Following what the Transit union has described as a recent uptick in worker attacks, MTA chairman Joseph Lhota on Wednesday pledged to improve crews’ safety in the subways.
“I do believe that an attack on any one of them is an attack on all of us,” Lhota said at a board meeting on Wednesday. “We will continue to do everything in our power to keep our workers safe. We will work with the unions in making sure that that happens.”
On Tuesday, a 60-year-old Q train conductor was hospitalized after a commuter attacked him from a Brooklyn station platform — an unprovoked, random assault, according to the conductor. Tony Utano, the president of TWU Local 100, said that was just the latest attack in recent weeks. By his count, there have been about nine transit worker assaults recorded in the last five weeks.
“It’s got to stop. We should not be the targets of frustration on the passengers,” Utano said. “We come here to do a job and come home to our families — not go to the hospital.”
Utano reckons that the attacks are carried out by riders who could be frustrated by poor service, the homeless or those who are mentally unstable. He has called for more cameras — either voluntary body cameras for train crews or the installation of cameras in cabs that face the platforms — to help catch and deter violent commuters. He expects to meet with the MTA to discuss worker safety in the next couple of days.
Lhota called more cameras a “great idea.” Though he didn’t know what such a program would cost. He said violence against transit workers appears to be a cyclical issue, and suggested beefing up a program instituted five years ago called Transit Watch to help keep workers safe.
Lhota stressed that assaulting a transit workers is a class D felony and said he would work to make sure violators are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. The MTA did not provide data on the number of worker assaults recorded in the subway system
“I will work with the district attorneys and expect those found guilty of this crime to serve the time that goes along with a class D felony,” Lhota said.