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Brooklyn Bus Driver Describes Beating Over Mask Rule as Attacks on Transit Workers Surge

MTA Bus signage indicating masks are required for passengers, who rode free over the summer. July 7, 2020.
An MTA bus’ signage reads “Masks are required,” on July 7, 2020.
Jason Scott Jones/THE CITY

Anthony Reid went from asking a man on his Brooklyn bus to put on a mask to getting clobbered in the back of the head.

“Next thing I know, I woke up in an ambulance,” the 62-year-old MTA bus operator told THE CITY. “I said, ‘What am I doing here?’”

Reid said the 7:15 a.m. cheap shot on July 5 broke a bone near his left eye and busted his lip.

The attack at a Crescent Street and Liberty Avenue bus stop in East New York is among 402 incidents since mid-April in which transit workers have been battered, spit on or threatened by riders, according to MTA figures.

MTA bus driver Anthony Reid was assaulted after asking a passenger to put on a face mask.
Bus driver Anthony Reid was assaulted after asking a passenger to put on a face mask.
Courtesy of Anthony Reid

That’s compared to the 507 such encounters that occurred during the same time period a year earlier — when millions of more people were riding trains and buses on weekdays.

The MTA classified 76 of those violent incidents since April 15 — when Governor Andrew Cuomo made mask-wearing mandatory in the transit system — as “COVID-related” because of riders becoming enraged by social distancing or the facial-covering regulation.

All but three attacks involved bus operators, MTA figures show, with 37 of them occurring in Brooklyn.

“Once you come on the bus it’s protocol,” said Reid, who has driven a bus since 1999. “The virus can be passed on to me or to the innocent riding public. I was just doing my job.”

Police said Reid’s attacker fled. “He didn’t say nothing to me,” the driver said. “It happened so quick.”

Three days later at around 10:30 p.m., a man on another Brooklyn bus “became irate” over the mask requirement — and threatened to stab the driver and kill passengers aboard the B25 at Fulton Street and Carlton Avenue in Fort Greene.

Police said he fled and that no one was injured.

‘A Major Safety Issue’

A leader of Transport Workers Union Local 100 said the ugly encounters point to the peril faced by bus operators who request that passengers cover their faces.

“This is a major safety issue,” said JP Patafio, a vice president with TWU Local 100. “It’s like the fare — when the bus operators try to enforce it, they’re putting themselves in danger.”

In March, the MTA barred front-door boarding on most of its bus routes, allowing riders to enter without paying a fare. The financially troubled transit agency expects to resume collecting fares next month through front-door boarding on buses that are being equipped with protective shields for drivers.

Sarah Feinberg, the interim president of New York City Transit, said she wants a “law-enforcement presence” in the transit system to remind riders of the mask-wearing mandate, though she noted MTA surveys show more than 90% of riders are covering their faces.

The MTA has installed chains to try to keep passengers separated from bus drivers during the pandemic.
The MTA has installed chains to try to keep passengers separated from bus drivers during the pandemic.
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

She said bus operators are not asked to enforce that passengers wear masks, in the same way they did not flag farebeaters prior to the pandemic. In 2008, Brooklyn bus operator Edwin Thomas was stabbed to death in a dispute with a rider who didn’t pay.

“We are reminding people on the bus announcements, in station announcements, train announcements, we’ve got signage, we’re doing everything we possibly can,” Feinberg told THE CITY. “But it is totally unacceptable that a rider would go after a bus operator on this.”

As passengers have begun returning to city buses — there were 1.1 million riders on Wednesday, according to the MTA statistics — TWU Local 100 has been pushing for enforcement on the mask-wearing rule, with a $100 fine for those who violate it.

The pandemic has devastated the MTA, which has lost more than 130 employees — most of them bus and subway workers — to COVID-19. The agency, officials say, is also on the brink of financial disaster as it petitions the federal government for a second $3.9 billion boost.

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