The workers among us
By John Samuelsen
MTA bus operators carry more than two million passengers every day over the most difficult routes in the world, constantly congested with traffic and pedestrians.
The Transport Workers Union, Local 100, alone represents more than 10,000 of these operators. It would be nearly impossible to find someone living in this city for any length of time who does not count a TWU/MTA bus operator as a friend, relative, neighbor or acquaintance.
Bus operators, thanks to strong union contracts, have good jobs and are pillars of their communities.
Now, these same men and women are being criminalized by the new Vision Zero law.
Last year, the Vision Zero law was enacted to stiffen penalties on drivers who fail to yield to pedestrians or cyclists who have the right of way. This law was meant to curb reckless driving and prevent drivers from fleeing the scene of an accident.
Within the past few months, however, the law has been interpreted to justify automatic arrests of on-duty bus operators involved in traffic incidents, even when there is no evidence of reckless driving. This has resulted in the harsh criminalization of hardworking public servants and the denial of their right to due process.
Arresting bus operators in uniform further adds to the trauma of the incident and tragic injuries or the loss of life.
Bus operators are already required to adhere to strict New York State 19a regulations. As such, they undergo an annual check of their driving record, regular observation of their defensive driving performance by MTA supervision, biennial driving tests, and biennial written or oral exams. Should an accident occur during a bus operator’s tour of duty, he or she must comply with a review at the scene of the incident, a full investigation, and, if warranted, police arrest at a later date for reckless driving.
Due to this rigorous process in place over the last 26 years, bus operators have progressively decreased injury rates from ten per million miles traveled to five.
Subjecting bus operators to undeserved arrests does not solve the issue of dangerous hit-and-run driving. In fact, out of 403,170 total vehicles involved in collisions in New York City in 2013, 0.05% – 201 vehicles – were city buses. The worst perpetrators are drivers of private passenger vehicles. Therefore, focusing on the enforcement of bus operators and mandating that they face charges from multiple agencies is an ineffective allocation of taxpayer dollars.
We support the goals of Vision Zero, that being safer streets.
But bus operation must not be criminalized.