If you drive a VTA bus, sooner or later someone will spit on you.
“It happens to everyone,” a VTA operator told San Jose Spotlight. The worker requested anonymity to avoid retaliation. “If you’re there long enough, you’re guaranteed it’s going to happen to you – it’s absolutely horrific.”
Spitting, threats, punches and sexual harassment are part of the daily experience of VTA bus drivers and streetcar operators, according to workers and union officials who spoke to San Jose Spotlight. The South Bay Transit Agency has taken steps to protect workers from assault, but some believe VTA has failed to understand how serious the problem has become, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. .
“If we don’t start protecting frontline workers, we’ll never get passengers because people don’t feel safe in public vehicles,” said John Courtney, local president and business officer. 265 of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU). Jose Spotlight. The ATU represents the majority of VTA workers with over 1,500 members.
To underscore the urgent need for stronger protections, Courtney said some female operators have recently reported incidents of male passengers ejaculating on them.
A VTA driver told San Jose Spotlight she experienced a similar situation last year. The driver was nearing the end of a night shift when she noticed the last passenger on her bus masturbating in his seat. The driver, who requested anonymity to speak freely, said she had no barrier on her bus to protect her from attacks.
“I grabbed my bag and got out, I didn’t want to stay on the bus,” the driver said.
The driver said she contacted VTA and felt the agency was reluctant to call law enforcement. She claims the passenger got off his bus and disappeared before reinforcements could arrive. The driver said she tries to put these kinds of incidents behind her, but it’s hard to let go.
“I’ve seen things that would totally upset a person who’s never seen things like this,” she said. “There’s just no respect.”
According to VTA data, 10 attacks on operators have been reported since February, including four in March and April. VTA spokeswoman Sandra Bermudez said San Jose Spotlight operators have sought criminal prosecution in all cases. She did not specify how they identify the individuals who attack the operators.
“VTA is working aggressively with the district attorney’s office to prosecute those who assault our employees,” she said. “We are also seeking restraining orders to keep known violators away from our passengers and operators.”
Courtney says VTA could reduce assaults if it permanently bans passengers who attack operators. VTA did not respond to a question asking for information on whether the agency prohibits people who assault operators. Courtney also said the agency disciplines employees who physically defend themselves against attacks — a claim the agency denies.
Bermudez said VTA takes the issue of assaults on operators seriously.
“While the pandemic has exacerbated the challenges we have encountered with unruly passengers, we are actively addressing these issues,” she said.
VTA has struggled with low ridership since the start of the pandemic. That issue was compounded after the agency shut down its light rail service for several months following a mass shooting at the Guadalupe Rail Yard on May 26, 2021. Last year, the the agency projected that expenses would exceed revenues by $6.9 million in fiscal year 2022. This gap is expected to widen over the next decade to reach $47.5 million by 2031 .
VTA and ATU have a subcommittee that implements strategies to reduce assaults on operators. As an example, Bermudez said the committee recommended operator barriers on all buses, which has been done on 99% of VTA’s bus fleet. She added that operators receive regular training and tools to defuse situations and that VTA employs a sheriff’s transit patrol unit and a contracted security team, Allied Universal, to protect operators. The Sheriff’s website says his Transit Patrol Division is under contract with VTA to protect VTA employees and passengers.
The family of a worker killed in last year’s mass shooting recently sued VTA, the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office and Allied Universal for allegedly failing to keep workers safe.
Unreported Security Assaults
Operator safety is a national concern and many of the issues are not new. In 2016, the ATU released a survey of assaults on public transportation that used feedback from hundreds of workers from different transit agencies. According to the results, more than 75% of operators agreed or strongly agreed that they fear for their daily safety. Over 68% agreed with the statement that many assaults go unreported because operators believe nothing will be done.
Karen Philbrick, executive director of the Mineta Transportation Institute and columnist for San Jose Spotlight, said barriers and the presence of closed-circuit television cameras help prevent assaults. The fact that carriers are not responsible for enforcing tariffs also reduces the risk of physical attacks, she said.
Philbrick pointed out that spitting is one of the biggest problems for transit operators in general. Philbrick told San Jose Spotlight that she interviewed operators who hit and killed people with their vehicles who were more traumatized by being spat on by passengers.
“They felt it was so degrading to treat you like an animal, if you will,” Philbrick said. She added that around 50% of operators will have a traumatic incident at some point in their career, such as accidents or muggings.
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Copyright © 2022 by Bay City News, Inc. Republication, redistribution, or other reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.