NJ Transit trying to stop assaults on conductors & bus drivers
In January, a pregnant bus driver was assaulted by a passenger.
On Friday, an angry passenger armed with scissors threatened a train conductor, who was aided by other people on the train.
These were just two of the four serious assaults on NJ Transit reported this year. Last year, the mass transit company reported 17 attacks on their crews.
“That’s totally unacceptable. We have zero tolerance for that, and we want to make sure that our conductors, our bus operators know that we have their back,” NJ Transit Executive Director Kevin Corbett said Tuesday.
Jerome Johnson, general chairman of SMART TD Local 60, the United Transportation Union representing train conductors and assistant conductors, said there have also been dozens of other less serious incidents.
He believes part of the problem is there aren’t enough NJ Transit Police to put an officer on every train.
"It’s a great deterrent, but they don’t have the manpower," he said.
That being the case, Johnson said the union is working with NJ Transit and local police to try and improve response times if an incident is reported onboard a train.
Corbett said NJ Transit remains a work in progress and acknowledges that “the frustration level is high" among passengers.
"Taking it out on me is one thing, but you don’t do it to employees who are trying to do their best, often under tough situations," he said. “Some people have anger-management issues, but you don’t take it out on our employees.”
He said whenever there’s an incident on a train or bus involving a conductor or a driver, the agency will “make sure we have either a police officer or someone from our labor department to be with them through the whole process so they know they have their back covered.”
He pointed out this also includes situations in court, where a driver or conductor could come face to face with the individual who is charged with attacking them.
Part of the efforts to improve NJ Transit service includes providing bus drivers and train conductors "some polishing on interpersonal skills," Corbett said. The training will include tips on how to de-escalate a situation with a passenger.
The man who attacked the pregnant bus driver pleaded guilty last month. Andre Dawson III, 37, of Union Township, faces up to eight years in prison when he is sentenced June in Superior Court in Elizabeth.
In the Friday attack, Fanwood resident Prudencio Cruz, 65, was charged Sunday with aggravated assault, making terroristic threats, and weapons offenses.
Johnson said the conductor was not cut or punched but “when somebody pulls a knife out on you and threatens you ... you’re injured mentally because you still have to work.”
You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com