A Muni bus driver looks in the mirror as passengers board along Market Street on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020. (Samantha Laurey/ Special to S.F. Examiner)

Violence against Asian and Pacific Islander Muni riders and operators increases

SFMTA launches educational campaign and beefs up security on vehicles

Muni buses are the latest sites of reported violence against Asian and Pacific Islander community members.

Last month, a 58-year-old woman was first verbally harassed and then eventually physically assaulted by a group of teenagers while riding the 38R-Geary, despite the best efforts of the driver to intervene, according to reporting from NBC Bay Area.

Tragically, incidents like this one are no longer rarities.

Reports of targeted violence and hate against Asian and Pacific Islander Muni riders have increased at an alarming rate over the last year, according to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, part of San Francisco’s own iteration of a nationwide trend of xenophobia and racism against these communities that wrongfully blames them for the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We take all incidents of hate and aggression very seriously, and we do not tolerate any such discriminatory act on Muni,” SFMTA spokesperson Erica Kato said in a statement. “Public transit is an essential service, and we are committed to making Muni safe and welcoming for all.”

Violence against Muni operators has also spiked, with Asian operators experiencing the sharpest uptick in targeted incidents against them.

From 2018 to 2020, the total number of reported operator assaults jumped from 72 to 94.

Over the same period, the number of these assaults against Asian operators increased from 22 to 38, marking a roughly 52 percent increase in just two years.

“We can infer that part of that is pandemic-related issues and fallout, but obviously, even pre-pandemic, we have a baseline of violence against our staff,” SFMTA Director Sharon Lai said at the board meeting on Tuesday, calling the numbers “very, very concerning.”

Working as a Muni operator has always been a dangerous job, but the pandemic has exacerbated the vulnerability of drivers as they’ve been forced to enforce mask mandates, manage cadres of stressed out riders and face their own fears of contracting the virus while on the job.

“It’s definitely sad that we have to even entertain this new wave of violence against Asian-Americans,” said Roger Marenco, who heads up Transport Workers Union Local 250A, which represents many Muni operators.

SFMTA will launch a coordinated effort with the San Francisco Police Department to deter this violence.

Additional police presence will be deployed on select lines, including the 30-Stockton, 45-Union and 38-Geary; more transit agency fare inspectors will be present to enhance deterrence on the 1-California, 9-San Bruno and 12-Folsom/Pacific; and the agency has asked the existing Street Violence Intervention Program out of Mayor London Breed’s office to bulk up its activities, such as a senior escort program, along affected transit lines.

SFPD did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Marenco agreed that more people are needed to monitor lines and other strategic locations where Asian and Pacific Islander riders or operators might be more at-risk, though he clarified that he’s open to security guards or other alternative enforcement roles as opposed to traditional police officers in order to be judicious around limited resources, time and money.

SFMTA plans to roll out an educational campaign, dubbed “Hate is a Virus,” that will include signage on Muni vehicles and direct the community to helpful resources in combating the pervasive violence.

“Reporting crime on Muni really is not easy, and I can only venture to guess that crimes against people of clor, women and the monolingual community are highly under-reported,” Lai said. “So I do have a concern about how we’re not able to track these incidences with a lot of accuracy.”

The goal of the Hate is a Virus campaign is to address that very problem, according to SFMTA. It seeks to spread awareness regarding the ongoing uptick as well as make tools more accessible for riders to learn how to report crimes, intervene safely, should they witness something while riding Muni, and support their Asian and Pacific Islander neighbors.


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A 30-Stockton Muni bus turns onto Chestnut Street from Divisadero Street in the Marina District on Monday, Dec. 7, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

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