Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
October 30, 2014

Assaults on Public Transit Bus Drivers Prompt DOT Summit

This week, with the FAA’s ban on flights to Tel Aviv and with another plane crash Thursday, this one over Mali, it’s been hard to avoid thinking about transportation risks.

Ground-based transport can be hazardous too, as a driver on a Washington, D.C., bus learned this week when a passenger slashed him across the face in a dispute over paying a fare.

The Washington Post reported that a suspect, Ezekiel Conway Jr., 65, was arrested and charged with assault with a deadly weapon. The attack took place in one of Washington’s middle-class neighborhoods, Tenleytown, near a Whole Foods Store and a Starbucks.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority said there were 52 attacks on bus drivers in its system in 2012, 46 in 2013 and 36 so far this year.

In New York City, there were 167 assaults on bus operators in 2012 and 168 in 2013.

Customers attacking public transit bus drivers has become a pressing enough issue that two weeks ago the Department of Transportation convened a roundtable discussion with bus operators, transit agency managers, law enforcement officials, union leaders, and vehicle manufacturers on how best to prevent the assaults.

One of those who spoke at that meeting was John Samuelsen, the president of Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union of America, which represents 38,000 bus drivers, train operators, token booth clerks, and others in New York City’s massive public transit infrastructure.

“I believe we have turned the corner in New York toward the reduction of the assaults against bus operators,” Samuelsen told The Container this week.

In the contract signed in April, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority agreed to install partitions on all buses within two and half years to protect drivers from customers.

It will cost about $1,300 a bus to retrofit each bus with a protective partition. But, Samuelsen said, “That’s peanuts compared to the workers’ compensation costs that the MTA is paying out and the lost time” when a driver is attacked.

Under the contract, each bus will also have a DNA kit so drivers can collect evidence from passengers who spit on them. They can turn the saliva evidence over to the police to run through a DNA database, allowing at least some of the assailants to be arrested.

“Once the first couple of arrests are made, it will act as a deterrent against people who take out their anger on our operators,” he said.

The union worked to have legislation introduced in the state legislature that would require partitions to be installed in every New York City transit bus. (Local 100’s contract doesn’t cover all five boroughs of the city.) The legislature passed the bill and now it’s up to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to either sign or veto it.

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