Worries about safety on Metro buses have risen following a spike in attacks on drivers and concerns about whether radios and cameras on their vehicles work properly.
One recent afternoon, postmetrogirl rode several buses from Minnesota Avenue Metro station to hear what customers and Metro bus operators are saying along the U bus routes where some of the violence is happening.
On Tuesday afternoon, at the Minnesota Avenue station, one bus operator shared his thoughts while on a smoke break. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he had not been authorized by Metro to speak with the media.
“There used to be a certain respect you’d give a bus operator,” he said. ”But now [customers] just walk past you and they don’t want to pay.”
A bus supervisor, who asked that she not be named for the same reason, said she was trying to encourage her drivers to be safe.
“You come to work to do what you’re supposed to do and someone attacks you for no good, apparent reason,” she said. “It’s made us all nervous because it’s so unpredictable.”
Most of the incidents involving bus operators typically arise from a rider who refuses to pay the bus fare, according to bus operators and officials from Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689.
In one of three recent attacks on bus operators, a woman aboard a U8 bus at the Capitol Heights Station argued with a bus operator after she was asked to fold a child’s stroller, a rule for riding the bus. The woman returned the next day and beat up the driver.
In another case, a group of six young men attacked a driver on the V7 bus line at the Minnesota Avenue station after they entered his bus from the back and he asked them to come to the front to pay their fares. A third attack involved a dispute over paying the bus fare on the X2 bus line, which runs from Benning Road along the H Street corridor in Northeast Washington.
Officials from Metro’s union met recently with Metro Transit Police to give suggestions of where to deploy officers on troubled bus routes.
Metro Transit Police has assigned more than 12 of its 450 officers to the system’s bus division, Metro officials said. But union officials, riders and bus operators worry that’s not enough.
On Tuesday, about 20 Metro Transit Police officers rode various buses out of the Minnesota Avenue station to show a presence.
Aboard the U6 line, which runs from Hayes Street and Kenilworth Terrace in Northeast to Marshall Heights in Southeast, Pat B., 58 of Southeast, recalled how she’s seen incidents where teenagers threw eggs at a passing bus. Another time, she said, she was aboard a bus when a group of teens threw ketchup and soda on the driver.
“You see the violence out here,” she said, as the bus drove along Minnesota Avenue passing a discount shoe store, a tax preparation business and a soul food restaurant. “They threw it all over his clothes and face because he asked them to be quiet.
“You never know what’s going to happen,” she said, as other patrons around her nodded approvingly and murmured uh-huhs in agreement.
Pat B. asked that that her last name not be used out of concerns for her safety.
Some riders shared their tales of young people who disrespected bus operators, played loud music and spoke with “potty mouths.”.
Another bus rider, Cynthia Williams of Northeast, said she’s worried about the violence.
“No one has the right to . . . beat up a bus driver, especially when he’s doing his job,” Williams said, as she rode the U6 home after working a 10-hour shift as a personal care assistant for the elderly. Not to mention that if the driver gets hurt, it affects patrons on the bus, she said.
“I got to get to work and he’s got to drive me there,” said Williams, who’s been riding bus lines in the District for more than 20 years. “You stop the man’s livelihood and he doesn’t want to drive again.”
At 5:45 p.m., Joseph Brown boarded an X2 bus after a day’s work of buffing floors at NASA in Greenbelt. He was heading downtown to meet some friends. He sat in front of a group of teenagers who were laughing and joking after two police officers aboard the bus stopped one of them to check his ID to make sure he was eligible for the discounted student transit pass.
“I don’t think they have enough officers,” Brown said. “I’ve seen arguments, cussing, fussing and fighting and petty stuff among teenagers. You see the police on here and it is more security and I feel safe.”
Hours later, back at the Minnesota Avenue Station, just as a thunderstorm was about to roll in, union officials said they were pleased with the additional police presence but hoped it would continue.
“The presence alone deters a lot of crime,” said Carroll Thomas, who represents the Bladensburg division of Metro’s bus system as a shop steward and is an executive board member of Local 689. “People see cops and they pay their fare.”
Thomas hoped union officials and Metro Transit Police would have a written agreement in place by Friday for a “long-term and consistent” plan of how to help deter crime on bus routes.
“I know they’re understaffed,” Thomas said. “But they said they’re going to work with us and we’re going to work with them.”
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