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'We drive and we want to survive' | CATS bus drivers continue to call for safer work conditions

At a Saturday gathering, a group of supporters and advocates demanded meaningful, concrete changes.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Safety and dangerous workplace conditions continue to be a concern for Charlotte Area Transit Service (CATS) employees.

Bus drivers planned to have a full-on rally Saturday afternoon to make their voices heard on the issues but there was a change in plans. It was postponed because of logistics. 

However, it did not stop local activists and supporters from speaking up at a smaller gathering and demanding action when it comes to bus driver safety.

The bus drivers who were there wore blue shirts with the words “We drive and we want to survive” printed on the front. On the back: #busdriverslivesmatter. They stood behind supporters who spoke out on the issues and made no public comments.

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“There was an incident that regardless of the outcome, a loss of a job or a potential loss of a life were the only options,” said former CATS bus driver Nichel Dunlap. “I believe that as a city we can give bus operators more than just an option.”

Calls for safety heightened following a shootout between a passenger and a bus driver on May 18. CMPD said a passenger, identified as Omarri Tobias, asked driver David Fullard to get off the bus in between stops. The bus driver refused, and then a verbal altercation turned into a full shootout on the bus.

Surveillance video shows Tobias pulling out a gun, followed by Fullard also taking out a weapon. Both men fired at each other. Tobias was arrested and faces several charges related to the shooting.

Attorney Ken Harris also spoke out Saturday. He has represented several CATS employees, including Mr. Fullard. He said safety has been an issue for years and not enough has been done to protect the bus drivers.

“These are public servants who are having to, unfortunately, have their lives on the line day in and day out to provide transportation for the members of this community,” said Harris.

Fullard lost his job with CATS  following the shooting. Per CATS policy, bus operators are not allowed to carry weapons while working.

“They just want to do their jobs and be able to get home safely,” said Harris. “Isn’t it time for the system to do what is necessary to protect and respect them?”

This is not the first time drivers faced violence on the job nor is it the first time they demanded for action to be taken. The shooting death of Ethan Rivera in February of 2022 led to several demonstrations by bus drivers.

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Bus drivers told WCNC Charlotte reporter Jesse Pierre they should not be dealing with conditions where their lives are at risk while doing their jobs, and that their demands are not being heard.

“It has also been said that the training that has been put forth for the bus operators to defend themselves have been ill-ministered,” said Dunlap. “You cannot give someone a broken wrench and tell them to build.”

Bus drivers and supporters said they will keep fighting until the proper measures are in place to protect the lives of those behind the wheel.

“What I will not do is continue to have these conversations fall on death's ear,” said Dunlap.

Supporters are also calling on riders to stand with bus drivers and make their voices heard on the issues.

Attorney Harris said they are seeing momentum in regard to an effort to address workplace violence nationally, which he sees as a step forward.

Meanwhile, interim CEO Brent Cagle and some city leaders have also spoken up about the safety concerns and said they are committed to stepping up security efforts and employee training to better protect drivers. There are also plans to invest in upgrading and replacement of cameras and mobile video systems.

A larger rally is expected to take place in the future. No date has been set.

Contact Jesse Pierre at jpierrepet@wcnc.com or follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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