The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Maryland bill would make assaulting a transit operator a felony

A proposed bill would add transit operators to a list of public servants who have special protections against assault under Maryland law. (Photo by Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)
Placeholder while article actions load

A Maryland state delegate has proposed boosting the penalty for assaulting a transit operator, a growing problem for Metro and other transit agencies.

The bill, introduced by Del. Angela M. Angel (D-Prince George’s), would make it a second-degree felony to intentionally cause physical injury to a transit operator, punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

In Maryland, it is a special enhanced crime to assault several types of public servants: law enforcement officers, parole or probation officers, firefighters, and responders. If Angel’s bill is passed, transit operators would be added to this list.

The legislation in the Maryland General Assembly comes as Metro and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 have heightened their calls for enhanced penalties to deter attacks against bus drivers.

“House Bill 28 will give the same protections to transit workers that are already extended to  law enforcement and emergency responders,” the union said in a statement Wednesday. “Local 689 understands that transit worker assaults are not only a danger to the workers, but also to the riding public, who are also placed in harm’s way when these incidents occur. When an operator is distracted, their vehicle is attacked with rocks and bullets, or a station manager cannot perform work because they are being assaulted, everyone is in danger.”

In an incident last August that made international headlines, a woman riding the X2 bus threw a cup full on urine in the face of a driver. That woman, Opal L. Brown, later turned herself in and ultimately pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault, with a sentence of 120 days in jail.

Woman who allegedly threw urine on bus driver for telling her ‘have a nice day’ says driver ‘could have been more courteous’

According to recent crime statistics from Metro, there were 90 assaults on bus operators between January and early December 2017, up from 70 during the same period in 2016.

Metro officials have zeroed in on several recommendations for dealing with the problem, including increasing the legal penalties for transit worker assault, as well as establishing a system for suspending offenders from the system — either for short- or long-term periods. Last week, a panel of transit safety experts convened by the American Public Transportation Association suggested both of those strategies.

If passed, Angel’s legislation would apply to “a bus operator, a train operator, a light-rail operator, or any other individual engaged in providing public transportation services.”

Should Metro have the ability to permanently ban riders from the system?