During a conference call with the media on Wednesday, Transit Workers Union (TWU) Local 100 President John Samuelsen wanted to remind reporters, and New Yorkers in general, that assaults on bus operators, and those who operate any public transportation, aren’t a new phenomenon.
Speaking with reporters about union negotiations with the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), Samuelsen felt he needed to tackle the issue that’s making the rounds in New York media.
“The media seems to think that it’s an oddity that bus drivers are assaulted,” said Samuelsen. “We’ve averaged three or four assaults on bus operators a week and about 200 assaults a year for the past couple of years. We’ve averaged a lot for three decades now.”
Samuelsen said that the number of assaults has increased since the MTA engaged in service cuts in 2010.
“It’s a quiet epidemic,” he said.
There have been several assaults on bus operators in the past two weeks, including one in Brooklyn that involved a 50-year-old passenger stabbing driver Mark Salandy in the shoulder with a syringe as he operated the B68 bus in Windsor Terrace.
According to statistics provided by TWU, as of June 2012, there were 129 assaults committed on its members, including 35 in the Bronx division and 32 in the Brooklyn division. Overall, 8,876 days were lost to assaults either due to injuries or illness. “And that’s only reported assaults,” Samuelsen said. “Some drivers don’t report their assaults and just go home and shake it off.”
But Samuelsen also said that there’s a problem with the New York Police Department (NYPD) not classifying incidents as assaults.
“Last week, a female bus operator in Brooklyn was assisting a wheelchair-bound customer at the rear of the bus,” said Samuelsen. “A customer became impatient and angry [while waiting to get on the bus] and tried to enter the bus, but couldn’t. The customer slammed our operator in the back of the head with the door of the bus and ran away. She had to go to the hospital, but the cops didn’t classify it or record it as an assault. So at the end of the year, it won’t show up on the record.”
The union president also accused the MTA of being slow in providing partitions that would protect bus operators from potential assaults. Samuelsen said that he wants a police presence on each bus to curb potential assaults. He also thinks that the plight of his members would be a lot different if they belonged to another group.
“If it were three or four cops or legislators being assaulted a week, there would’ve been a bigger outcry,” Samuelsen said.