Community rally calls on increased safety measures aboard CATS buses

The transit system has dealt with a recent rash of violence.
Bus operators said more needs to be done to protect drivers so they don't have to worry about protecting themselves.
Published: Jun. 9, 2023 at 7:36 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Nearly three weeks after a shootout on a CATS bus, operators and the community will rally to call on increased security measures.

“It’s to bring awareness as we have always tried to do, mostly to just sort of feel solidarity for brother David right now at this moment, and we also are wanting to show the commuters that we are still fighting,” Nichel Dunlap-Thompson said. “We’re trying to create a narrative to where Brent Cagle (Interim CATS CEO) can understand that this is a life and death matter.”

Dunlap-Thompson is a former bus operator and now community advocate. She and drivers will rally Saturday at noon at 1940 Donald Ross Road.

“Having this rally after their union meeting, and what we planned on, we’re going to have moments of prayer. We’re also going to have conversations about what the community is thinking,” she said.

Last month, a shootout in front of Charlotte Premium Outlets between driver David Fullard and rider Omarri Tobias was caught on bus surveillance camera. Officials say Fullard got into a shootout after Tobias pulled a gun because he was not allowed to get off until they’d reach a designated bus stop.

“He needs an award, he doesn’t need to be fired,” Dunlap-Thompson said. “He doesn’t need to be charged. He saved the lives of those operators. What went through my head is if a commuter comes onto the bus that has a gun, my prayers that David will be driving.”

Fullard was fired.

Omarri Tobias is charged in connection with the May 18 shooting on a CATS bus.
Omarri Tobias is charged in connection with the May 18 shooting on a CATS bus.(Source: Mecklenburg County Jail)

In a statement, his attorney said, “We continue to be eager to shed light on the various issues related to the violent circumstances that CATS drivers have experienced over the years. These drivers remain committed to their duties as public servants. However, they also remain committed to pursuing a safe workplace for current and future CATS system drivers. In addition, these committed workers hope that their continued efforts will initiate a national call for workplace safety for all who find themselves frequently exposed to dangerous circumstances in the workplace.”

Dunlap-Thompson said the conversation is greater than just one area of Charlotte.

“If this happened on 51 or one of those Express that goes out to Mint Hill, Matthews or Huntersville, I guarantee you the conversations would be much different than what they are now,” she said. “So we’re not going to continue to allow you to put our people at a disadvantage by not implementing safety measures that you know will protect our lives as we go back and forth from work, as we try to keep our families and our communities in a stabilize position and this unpredictable economic climate.”

CATS also released a statement Friday saying they “remain committed to safety,” and highlighted security measures onboard buses. CATS says all buses are equipped with:

  • Driver shields/protective barriers that, when engaged, separate the bus operator from the passenger
  • Video system
  • GPS system that provides real time bus location
  • Train and Wayside communications that allows the Rail Control Center to track trains on the alignment
  • Various radio systems allowing contact with the Bus or Rail Operation Control Centers.

“We can share that our safety team accelerated the contract start of a new security firm to have unarmed guards ride on CATS buses. Training was completed with those security team members, and they started riding buses this past Monday (June 5),” the transit system said in the statement. “Guards ride various bus routes to support the bus driver so they have fewer distractions while operating the bus, provide customer service support to passengers, assist in de-escalating situations, act as a uniform deterrent, and observe and report any activity deemed criminal in nature or a violation of our Rider Rules of Conduct.”

CATS also says they continue “to work with our partners at CMPD who have officers assigned to CATS.”

Dunlap-Thompson said Saturday’s rally will also a have a moment of prayer and time for the community to talk about solutions. The rally also comes a year after driver Ethan Rivera was killed on the job in uptown Charlotte.

“Until we can see some measures being applied until we can see the more relevant operators shifting for the better until we can see people wanting to be a part of the Charlotte Area Transit System without the threat of having their life taken from them before they clock out at night,” Dunlap-Thompson said. “We’re going to continue to rally we’re going to continue to converse.”

Related: GRAPHIC: Video of CATS bus shooting released