San Jose Bus Drivers Call for More Protection

21 Jun, 2022 Liz Carey


San Jose, CA ( – Bus drivers in San Jose are asking for more protections as assaults from spitting to physical attacks are on the increase.   

The drivers join the growing number of transit organizations calling for help as attacks against workers in public transportation grow.   

In San Jose, bus drivers and light rail operators say attacks – from spitting to threats to punches and sexual harassment – are common.   

"It happens to everybody," a VTA operator, who requested that their name be withheld to avoid retaliation, told the San José Spotlight. "If you're there long enough, you're guaranteed it's going to happen to you—it's absolutely horrible."  

Union officials for the Valley Transit Authority (VTA) in San Jose want the agency officials to take more steps to protect workers. While some steps have been taken, they said, not enough has been done as the problems have become more severe since the COVID-19 pandemic.   

"If we don't start protecting frontline workers, we'll never get ridership (back) because people don't feel safe on public vehicles," John Courtney, president and business agent of Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 265th that represents transit workers in the area said.   

According to VTA data, the agency has seen 10 operator assaults since February. Nationwide, attacks on operators has been a problem for years. In 2016, and ATU study on transit assaults found that more than three quarters of all operators said they feared for their safety and security on a daily basis. More than 68 percent said they believe many assaults go unreported because operators believe nothing will be done to protect them.   

A sub-committee between VTA and ATU works on implementing strategies to reduce assaults on operators. The committee has recommended operator barriers on all buses, which has been implemented on almost all of VTA’s bus fleet. Additionally, operators receive regular training and tools to de-escalate situations, and the VTA employs  sheriff’s patrol unit specifically to protect operators.   

Karen Philbrick, executive director of the Mineta Transportation Institute, said the presence of closed-circuit television cameras help prevent assaults, as would not having operators enforcing fares.   

On the other side of the country, officials with the Metropolitan Transit Authority and unions representing transit workers in New York City are asking state legislators to take action. They want the legislature to pass tougher laws that would make intentionally attacking or even harassing subway and bus crews a second-degree felony.   

Just this past week, officials said, three men attacked an MTA bus driver.   

Police said they are searching for three men who allegedly stabbed the bus driver after a confrontation with a rider who entered the bus through the rear door on June 6.   

Officials said the MTA driver was between stops when one of the three suspects asked to be allowed on board. The bus driver said the man could not get on between stops, but could get on at the next bus stop. Instead, as the bus was paused at an intersection, the man forced the rear door open, and then threatened, spit at and attacked the driver, stabbing him in the stomach and slashing his face, cutting him above the eye, officials said.   

Two additional men got on the bus during the attack and threatened the victim with a box cutter.   

The victim was taken to New York Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital in stable condition. He is expected to survive. The three men fled on foot, and police are searching for them.   

"We are working closely with investigators who are determining the facts of this incident," MTA Chief Safety and Security Officer Pat Warren said during a press conference. "Violence against transit employees or riders is never acceptable, which is why we worked so hard in Albany to pass a new assault protection bill."  

Just three weeks ago, transit workers rallied to demand that police patrols and other measures be implemented to protect drivers.   

The union said it was putting the MTA and its riders on notice.  

"What I'm saying is if we don't feel like we're getting the respect and the safety that we need, the city could shut down,"  TWU Local 100 Vice President J.P. Patafio told WABC Eyewitness News. "I'm telling you this, my members are going to act. They're gonna act. And they're going to act because they're frustrated. Buses aren't going to roll down the streets as if nothing is happening while operators are getting stabbed, spat at, cursed at and disrespected." 

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    About The Author

    • Liz Carey

      Liz Carey has worked as a writer, reporter and editor for nearly 25 years. First, as an investigative reporter for Gannett and later as the Vice President of a local Chamber of Commerce, Carey has covered everything from local government to the statehouse to the aerospace industry. Her work as a reporter, as well as her work in the community, have led her to become an advocate for the working poor, as well as the small business owner.

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