John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.
The city says it’s struggling with a “disturbing trend” in attacks on bus and train operators.
If you had been aboard San Francisco’s inbound Muni 47 bus at 4 p.m. last Tuesday, you would’ve seen a man smash the driver in the head with a skateboard, causing havoc among the passengers and ultimately sending the bleeding victim to the hospital.
The incident was the latest in a string of attacks on Muni employees—the week before that, for instance, another operator was allegedly tossed to the ground and beaten by an enraged driver. And while nobody should need to be told to not beat up public servants, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is doing just that with its new ad campaign, “Keep Them Safe.”
The SFMTA hopes the initiative will counter what it calls a “disturbing trend in assaults on Muni operators.” Here’s more from the agency:
There were 18 physical assaults on operators in 2013, and they increased to 24 in 2014. By the next year, the number of operator attacks had more than doubled to 58. It’s a trend the SFMTA is determined to reverse.
From June 2015 to June 2016, there were also eight assaults on parking control officers, three on transit fare inspectors and one on an employee of the Muni Transit Assistant Program, which provides ambassadors on different transit lines.
A review of reports and security video of each violent incident involving transit operators showed that in the overwhelming majority of them—61 percent—there were no signs of any altercation or incident right before the assault. Another 17 percent were tied to disputes over stops, and 16 percent involved disputes about fares.
The agency plans to train its operators on security procedures and how to defuse hostile situations, among other things in a broader push toward protecting employees. But in the meantime it’s placing ads in the transit system to remind irate customers Muni operators are humans, too. Here are a couple examples:
As you can see, the PSAs come with little factoids, like “Every 11 days a Muni operator is assaulted.” Time will tell if this new campaign has any effect on the violence—say, maybe getting those assaults down to every 12 or 13 days?