Metro’s largest union is demanding the system to do more to protect bus operators from people who assault them on the job, and points to a rise in attacks they say have been ratcheting up since late August.
The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 is calling on Metro to beef up the Metro Police Force to protect workers and for all jurisdictions, starting with Washington, D.C., to make it a felony offense to assault workers. The union took the strong tack in a statement it issued last week, days after it alleged two Metrobus operators were threatened with firearms on Sept. 14.
“Transit assaults are at an epidemic level and Metro’s lazy response has put its employees and the riding public at risk,” the statement said. “It will no longer be tolerated by this union or the riding public.”
The union says assaults against MetroBus drivers have gone up ever since Aug. 26 when a passenger allegedly threw urine in a X2 bus driver’s face. The union claims a MetroBus operator has been spat on every day since then and that another bus driver was even kidnapped.
The union alleges one gun assault took place on the same bus line, which travels from downtown D.C. to Minnesota Avenue, NE. The other one happened against a bus driver for the G8 line, which travels along Rhode Island Avenue to the Maryland border, the union said.
Metro agrees nobody should be assaulted for doing his or her job and is working with the union to further protect bus operators, Sherri Ly, a Metro spokeswoman said in an email to the AFRO.
Metro Transit Police has assigned nearly 40 officers to Metrobuses that are embedded at the Shepherd Parkway and Northern bus divisions in Southwest and Northwest D.C., respectively. As well, more than a third of Metrobuses offer protective shields. All new buses come with the shields already installed, Ly said. Every bus also has digital cameras always recording and equipment that allows operators to call for help with the push of a button.
Meanwhile, Metro disputes the union’s version of the alleged assaults, Ly said.
One of the alleged gun incidents actually took place on the D8 bus line, not the G8 line, Ly said. Moreover, officials say it was an incident of road rage involving another motorist allegedly brandishing a weapon. D.C. police are investigating. The D8 travels from Massachusetts Avenue/Columbus Circle in Northeast D.C. – Union Station – to First Street, NW – National Rehabilitation Center.
As well, the X2bus operator wasn’t threatened with a gun and went on to tell police that he never saw a weapon, Ly said. In reality, the Metro Transit Police Department removed an individual from the bus at the end of the line and police recovered a gun after making contact with the person, who they later arrested, Ly said.
Finally, in the alleged kidnapping incident, an individual leaned on the safety shield, blocking the operating from exiting. That person was ultimately charged with simple assault, fare evasion, misdemeanor threats and disorderly conduct — but not kidnapping, Ly said.