A transit union is calling for more police officers on buses, pointing to a rise in violence against drivers trying to enforce mask requirements.
In prepared testimony for a Thursday Senate Banking Committee hearing titled, “The Coronavirus Crisis: Paving the Way to An Equitable Recovery,” Amalgamated Transit Union international president John Costa described the dangers their members face on a daily basis.
“In addition to driving a bus, ATU members also now serve as the “mask police,” Costa said. “Far too often during these politically charged times, we have been brutally attacked for simply enforcing the rules and trying to stop the spread of the virus.”
Costa went on to give examples of drivers being violently attacked, coughed on, or spit on after asking passengers to put on masks. These included a passenger in Springfield, Mass. punching a female driver getting punched in the back of the head, a man in St. Louis firing a gun at a driver who was protected by a polycarbonate shield, and a Boston teenager coughing on a driver then attacking them with a block that is placed under the bus’s wheels when parked.
These incidents were in addition to a case where a driver had posted a video complaining about how a maskless passenger was coughing on their bus.
“Eleven days later, Jason died of COVID-19,” Costa said.
Costa thanked the Biden administration for the Transportation Security Administration's new security directive, which he said “requires transit systems to establish procedures to manage situations with persons who refuse to comply with the requirement to wear a mask.”
The directive says that passengers who do not follow mask requirements are to be barred from boarding, or removed from the bus if possible. The problem with this, Costa said, is that “the burden of enforcing this rule still falls upon our members, at least initially,” because they do not have armed TSA officers screening people before they get on buses or trains.
“We clearly need increased local law enforcement on our buses to carry this out,” Costa said.
Thursday’s hearing will focus on recovery from the pandemic-induced economic crisis and feature testimony from witnesses including Costa, Youngstown, Ohio Mayor Jamael Tito Brown, and Columbus Legal Aid Society staff attorney Jyoshu Tsushima.