Metro union wants more action on bus driver safety

WASHINGTON — Detailing what it calls an “epidemic” of operator assaults, a union representing Metro workers announced on Thursday a list of action items it wants WMATA to address.

“What we’ve done is come up with some reasonable, responsible requests for WMATA to become proactive instead of reacting to the incidents that are out here,” said Amalgamated Transit Union international representative Anthony Garland.

Recent attacks on Metro bus drivers include an operator being threatened with a knife and others getting urine and cans thrown at them.

“It has been open season on transit workers at Metro,” said Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 Chief Safety Officer Carroll Thomas, who described attacks as an epidemic becoming more violent and more frequent. “Numbers are on the rise.”

A spokesman for the transit agency said many of the union suggestions already have been discussed and are being addressed.

“Together with Local 689, Metro recently established a labor-management working group to further enhance security for operators, including modifying the design of protective safety shields, police deployment strategies, and policy changes to reduce conflicts with passengers,” Dan Stessel said in an email. “Today, every bus is equipped with an emergency alarm system that allows the operator to call for help, and more than 530 buses — more than a third of the fleet — have been equipped with safety shields that provide a physical barrier between the operator and passengers.”

Stessel also said police patrols have been increased, including along the busy X2 bus route, which runs along H street from Northeast to Northwest.

A union suggestion to move fare boxes farther away from drivers would require an entirely new bus design, but Stessel said that Metro agreed at a meeting last week with union leadership to look at whether it was feasible.

Metro buses are equipped with high-definition cameras that assisted in the arrests of suspects in two bus operator assaults this week. One involved a man pulling a knife on a bus driver Tuesday morning. On Wednesday, a man threw an empty Sterno can at an operator who refused to let him board a bus with a gas-powered leaf blower.

Neither case involved injuries.

Later this month, the D.C. Council expects to hold a hearing on another union suggestion, detailed most recently on Thursday, to make assaults on transit felonies.

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