A man stabbed an MTA bus driver in the stomach and slashed him above the eye in Brooklyn early Tuesday morning.
The 39-year-old driver was operating a free shuttle bus for the out-of-service Q train in Prospect Lefferts Gardens around 12:24 a.m., when the knife-wielding attacker tried to force himself on board through the back of the transit vehicle in between stops, according to reps of the Transport Workers Union Local 100, which represents the largest share of MTA workers.
“We missed a tragedy by inches today. If that knife was a few inches higher, we wouldn’t be talking about an injury, we’d be talking about a death,” said J.P. Patafio TWU’s Surface Vice President at a rally Tuesday.
The stabber tried to get on the bus in the middle of the route, but the driver told him to board at an upcoming stop, which is when the criminal ripped open and broke the back doors, according to Patafio.
The driver and the attacker, who was also in his 30s, got into an argument which led to the suspect pulling out a blade and piercing him in his stomach, while also cutting him above the eye, an NYPD spokesperson said.
According to a source with internal knowledge of the investigation, the driver had left his compartment door ajar after getting up to tell passengers to leave the bus, because he couldn’t move the vehicle while the back door was busted open for safety reasons.
The attacker then spat at the driver on his way out, which provoked the MTA worker to get out of his seat and the altercation escalated to the assailant stabbing him, the source said.
The incident happened at Ocean and Flatbush avenues in the central Brooklyn neighborhood, and the crook fled on foot and remains on the lam.
Paramedics brought the driver to NewYork-Presbyterian Methodist Hospital in Park Slope where he is expected to survive his injuries.
Patafio and fellow union members said they were tired of the repeat attacks on transit workers and that they would be ready to take action if they’re not protected.
“I’m just talking to some of the officers and this is the consensus, if we don’t get the protection that we need, then you’re not going to get the service that you need,” Patafio warned during the rally with fellow union members and bus operators outside the hospital. “As I stand here today I am telling you, either we get the protection that we need or there will not be the service that Brooklyn needs.”
Union leaders and bus drivers have in recent months been calling on the MTA and police to keep transit employees safe, following a series of attacks.
Bus drivers are far more likely to be subject to harassment than their counterparts on the subways, an amNewYork Metro analysis found last month.
The former are more directly exposed to dissatisfied riders than train operators and conductors, who are mostly shielded in a closed-off cabin.
Labor leaders and their members have renewed calls for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to install fully walled-off cockpits for bus drivers, as is common in other transit systems, and unlike the half-height screens they currently use, while also pushing for more cops on board.
MTA and the union have also been pushing state lawmakers in Albany to pass a bill that would upgrade violations against transit workers like spitting to a misdemeanor, but that proposed piece of legislation did not make it out of committee before the end of the legislative session last week.
“They want to electrify the fleet? That’s great. For every bus that has an electric battery running it, we want a bus operator’s cockpit — we can’t wait, we’ve been asking for this, it needs to happen, it needs to happen now,” Patafio said.
One union rep blamed MTA leadership for the slow rollout of the full-length barriers, saying the bigwigs were not exposed to the same dangers at MTA’s Lower Manhattan headquarters.
“The people whose mandate it is to have those installed don’t get punched in the face. Their lives are never in danger,” said Alexander Kemp during the rally. “If you go to 2 Broadway you have to go through 14 gates to shake somebody’s hand. But to punch me in the face, all you gotta do is rip open a back door and tell me, ‘hope you make it home tonight.’”
MTA officials said they shared surveillance footage from the bus with NYPD to help with the investigation.
“We are working closely with investigators who are determining the facts of this incident. Violence against transit employees or riders is never acceptable which is why we worked so hard in Albany to pass a new assault protection bill,” said MTA’s Chief Safety Officer Pat Warren in a statement.