Earlier this week a bus driver in Tampa, Florida was brutally stabbed by a rider he was trying to serve.
Driver Schnaider Prophete says he feels lucky to be alive after a passenger, enraged over an argument about bus fare, blinded him with mace then stabbed him with a box cutter.
The attack against Prophete is the second high-profile violent incident involving a bus driver in Tampa this year. In May, driver Thomas Dunn was murdered in an unprovoked attack while driving along his regular route.
It is absurd to think that a reasonable request – such as a bus driver asking a passenger to pay bus fare – would have such violent outcomes. Yet, bus drivers and transit workers across the country regularly face unexpected, unprovoked violence on the job.
Protecting transit workers and their passengers, and preventing such violent incidents, are why we, along with the Amalgamated Transit Union, the Transport Workers Union, and SMART-TD, are urging lawmakers to pass the Transit Worker and Pedestrian Protection Act (H.R. 1139/S. 436).
This common-sense legislation will require transit agencies, in cooperation with frontline employees, to develop risk reduction plans, and implement strategies — which may include de-escalation training or driver shields — to reduce assaults.
We know these mechanisms work. In communities where they have been implemented, assaults against transit operators have decreased substantially. However, as the incidents in Florida demonstrate, fighting this problem at the local level is not enough. In response to Dunn’s murder, the transit agency in Tampa was in the process of installing shields on buses, but Prophete’s bus was unprotected.
It is clear a comprehensive approach is needed to keep drivers safe. Congress has an obligation to protect our nation’s transit workers and the passengers they serve, and should do so by passing national legislation that will prevent these tragedies once and for all.