Op-ed by Sen. Christine M. Tartaglione

For transit workers, the news hasn’t changed much and it certainly hasn’t gotten better.  It’s the same story, year after year: “SEPTA bus driver taken to hospital after men throw liquid on her,” “Man charged with assault in punching, beating of SEPTA bus driver,” “Bus driver shooting sparks calls for safety.”

These are just a few of the attacks on transit workers that made the headlines.  The sobering truth is that attacks on public transportation workers are not uncommon.  They are numerous, vicious and terrifying.  As troubling, the General Assembly continues to dawdle and do nothing about the problem. 

It’s not as if there isn’t a proposed solution just waiting for action.  I’ve introduced a proposal to deal with this issue for many years.  Last session, it was Senate Bill 269.  The session before, Senate Bill 282.  The one before that Senate Bill 236.

In 2012, I took to the Senate floor in Harrisburg and gave a speech imploring my colleagues to act to protect transit workers.  I commented then that during the time my proposal was sitting in committee there were more than 100 assaults committed.  A bus driver had been shot, another hit by flying glass and another had three teeth knocked from his mouth by a punch in the face.  

To deter these kinds of attacks, my proposed legislation would toughen penalties against those who commit offenses against public transportation workers.  The idea is to reduce or eliminate assaults and make our public transportation systems safe for both the transit rider and the transit worker.  I will reintroduce legislation protecting workers again in January. 

My legislation is not new; the arguments made years ago in support of upgrading offenses remain valid and the focus on protecting workers is sincere. 

These attacks were unnecessary and most of them were preventable.  Had the legislature passed any of my bills over the years, there is a strong likelihood that we could have halted many of these assaults against transit workers.  

Let’s roll back the clock and think of what protections may have been in place by now.  If the General Assembly had acted and passed my proposal, our public transit agencies could have embarked on an aggressive public education program that outlined the ramifications of assaulting a transit worker.  The higher fine and longer prison sentence — the central feature of my bill — would serve notice that transit workers are protected.  The increased prison time and fine would make potential assailants think twice. 

Maybe the worker hit with a hot liquid would have gone home after work instead of the hospital.  Conceivably, the bus driver punched, pummeled and bitten could have finishing the night shift without incident.  Perhaps, the mace used in assaulting another bus driver would have remained in the purse of the attacker. 

According to the Amalgamated Transit Union, 30 states have enacted laws with tougher penalties for assaulting transit workers.  If we would just act, Pennsylvania would be joining with other states in demonstrating its support for transit workers. 

Moving assertively to protect transit workers is the right thing to do.  Transit workers are men and women who have constant contact with the public often in difficult, frustrating situations.  They work hard and do their jobs well and deserve to be free from assaults. 

There is no cost associated with the legislation, it is a responsible, meaningful and strong step that would protect workers.  It’s time for the General Assembly act. 

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