In response to the increase in attacks on New Jersey Transit employees, an Assembly panel has cleared the Motorbus and Passenger Rail Service Employee Violence Prevent Act sponsored by Assemblyman Hal Wirths.
The bill (A6013) upgrades the penalty for any assault against a bus operator or passenger train employee to a third-degree crime. Currently, incidents are considered crimes of the fourth-degree unless the victim suffers bodily injury. Additionally, buses and trains would be equipped with a communication system that alerts law enforcement when an operator or employee is in distress.
“Since the pandemic, mass transit employees have put their lives on the line while being asked to do more than ever before. We need to do a better job of protecting our front-line mass transit workers while sending a strong message to passengers that assaults will be punished to the fullest extent of the law,” Wirths (R-Sussex, Warren, Morris) said. “Upgrading fines and implementing additional safety measures will go a long way toward ensuring a smoother ride for employees and law-abiding passengers alike.”
In August and October, there was an uptick in transit violence and arrests of rail passengers for physically assaulting and threatening conductors.
The bill authorizes NJ Transit, motorbus companies and passenger train service providers to ban riders for up to one year for all assaults. If a deadly weapon is used, the rider may be banned for life. The agency and the companies are also required to coordinate with law enforcement and transit police to help protect bus operators and rail employees on potentially problematic routes. Employees would have access to additional violence and mental health training and assistance programs.
“The safety and security of both transit workers and the riding public is crucial. This bill sets a foundation with training, the sharing of information, a functional radio for communication, and it also allows transportation companies and NJT to address this issue in a new light,” said SMART Transportation Division New Jersey State Legislative Director Ron Sabol. SMART is the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers.
In November, the Senate Transportation Committee passed the bill (S4071), which is co-sponsored by Sen. Steve Oroho. The Assembly version is co-sponsored by Assemblyman Parker Space.
NJ Transit reported 82 assaults of bus drivers and 52 assaults of rail crews between January and September 2021. During the same period in 2020, the agency reported 81 assaults of bus drivers and 32 assaults of rail crews. The agency said it made 45 crew assault arrests between January and September 2021, up from 26 arrests during the same period in 2020.