Beheading Raises Bus Security Concerns

Industry has made little progress in passenger protection.

March 12, 2009, 4:57 PM

August 6, 2008— -- The beheading of a 22-year-old passenger on a Greyhound bus in Canada last week has sparked new questions about the lack of procedure to ensure bus security and safety.

The attack incited calls for tightened security on Canadian buses, but passenger screening remains limited even inside the United States.

"We ought to be able to figure out a way of telling if anybody is carrying a deadly weapon and just not allow them to get on buses," said Bruce Hamilton, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1700 and a Greyhound bus driver for 36 years.

But there was no such screening when Tim McLean boarded a bus in Winnipeg, Manitoba last week. Instead, while he sleeping was on board the bus traveling from Edmonton, Alberta, a fellow passenger, 40-year-old Vince Weiguang Li, allegedly stabbed and beheaded McLean with a large weapon, according to news reports. As Li walked up and down the aisle with McLean's head in hand, other passengers escaped, they told Canadian news outlets.

"The attacker was standing up right over top of the guy with a large hunting knife – a survival, Rambo knife – holding the guy and continually stabbing him, stabbing him, stabbing him in the chest area," passenger Garnet Caton told CBC Television. Li has since been charged with second-degree murder.

Greyhound spokesperson Abby Wambaugh said that while last week's incident is very tragic, it was an "isolated incident." And, she noted, since 2003, the company has invested $23 million -- more than two-thirds from a Transportation Security Administration grant -- instituting wanding and baggage checks in randomly chosen U.S. locations.

"The safety of our employees and customers is our biggest concern," Wambaugh said.

Still, she acknowledged, security is not an issue that's been solved.

While there is no agency that keeps track of attacks on buses, incidents continue to occur yearly aboard urban and intercity buses across the country. For instance, in June, a 19-year-old man was critically injured after being shot on a public bus in southeast Washington, and, in April, a 16-year-old was robbed at knifepoint riding a city bus in Birmingham.

Intercity bus companies have tried a variety of security measures, such as shields for drivers, which are now on Greyhound buses. And they are developing industry standards and discussing a list of initiatives to boost security, including closed-circuit televisions, security cameras, alert buttons, and live feeds that would allow officials to see inside a bus in the case of an emergency, said Lurae Stuart, a senior program manager for the American Public Transportation Association.

But, Hamilton said, bus security is still a "work in progress. We're still trying to figure out the best way to do it."

Bus industry experts say that the nature of bus travel poses security challenges. Intercity buses make numerous scheduled stops along any given route, making passenger and baggage screening like those required for air travel difficult, industry experts say.

And implementing many of the suggestions faces another major obstacle: a lack of funding, bus experts say.

"There's just not enough money from the current funding mechanisms to go around and address these issues," Stuart said. "This is a national issue, not just a big city issue."

Some of the biggest measures -- such as airport-style metal detectors at bus terminals and wanding each piece of baggage -- would take more resources than companies can afford on their own, said Eron Shosteck, a senior vice president for the American Bus Association.

Shosteck said the American Bus Association has been asking the Department of Homeland Security for funds for more than six years. While DHS has awarded nearly $11.2 million in grants to independent bus operators this year, he said, buses need $25 million for next year, according to Shosteck.

"They need to be doing more," Shosteck said.

Wambaugh, the Greyhound spokesperson, echoed that. "There is still much to be done with respect to significantly expanding our security program, but it requires more financial resources that cannot be addressed by the private sector alone."

ABC News contacted the DHS, but the agency has not yet provided comment.

Megan Chuchmach is a 2008 Carnegie Fellow at ABC News in New York. She recently graduated from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

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