Bus drivers from across the country testified before members of Congress Wednesday in Washington DC, sharing stories about how they’ve suffered violent attacks while on the job, and asking lawmakers to support of a new bill designed to protect passengers and drivers.
The Bus Operator and Pedestrian Protection Act, co-sponsored by Democratic congressman Ro Khanna from California’s 17th District, Democratic congresswoman Grace Napolitano from California’s 32nd district, and Republican John Katko of New York’s 24th congressional district, would require installation of protective shields, training to de-escalation violent situations, and compel transit agencies to track and report the number of assaults and violent incidents against drivers to the Department of Transportation.
Napolitano said just as pilots are protected in the cockpit, bus operators should also feel safe on the job as they transport thousands of passengers.
“It also has a major safety impact to passengers and motorists as well as pedestrians…as they assaults occur often while the bus is moving,” Napolitano said.
In February, NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit first exposed the extent of the violence against drivers. NBC Bay Area requested data from all the major transit agencies including VTA, BART, Muni and learned AC Transit drivers suffer the most reported attacks with drivers beaten, choked, and even threatened with guns facing weapons, at a rate much higher than the agency or the public knew about.
“There are major news stories every day of bus drivers being beaten,” Napolitano said.
Drivers told NBC Bay Area they do not feel safe in their jobs and that they fear a driver will be killed if drastic action is not taken soon.
After NBC Bay Area’s first report aired in February, AC Transit announced it would install driver shields this summer for a test run. Four months later, drivers are still waiting.
Drivers also expressed concerns to the Investigative Unit that they do not have a direct line to police or 911 when an assault is underway. Instead they have to call dispatch for help and wait for those operators to relay the information to law enforcement. AC Transit said that system allows the district to locate the bus and operator quickly and efficiently.
The proposed law comes in response to serious attacks on transit operators nationwide. Napolitano, whose district includes the LA Metro bus district, said that agency records roughly 130 assaults against drivers each year.
“We must do everything we can to stop assaults on bus drivers,” Napolitano said. “They’re our friends they’re our neighbors, our sisters, our brothers and we should protect them.”
The bill would also require transit districts to come up with a risk assessment plan in the next two years, including a plan for how to track assault data and report those numbers to the Department of Transportation.
It will cost an estimated $25 million a year for five years to implement. The congresswoman urged transit operators across the country to call their lawmakers and share their personal stories if they’ve been assaulted on the job.
“Talk to your representatives. Make them understand how vital this is the assault on bus drivers is a growing problem.”