Forestville, MD --- A Metro Bus operator was assaulted by a fare-evading passenger who threw hot soup on him while exiting the 96 bus near Union Station on Sunday morning. The operator was taken to the hospital where he was treated for minor injuries, including first degree burns, and was released.
At a time that the WMATA board is considering fare hikes, drastic service cuts and devastating layoffs, the priority of Metro leadership should be increasing police presence to promote safety and fight fare evasion. Additionally, the Board should be committed to improving the reliability of service, not cutting it.
According to Metro, 58% of all transit workers will report at least one assault incident in their time working for the Authority. Of those, 40% will report more than five incidents in their work tenure. To address this problem, many of Metro’s newest buses, including the bus where Sunday’s incident occurred, include Plexiglass shields intended to minimize assaults, but because of the shield’s poor design and open gaps, the shield failed to protect the operator from the hot soup on Sunday morning. The union believes that without proper design, the implementation of bus shields serves little purpose in protecting operators.
President Jackie L. Jeter addressed the poor design of the shields at an assault symposium with Metro leaders earlier this year. Jeter shared that the union supports using bus shields, but workers were not a part of the process of designing them, so potential problems that operators would know best were not addressed. This hot soup incident is a reminder of the shield’s design problems and the failure of Metro to engage its employees in such an important undertaking.
In a written statement yesterday, Metro was quick to cite that, even with this incident, there were 10 fewer reported assaults this year than the 72 in 2015 by this time. The numbers Metro cites neither account for the many unreported incidents or acknowledge that there is still much work to be done to protect assaults on transit workers by fare-evading passengers.
ATU Local 689, along with our sister union IBT Local 922, who represent bus operators at the Landover bus garage, will continue to serve as a partner to Metro in improving the safety of operators, but Metro must do much more to protect its front line employees. Whenever an operator is in danger, every rider on that vehicle is in danger, as well. It is Metro’s responsibility to do all that it can to protect both operators and riders and we look forward to Metro instituting a procedure to address this epidemic immediately.