A Muni driver waits as passengers board the 5R-Fulton Rapid bus at Market and Powell streets. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

City to teach de-escalation tactics to Muni drivers to reduce violent attacks

Muni operators have been spat on, pummeled, and in one harrowing tale told to the San Francisco Examiner, even stalked along a bus route by a man threatening murder.

While not police officers, transit fare inspectors and parking citation officers issuing tickets can also face violent situations from angry citizens who — perhaps understandably — are hot-headed over $100 tickets.

Recognizing this, The City is trying a new approach: It will train Muni operators and transportation ticket-writers in conflict de-escalation tactics, similar to techniques taught to San Francisco police.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors on Tuesday approved a $3 million contract with Chicago-based Moran Consulting Inc. and San Francisco-based DTUI.com LLC for customer service training and de-escalation tactics.

At the meeting, Candace Sue, director of communications at SFMTA, described the need for training for staff plainly: “Sometimes they feel unsafe.”

The training is part of ongoing Muni efforts to reduce assaults, which while still the leading cause of SFMTA employee injury, have been on the decline in recent years, the agency wrote in a staff report.

SFMTA statistics show reported assaults on operators peaked in 2015 at 771, but since 2016 that number has fallen. In 2017 the number of assaults on operators dropped to 532, the Examiner previously reported.

That’s due to several SFMTA strategies, like increasing staff in its command center, forming an “assault reduction task force” within SFMTA to keep employees safe, and designing new vehicles with plastic enclosures to protect operators from assault.

The de-escalation training may lead to even fewer assaults and injuries, Muni staff wrote.

Muni operators and their union, The Transport Workers Union Local 250-A, called for the training late last year, Sue told the SFMTA board.

Operators at the time told multiple news outlets, including the San Francisco Examiner, that they were frequently assaulted while driving buses or trains and showed photos of their injuries.

SEE RELATED: Muni operators tell assault stories, plead for safety

The trainers will not only teach de-escalation techniques but also “implicit bias” classes to address biases in the workplace and in interactions with the public, according to the SFMTA staff report.

SFMTA Board of Directors member Cheryl Brinkman said “we’ve heard a lot from operators, especially female operators” and making work safer may help the agency retain more women Muni operators.

The contract with Moran Consulting and DTUI.com allows for two extensions up to one-year each.

joe@sfexaminer.comTransit

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