On Monday morning, three young men boarded a 30-Stockton bus in Chinatown and demanded free transfers from the operator. When they didn’t receive the passes, they allegedly beat the driver repeatedly with a skateboard.
Just another work day for The City’s transit operators.
Through April, there have been 35 assault cases this year against Muni’s transit operators. That averages out to about one every 3½ days. And the union that represents these workers says that violence and hostility against drivers are on the rise now that they are engaged in contentious labor talks with management.
Assaults against operators have steadily risen this year. In January and February, there were eight cases; in March, there were nine; and in April, 10. If the assaults continue at their current pace, Muni would end the year with 105 incidents — a 17 percent increase from last year’s total of 90.
“There has been a lot of negative information put out there about us by the media and management,” said Walter Scott, secretary-treasurer for the Transport Workers Union Local 250-A, which represents about 2,000 Muni operators. “And we’re starting to notice a real hostile reaction against our workers.”
This tally doesn’t yet count assaults from May, when talks began to heat up between the operators and management over a new contract for the union. The two sides have yet to come to an agreement, and the operators union has even threatened to strike if talks deteriorate.
“It does seem like recently more customers have been rude and downright aggressive with us,” said L.P., a 5-Fulton bus driver who declined to use his full name. “Customers take it out on us for every problem that Muni has.”
He said a Muni passenger recently berated him because he asked the man to move for a wheelchair-bound customer. The man started screaming and approached L.P., but other passengers stepped in to intervene before the situation escalated.
“There’s not a whole lot we can do,” he said. “We basically just sit and take it, and hope no one gets violent with us.”
Other operators interviewed Wednesday — who declined to be named — said passengers are now more prone to argue with them about issues like fare payment and late-running buses.
Muni spokesman Paul Rose noted that his agency partners with the Police Department on a special deployment to monitor crime on transit vehicles — including assaults against operators. The Police Department also deploys seven plainclothes officers who ride Muni, Rose said, and the agency’s transit-fare inspectors help deter crime.
Rose noted that the agency has suggested installing Plexiglas barriers around operators. But the union rejected the idea due to the glare that would have produced.