For their efforts in protecting Mr Low, Mr Tan and Mr Mu’tasim were commended by SBS Transit on Friday (Sep 25) in a small ceremony at the Tampines bus interchange, where the two men were given a hamper and a certificate of appreciation.
“My parents were actually quite happy that I managed to help the community. My grandmother did chide me for trying to be a hero,” said Mr Mu’tasim, adding that he would not hesitate to assist should another similar situation arise.
“At the end of the day, you know, we’re just helping other people out.”
STRENGTHENING PROTECTION FOR DRIVERS
In an earlier statement, SBS Transit said the alleged assailant had boarded the bus without wearing a mask, putting one on only after he was in the vehicle.
He later hurled vulgarities at the driver, and attacked him by grabbing him at the neck and collar before the police arrived, SBS Transit said.
“This year alone, we have had close to 40 cases of public bus transport workers being assaulted – more than the 33 we had in the whole of 2019. Of the numbers to date, mask-related assaults accounted for about half,” said an SBS Transit spokesperson.
The episode showed the necessity of “adequate protection” for public transport workers, said Senior Minister of State for Transport Chee Hong Tat, adding that they have a duty to protect the health of all commuters by reminding them to wear masks.
“There are laws to protect our workers. It is a jailable offence. And I want to be clear about this, we are going to take a zero tolerance approach towards abuses against our transport workers,” he said.
In a Facebook post, National Transport Workers’ Union (NTWU) executive secretary Melvin Yong said NTWU was committed to working with the Land Transport Authority and public transport operators to strengthen protection for bus drivers.
In another post on Thursday, Mr Yong noted that transport operator SMRT will begin testing a plastic shield for its bus driver cabins.
The polycarbonate shield is 12mm thick and has a metal reinforcing arm to protect drivers to better protect drivers from someone throwing a punch, he said.
He added that the shield also had film to minimise glare, an issue that had been raised with other variants tested in 2018.
SBS Transit bus drivers are trained to de-escalate situations that could lead to altercations, said the firm’s CEO Mr Cheng, who said de-escalation was the “number one protection” for its employees.
A communications system on its buses allows drivers to relate such incidents to a control centre, which is then able to alert the police, he said, adding that the control centre is also able to view these incidents in real time through devices installed on its buses.
While SBS Transit is testing the use of protective shields on board its buses, these are meant more as a protection against the possibility of COVID-19 infection, said Mr Cheng.
The company is currently in discussions with suppliers on different materials that could be used for such shields, he said, adding that it is important that drivers be comfortable with their use, and that they should not impede their driving or safety.
Safety on board public transport ultimately requires both transportation providers and commuters to work together as a community, he said.
“It’s not just about the shields, it’s also about society,” he said.