TAMPA, Fla. - HART drivers now have an extra layer of security as they transport people around the county.
All Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority buses will all be equipped with safety shields - clear barriers between drivers and passengers.
The shields are part of an ongoing effort to ensure the safety of drivers after a passenger allegedly stabbed a driver to death earlier this year.
That driver was Thomas Dunn. Just months before his death, he made an appearance at a Hillsborough Transit Authority meeting, expressing concerns that there wasn't enough protection for drivers.
"I was just sitting in my seat, and I get a face full of spit in my eye. Then the young lady decides she's going to try to break my arm on the way out and try to draw blood on my arm," said Dunn during the December 2018 meeting.
Five months later, Dunn was killed while driving his HART bus. He was stabbed to death by a crazed passenger onboard.
"Not one driver can say 'Oh, I’ve never had an encounter with an erratic passenger or patron.' We all go through it on a day to day basis," said Tunishia Jordan, a HART bus operator.
Dunn's death spurred action. After months of advocating for change, bus operators finally got their wish on Thursday.
"We are reminding the public that it is against the law to threaten or assault transit operators," said Ben Limmer, HART's CEO.
That reminder will now be permanent with the addition of HART's new safety shields. The shields are made of tempered glass that protects the driver while behind the wheel.
"Each safety shield is equipped with an interior latch which operators can slide lock while sitting in their seat," said Limmer.
Over the coming weeks, shields will be placed in all HART buses, giving drivers an extra layer of safety and security.
"This right here says a lot, and it’s going to do a lot to ensure that we are protected on a day to day basis," said Jordan.
It's a change that Dunn fought for and ultimately helped achieve.
"His coworkers are safe, they got his point across," said Dunn.
The new shields cost the company $1 million in federal grant money and will be installed in all of HART's buses and vans.
In addition to the new shields, HART has partnered with local authorities to help train their drivers in de-escalation and situational awareness techniques. These changes are all a part of HART's 'Ride with Respect' awareness campaign.