ATLANTA — One of the largest bus companies in North America is training its drivers to recognize when passengers may be victims of human trafficking.
Coach USA, which operates 25 bus lines across the country, has joined Busing on the Lookout, a national initiative to combat human trafficking. It began with drivers tied to Truckers Against Trafficking in 2009, and expanded to include bus services in 2018.
The initiative notes recent research citing abusers using buses as the primary mode of transportation to move nearly half of human trafficking victims.
Megabus, one of the companies lines, is a popular service for travelers in Atlanta, where the topic of human trafficking has been highlighted by local leaders amid security preps in the Super Bowl host city.
“Atlanta in particular is a big hub, so I’d especially be on high alert in Atlanta for this happening,” said Jason Louis, Coach USA’s Vice President of Security.
Louis told Channel 2 investigative reporter Nicole Carr that the company's five thousand employees began human trafficking recognition training in September. It will be refreshed annually.
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The company doesn’t want drivers playing police, but they do want them to recognize unusual interactions involving passengers, particularly men and young women. The drivers should then call a hotline for help with local law enforcement.
“Something might not look right,” Louis told Carr. “Something looks out of place. They (passengers) may not look right together. The male individual’s doing a lot of talking for them (victim), not allowing the female to talk, and just some of the signs to that nature to be on the lookout for.”
Drivers will carry wallet-sized cards with warning signs that include signs of branding or tattooing that’s often the trafficker’s name. The victim may not be carrying their own bus ticket or have a disheveled, scared look, the cards note.
Drivers are trained to ask questions like “Do you know the person who is picking you up?” and “ Do you feel safe with the person you’re traveling with?”
“We’re also working with the Department of Education and school districts to get our school bus drivers trained,” said Annie Sovcik , the Program Director for BOTL.
Travelers Carr spoke with on Tuesday said they were happy to hear about the initiative especially leading up to Atlanta welcoming tens of thousands of NFL fans.
“We might have this amount of people coming in, but X-amount of these people are being trafficked,” said Meredith White. “They need to actually look into that.That’s a good practice, I believe.”
“The drivers should be conscious of who’s boarding and looking into it,” said Paula Issac.
Coach USA said it will provide travel vouchers to victims who are essentially rescued through the initiative, so the victim can return home safely.
To learn more about the initiative, click here.