Combating Operator Assaults with Crowdsourced Incident Reporting

February 22, 2024

Having the driver’s back by locating and addressing aggressive behavior before attacks take place.

Combating Operator Assaults Through Early Awareness

Transportation authorities have an opportunity to reduce the number of attacks on workers through an early detection system that leverages the traveling public. Attacks on transit workers are usually preceded by strong indicators that things are about to get real from an aggressive predator. Capturing these pre-assaultive indicators before attacks take place is key in reducing attacks.

ELERTS See Say® Communication Platform leverages the traveling public to report aggressive behavior before attacks take place. Through crowdsourcing reports of potential violence, coupled with photos, geolocation, and identification of nearby CCTV cameras, control centers can immediately observe troublesome behavior. This advantage allows first responders to arrive on scene faster, and with the critical information they need to prevent attacks and keep drivers safe.

Across the United States, transportation workers are now experiencing an unprecedented number of attacks. Daily, news headlines are reporting on transportation workers being stabbed, spit on, punched, and kicked.

  • New Jersey transportation workers reported 183 assaults in 2021.Triple the yearly norm.
  • Chicago Transit Authority reported 300 incidents of attacks and assaults on bus drivers alone.

These numbers, while shocking, are likely just a fraction of the real story. It is well-known that operator assaults are under-reported, according to the Transit Advisory Committee for Safety (TRACS), under FTA order to make recommendations on how to prevent and mitigate transit worker assaults.

“When Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) installed cameras on its buses, the agency detected many assaults that were unreported; bus operators later acknowledged that these incidents were so routine that they simply did not report them.”

The TRACS report further stated, “Lack of agency response to assaults can cause employees to feel that assaults are a routine part of the job, leading to additional under-reporting as well as low morale, high rates of absenteeism, and difficulty attracting and retaining staff.”

Some of these disputes are over fares, some are racially motivated, and some involve emotionally disturbed individuals. Regardless of the motivation, more needs to be done to stop these attacks. Current efforts to stem the flow of attacks by installing plexiglass cages around drivers are not enough and convey a concerning message to riders about the safety of the vehicle in general.

Obstacles to Early Reporting

Unmonitored cameras that simply record infrastructure and on-bus activity are useful in piecing together incidents after they occur, but cannot prevent violent acts. Driver-initiated panic buttons that flash messages outside the bus, such as ‘Call Police 9-1-1,’ imply the driver is in distress and unable to call police themselves. Such panic buttons do not initiate a response until the distress message is spotted and acted upon.

According to the FCC, antiquated systems like 9-1-1 phone calls that do not provide geolocation, have been attributed to the death of  10,000 mobile phone callers a year, due to inability to locate callers.

Beyond technical limitations is a hesitancy for passengers to place emergency calls. Why? There are several reasons:

  • First, they are in transit and moving from location to location to get to their destination. Everyone is in a hurry.
  • Second, is the mantra that calling 9-1-1 is for true emergencies only, and when the event being observed hasn’t reached that clearly defined threshold — people question if they should call.
  • Third, calling 9-1-1 and speaking with a police officer on a recorded line makes people feel more “in it,” more involved than they want to be.

Losing the Initiative

Uncertainty on when to call 9-1-1 causes bystanders to hesitate. They hope the situation deescalates and does not turn violent. They hope for someone to take control and intervene. But hope is an ineffective hedge against violence. While passengers are hesitating, and hoping — command centers are losing precious time that they could be intervening and preventing.

Discretion is Essential

Another obstacle in early reporting on existing platforms is the reporter’s safety. In transportation environments passengers are in close proximity to one another. Which also places them in proximity to bad actors. Placing an emergency call, while close to a potential attacker places the caller in danger.

Riders want the ability to safely and discreetly report issues without placing themselves in harm’s way. To protect riders, ELERTS disables the camera flash on mobile phones allowing people to discreetly submit valuable photos without attracting unwanted attention.

Make it Easy to Report

Many passengers are preoccupied with their mobile phone while in transit. Why not meet the riders where they already are — on their device? Why not allow riders to report a concern the way they want to, by using a mobile app, texting, scanning a QR code, or from within the fare payment app they already use on their phone?

The ability to submit a report without speaking and alerting an aggressive individual — encourages reporting. It could mean the difference between deciding to report or ignoring a potential threat to safety.

Decision Making Process

When it comes to decision making models and reacting to a stimulus, those in aviation, law enforcement, and the military are familiar with Boyd’s Loop or OODA.

  • Observe
  • Orient
  • Decide
  • Act

The key to responding in stressful situations is reaching the ‘Act’ phase quickly. We also know that during times of stress there is a reduction in motor skills and processing multiple information inputs becomes difficult. Thus, a robust, yet simplified approach to reporting on pre-assaultive behaviors must be embraced.


