LOWER MANHATTAN (WABC) — New protections are being taken to help MTA bus drivers around New York City in the wake of increasing assaults against operators.
Stronger partitions are being installed around the driver’s seat on new city buses and they are intended to protect everyone — not just the drivers.
On average, about three MTA drivers are assaulted every month and about 19 drivers report getting harassed every week.
People have spit on drivers and thrown coffee on them. The new plexiglass partitions will be full length and reach from the floor to ceiling.
Driver Edward Burtt told Eyewitness News he has actually had someone reach in and grab the wheel of his bus while he was driving it.
Burtt says new floor-to-ceiling partitions will make it safer for everyone.
“You can’t get to me, can’t stab me, you can’t douse something on me while I’m actually driving the bus in motion,” he said.
For the first seven months of the year, there were 98 felony and misdemeanor assaults on drivers-an increase of 36%. And 115 spitting incidents reported which is an increase of 21%.
“We’ve had people beaten up, our bus operators have been pummeled on numerous buses and we want to make sure that stops,” said TWU President Richard Davis.
But partitions won’t prevent all assaults. Last week, a bus driver was viciously beaten by a crowd of young people in Brooklyn as he was returning to his bus after a break.
Three other drivers came to his aid, and they, too, were beaten. None was seriously injured and police are working to identify the suspects based on videos.
Bus drivers are especially vulnerable when they’re strapped behind the wheel while steering through soul-crushing traffic.
Union leaders have insisted for years that the old, partial partitions are not good enough.
MTA officials say one solution is obvious.
“We believe that the cockpit will help reduce those assaults, people trying to reach around and strike at our employees, or throw coffee on them for example, eventually they will be on every bus, so we have two pilots right now, we want feedback from the union, we want feedback from our operators to make sure it works, but this will become standard issue for all the buses we purchase in the future,” NYC Transit President Richard Davey said.
The two buses outfitted so far have a 90-day trial period.
All new buses will be outfitted with the partitions. The MTA will eventually start retrofitting the entire fleet at a cost of up to $15,000 per bus.
The agency is also working on creative ways to protect subway conductors.
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