MTA pushes bill to make spitting on transit workers punishable by a year in jail

J.P. Patafio, TA Surface Vice President with TWU, and MTA bus driver Matthew Ashby warn against bus driver assaults.

Spitting on a bus driver could be punishable by up to a year in prison if the MTA and the Transit Workers Union Local 100 get their way.

The bus drivers have had enough, they say, after a 35% rise in spitting incidents in 2019 over 2018 and assaults on the rise by 10%. The MTA is responding directly by creating a worker safety task force.

J.P. Patafio, TA Surface Vice President with TWU, took a dim view of anyone who attacks a bus driver, claiming that the union would ensure perpetrators get “locked up.”

“These are the men and women who make New York move everyday and the job they have is a very hard job… No matter what it is, they’re out here doing the work night and day. It doesn’t make their work any easier that someone’s going to get on that bus and assault them,” Patafio said. “When you attack a bus driver, you’re violating a social contract, a  public space that all of us depend upon.”

The bill they are promoting would up the charges for spitting on a bus driver to a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by a year in prison. Currently it is only a fineable offense.

Transit workers gathered in front of the East New York Bus Depot on Thursday to talk about their experiences with violent individuals, the most recent being Matthew Ashby who was “viciously” struck above the eye with a lock by a suspect that is still on the lamb.

Ashby is still in recovery from the assault and has ten stitches, which has taken him out of work at half pay.

“I’m so happy to be alive because I could be in a coma today; I could be in the morgue today,” Ashby said with a bandaid over his left eyebrow. “I was attacked by a person for no reason… I was servicing a stop and waiting for a customer to come on the bus when I felt the blow to my head.”

Ashby said he had never seen the man in his life.

Another bus driver, identifying himself as Mr. Francis, said the next harsh reality bus drivers face comes from the MTA if they take action against their attackers.

“Too much of us is having verbal abuse, physical abuse, spat on, and then when we retaliate our job is on the line,” Mr. Francis said.

MTA Bus Company President Craig Cipriano responded to this by reiterating that bus drivers are among the most under-appreciated public servants in the city and that a solution is needed to stop assaults in the first place.

“If something occurs, some operators are more capable of defending themselves than others and if an operator is being assaulted and they defend themselves the union is going to defend them,” Patafio said.