Awareness is everything. But police can’t see everything on their own. The territory of a transit system is too vast. A crowdsourcing communication platform that leverages the observations of the traveling public, rapidly delivers two-way communication, transmits media and geolocation information, is the ideal solution to layer onto your existing security ecosystem. If you provide it (See Say), riders will use it.


In 24 seconds, the time it takes to place an emergency call and begin informing a dispatcher of the nature of your emergency and your name, a message can be covertly delivered to the same dispatcher that contains exact location, photos or videos, and a brief description, including vehicle identifiers.

Two Way Communication and Geolocation

Facilitating communications in both directions is critical. It allows control centers to gather more information as events unfold and also lets the reporter know that information is being received by authorities and help is on the way. Relying on individuals, while in transit, to provide locations in unfamiliar territory can be challenging. Providing a platform that geolocates as soon as a message is transmitted, not only cuts down the lag time in response, but gives responders a more accurate location plotted on a digital map, to assist them in rapidly responding to emergencies, such as operator assaults in progress.

Photos and Videos Paint a More Accurate Picture

Eye witness descriptions are inconsistent, but a picture tells a thousand words and video of a subject displaying aggressive behavior, in a first responder’s hands, prior to an incident is priceless. In  75% of DNA exonerated cases, faulty eyewitness testimonies have been implicated. Responders are better equipped to deal with situations when they have a clear picture of what is transpiring while they are responding to calls.

Real Time Eyes on the Objective

When nearby surveillance cameras are identified early –while an event is active– they provide actionable information to responders. But in a network of hundreds or thousands of cameras how do operators find the closest camera? Or the nearest DOT camera? With ELERTS Attention Engine technology, the proverbial ‘needle in the haystack’ of cameras is immediately revealed to the dispatcher. Whether it’s a terminal, a roadway, a train, or a bus, if there is a camera nearby Attention Engine can show that valuable resource to a dispatcher.

Stopping an Assault Beats Recording an Assault

When a situational awareness technology properly integrates into existing systems, transportation authorities can move from reactive to proactive. Cameras that have historically been used to piece together incidents in the aftermath, become tools to prevent operator assaults.

Contactless Mitigation

Once a control center has visibility on an incident, via surveillance cameras, more options for mitigation become available. With a nationwide shortage of transportation employees, it’s good to know that not all incidents require a human response.

With visuals on a situation, operators can communicate with bad actors via public address system. Verbal commands via speaker lets people know that not only are their actions being observed, but if needed, police are responding. ELERTS ‘Voice from Above’ shines a light on code of conduct violations and brings contactless resolution. By reducing the need for a physical response, unnecessary risk of an altercation with an employee is eliminated and responders can be deployed to areas where their presence is needed.

How it Works

1. A rider notices an individual behaving aggressively towards a driver and immediately sends a report, using a mobile app, QR code, or from within their See Say-enabled fare payment app.

2. Report is transmitted to the console, complete with location of incident plotted on a map, and photographs of the activity. Two-way communication is established with the passenger reporting the issue. This ensures the rider that help is on the way, and allows for follow-up information for responders.

3. ELERTS Attention Engine locates and identifies the nearest camera, allowing control centers to rapidly get ‘eyes on’ the situation. Simultaneously, nearby public- address systems are identified and can be used to mitigate lower-level, code of conduct infractions.


Solving complex issues like assaults on drivers requires a multi-pronged preventive approach. By leveraging the observations of the public, locating incidents and accessing real-time visuals of events, transportation authorities can provide a safer environment for transit employees and the traveling public. To facilitate a timely response when drivers need help, leveraging the public is essential.

By providing a discreet reporting platform, ELERTS See Say® enables riders to notify authorities sooner and responders can intervene to prevent attacks. To bridge the current intelligence gap, authorities need to leverage what riders are seeing and to use modern, available technology that complements existing systems and provides a cost-effective means of reducing assaults on drivers.

Awareness is everything.

For more information on ELERTS crowdsourced incident reporting solutions or to see a demo, visit

Contact Information

  • 877-256-1971

When riders have their driver’s back,
public transportation is safer for all.


  1. Ticking time-bomb’: Lag in protections for transit workers could hamper hiring and system upgrade
  2. Over 300 CTA bus drivers attacked, assaulted so far this year, transit union says
  3. Preventing and Mitigating Transit Worker Assaults in the Bus and Rail Transit Industry
  4. Dying on the Line
  5. Boyd’s O.O.D.A. Loop and how we use it
  6. Eyewitness Testimony and Memory Biases

Awareness is everything.

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