As attacks on transit employees continue to rise throughout the country, legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Daniel Benson and Yvonne Lopez seeks to protect New Jersey bus and rail employees. The measure, named the ‘Motorbus and Passenger Rail Service Employee Violence Prevention Act,’ was advanced by the Assembly Transportation and Independent Authorities Committee on Thursday.
In the span of just one week, two NJTRANSIT customers were arrested last year in separate incidents involving an attack on a train conductor. Another man was caught on video this summer using racial slurs and curse words against an NJTRANSIT conductor before assaulting him after he was asked to put a face mask on. These are just some of the dozens of attacks against these employees each year.
“Transportation workers are far too often subjected to vicious attacks by irate passengers for simply doing their jobs,” said Assemblyman Benson (D-Mercer, Middlesex). “This legislation will work towards preventing that violence while making it clear these attacks unacceptable. Our bus and rail employees must be protected as they fulfill their critical duties on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of commuters in our state.”
The bill (A-6013) upgrades assaults on an employee of a public or private bus or rail passenger service – who is identifiably engaged in the duties of their job or who is specifically targeted because of their job – from a crime of the fourth degree to a crime of the third degree. Whereas someone convicted of fourth-degree aggravated assault can get up to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $10,000, a person convicted of third-degree aggravated assault can get 3 to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000.
The measure also empowers NJTRANSIT and other bus and rail providers to ban riders for up to one year if they commit an assault against an employee. If the assault was with a deadly weapon, the rider could be banned for life.
“The hard-working employees on our trains and buses are invaluable to New Jersey’s transportation system and deserve our respect,” said Assemblywoman Lopez (D-Middlesex). “It is unacceptable that so many of these employees fear for their safety due to the frequency of violent attacks, which have only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. We must put safeguards in place to enable a safer working environment going forward.”
NJTRANSIT and other providers would be required under the measure to equip each bus and rail vehicle with a communication system that would allow operators to alert the company and appropriate law enforcement agencies that they are in distress. It would further require operators to coordinate with law enforcement and transit police to help protect employees during high-volume periods and potentially problematic routes.
In addition to establishing a program to support employees who have been the victim of an assault, the measure would also require operators to periodically provide them with anti-violence training that includes de-escalation techniques.
The legislation now goes to the Speaker for further consideration.