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Battle-Scarred Bus Drivers Keep Cautious Eye on MTA Stroller Program

Several bus lines are trying out reserving space for open strollers, but drivers fear conflicts among riders to come.

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A B1 bus in Brooklyn is one of the first lines to have a section designated for strollers, Sept. 30, 2022.

Jose Martinez/THE CITY

When the MTA announced it would begin testing stroller-only sections on a limited number of bus routes, some transit workers panned the plan, saying they were not eager to play peacemaker in potential disputes over space on buses.

Leaders of Transport Workers Union Local 100 also criticized the pilot program that is now being rolled out along seven routes on more than 140 of the MTA’s nearly 5,800 buses, citing “serious safety concerns” about potential battles over the sections set aside for parents and caregivers of tots in strollers.

For MTA bus driver David Henry, this isn’t a hypothetical issue. 

When he heard of the plan, Henry’s mind flashed back to nearly 15 years ago, when he says he was stabbed in the left shoulder and abdomen with a pocket knife after telling a man at an East New York bus stop that he and his female companions could not board with an open stroller, a violation of New York City Transit rules.

David Henry, 59, a bus driver who was stabbed in a 2007 dispute involving a stroller on a B15 bus, poses for a portrait ahead of his shift at the East New York Depot on September 30, 2022.

Hiram Alejandro Durán/THE CITY

“He brought it in anyway,” Henry told THE CITY. “They were standing in the aisle right there by the wheelchair section trying to close the stroller and I’m waiting.”

The next thing he knew, the man “stepped up to me and started talking, and all of a sudden, he started stabbing at me.”

The 2007 attack ended with Henry being treated at Brookdale Hospital Medical Center after the man jabbed his left shoulder and abdomen and fled the bus. No one was ever arrested in the incident. The NYPD told THE CITY they could not find records of the case.

New York City Transit records shared with THE CITY list how Henry suffered an on-the-job injury when he “asked customer to fold baby stroller.”

Nearly a year after Henry was injured on duty, B46 bus driver Edwin Thomas was stabbed to death in a fare dispute with a rider, a killing that led to partitions being added to the operator cabs on buses. JP Patafio, a longtime union leader for Brooklyn bus drivers, said both encounters highlight the risks bus operators face when dealing with unruly riders.

“This isn’t against parents with strollers, that’s not the issue,” Patafio said. “The issue is that bus operators not get assaulted. They are the ones who will be there when there are three strollers on the same bus and everyone is arguing with the bus operator.”

As part of the new rollout, the MTA has created a “Designated Open Stroller Area” designed for one standard-sized stroller on some buses operating along the B1, BX23, M31, Q12, Q50, S53 and S93 routes.

‘No One Wants Any Trouble’

Studies have shown that as strollers have expanded in size, transit agencies have grappled with accommodating them, sometimes removing seats in order to make room.

On the lines that now have extra carriage space, riders are required to apply the brakes on open strollers and keep the bus aisle clear — and those without strollers are reminded by new signage to be courteous if asked to vacate the area.

Aboard a B1 traveling between Bay Ridge and Manhattan Beach, several riders stood in the stroller-only space at multiple points along the route, even as a woman with an unfolded stroller sat in the seating section marked as “wheelchair priority seating” at the front of the bus.

“I would move if someone asked me to move,” said Eduardo Lua, 28, who was standing in the stroller section. “No one wants any trouble on a bus.”

Riders on an M31 bus in Manhattan occupied seats marked for the disabled and strollers without appearing to need them, Sept. 30, 2022.

Jose Martinez/THE CITY

Sara Marin, who was in the wheelchair priority area on the B1 with an opened stroller, said she was unaware of an area being marked for open strollers.

“Sometimes, the bus driver tells me ‘no stroller,’” she said. “It’s good to have an area where I can go with the stroller.”

Baby Steps

MTA officials said the new seating layout on buses in the pilot program has so far been well-received and pointed out that several bus operators were part of an advisory group that helped shape the idea.

“Since we started putting pilot buses on the road, the feedback from customers on the open stroller idea has been overwhelmingly positive,” said agency spokesperson Michael Cortez. “We look forward to hearing more from customers — and operators — as the pilot program progresses.”

Donald Yates, a TWU Local 100 vice president for bus operators in Manhattan and The Bronx, said he worries about conflicts over the stroller space. 

“It’s just a matter of time before an operator gets into a situation because of this policy,” he told THE CITY.

Danielle Avissar, a Manhattan mother who earlier this year was part of a group of parents that pressed the MTA to create space for strollers, said bus riders need to be respectful toward each other and operators. 

She acknowledged that some are not yet clear on how the new layout is supposed to work.

“There is just a lack of understanding that this is a designated space for strollers,” she said. 

In addition to signs on the buses with stroller-only sections, the MTA has put decals near bus doors and produced a YouTube video explaining the program.

Henry, who will mark 17 years with the MTA in December, said “it’s not a bad idea” to have space set aside for strollers on some buses.

“It’s a good idea to have those spaces there,” said Henry, 59. “But it’s a very shaky situation because there are countless things that could happen.”

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