Decrying what they say is an “epidemic” of bus operator assaults on Metro, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 is demanding Metro implement a six-point plan to end the “open season” of rider assaults on transit workers.
Carroll Thomas, the union’s first vice president and chief safety officer, said attacks have crept up since Aug. 26, when a rider threw urine on an X2 bus operator.
Most recently, she said, someone threw kerosene cans at an operator on Oct. 4, someone pulled a knife on another operator on Oct. 3, and two operators were threatened with guns on Sept. 15 – a Metro spokesman said Metro police made arrests in the two October cases and that no one was injured in either case.
“These are just the incidents that make the news,” Thomas said on Oct. 5. “[Metro General Manager and Chief Executive Officer] Paul Wiedefeld’s response has been lazy, ineffective and tone deaf.”
The union is calling on Metro to protect its workers by:
* deploying uniformed police officers to buses focusing on lines with the most problems;
* relocating fare boxes;
* continuing to work with the union on getting the jurisdictions, starting with D.C., to raise penalties on transit assaults to felonies;
* coordinating with the Metropolitan Police Department and the surrounding jurisdictions to join Metro Transit Police in monitoring buses for fare evasion and crime;
* creating a post-incident structure that allows assaulted bus operators to receive paid administrative leave while the investigation is pending and to stop blaming the operators for the assault; and
* devising a campaign to encourage riders to pay their fares.
“We have other expectations of Metro that we know cannot be addressed immediately, but today we have outlined what we need right now,” Thomas said. “Paul Wiedefeld and the leadership at WMATA must stop failing the workers and riders of Metro and fully commit to protecting our health, safety, and well-being.”
Metro insists it is “neither practical, desirable, nor possible” to assign a police officer to monitor transactions between bus drivers and the more than 450,000 daily riders.
But Metro says it has taken several steps toward keeping bus operators safer and continues to support doing even more, Metro Spokesman Richard Jordan said in a statement emailed to the AFRO.
“Metro agrees with the union that nobody should be attacked for doing his or her job. As such, it says laws need to be strengthened to help protect bus operators and those laws should include increased penalties for anyone who assaults them.
“Metro, with the union, has also created a labor-management working group to beef up security for bus operators. That group will target several tasks, including modifying the design of protective safety shields, police deployment strategies, and policy changes to curb conflicts with passengers. “
Moreover, every bus is outfitted with an emergency alarm that lets the bus operator call for help. More than 530 buses, which represent more than a third of Metro’s fleet — now have safety shields acting as a barrier between the operator and passengers. Besides that, every bus has high-definition cameras that are always recording. Police patrols have been increased as well, including along the busy X2 route, Jordan said.