Last month in Marine Park, four teens were arrested for threatening a Brooklyn bus driver. The teens allegedly boarded the B82 bus through the back door to evade paying a fare, and after the bus operator asked them to board through the front, the teens threatened to shoot the driver. Thankfully these threats did not end in tragedy, but this story underscores the fact that transportation workers are constantly subjected to a high risk of injury and illness on the job. Despite the fact that assaulting a Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) worker was made a felony in 2002 by the state legislature, the problem has grown worse. The MTA reported a 20 percent increase in assaults on transportation workers in 2011, totaling 131 assaults between January 2011 and June 2011. A report by the Transportation Union Workers (TWU) Local 100 gives an even higher number, counting “320 passenger assaults on Bus Operators [alone] from January 2011 to October 2011.”
These are troubling figures and the Subcommittee on Workplace Safety is working to reduce the risk that transportation workers face on the job every day. In 2009, the Subcommittee on Workplace Safety issued a report on H1N1 highlighting that transportation workers are at high risk of contracting H1N1 and offered guidelines to help workers stay safe from disease. The Assembly passed the MTA Safety Data Recording Act in (A.5162A) that would require a detailed annual report on attacks, injuries and deaths in connection with MTA facilities and premises. The Subcommittee also facilitated implementation of a program that would install a glass partition between the driver and the passengers.
Along with adopting new legislation, we must ensure that federal and state regulations already on the books are being followed. The ever-shrinking MTA budget means workers are being stretched thinner and being pressured to “do more with less.” Regardless, the MTA must ensure that it complies with all relevant safety regulations, even in an era of belt-tightening.
Enforcement on the local level is also key in curbing the frequency of assaults on transit workers. The Brooklyn District Attorney's Office has assigned an Assistant District Attorney to specifically prosecute perpetrators of violence against bus drivers. This is a positive example of the power of local enforcement, and more local solutions are needed to help stop attacks on transit workers.
Whether in City Hall, the State Legislature or the U.S. Congress, all government officials have an obligation to help reduce the unacceptably high rates of assault on transit workers. The Subcommittee on Workplace Safety will do its part this year and continue to be a tireless advocate for the safety of New York’s transportation workers.