Eduardo Muniz has been grabbed by the neck and slapped in the face in nearly a decade as a New York City Transit subway conductor.

But Muniz says nothing has rattled him as much as joining the growing number of subway workers who have been spit on — which happened last month when police said a 32-year-old homeless man smacked and spat on him from the platform while his F train was stopped at the 15th Street-Prospect Park station in Brooklyn.

“It’s disgusting, it’s more demeaning than being punched in the face,” Muniz, 59, told THE CITY. “I toss and turn at night a lot and I think about how I can just have my head out and then someone spits at me because he’s not going right.”

According to an MTA report obtained by THE CITY, there were 52 spitting incidents involving New York City Transit Department of Subways workers between January and August — a 30% increase from the same time period in 2022. That’s almost as many as in all of last year, when 56 workers were pelted with spit, down from a four-year peak of 82 in 2019.

Transit workers are allowed to take up to one paid year off after being spit on, according to the MTA, which earlier this year trimmed that time from up to two years. An MTA spokesperson said 66 of 28,584 Department of Subways employees are presently sidelined after being sprayed with spit, compared with 71 for the same time period in 2022.

The increase in spitting incidents this year comes as Transport Workers Union Local 100 has renewed its push to have spitting on transit workers upgraded from a violation to a misdemeanor and as the MTA tests ways to shield workers from rude riders.

“It’s as big a problem as it’s ever been,” said Canella Gomez, a TWU Local 100 vice president who represents train operators and conductors. “For some reason, passengers continuously spit on train crews — it’s really out of control.”

No Spitting Zone

New York City Transit this summer began testing “No Standing” zones on the platforms at the 125th Street stop beneath Lexington Avenue, a location that the MTA acknowledges has been a hot spot for unwelcome interactions between conductors and angry riders.

The black and white platform markings, which align with the spot on trains where conductors stick their heads out from an open window, are meant to discourage people from standing near where the conductor’s cab comes to a stop.

The MTA created a “No Standing” area in front of where train conductors watch the doors at the 125th Street-Lexington Avenue station.
The MTA created a “No Standing” area in front of where train conductors watch the doors at the 125th Street-Lexington Avenue station, Oct. 16, 2023. Credit: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

“It had been problematic and so we specifically selected that location for a pilot,” Demetrius Crichlow, the senior vice president for NYCT’s Department of Subways, told THE CITY. “On the one hand, we have not had an assault at that location since we installed the barriers, but on the other hand, we do commonly see customers standing within the area.”

The head of subways said the results from the pilot program at the 125th Street station on the 4, 5 and 6 lines have so far been “inconclusive,” and that other options, including physical barriers, need to be vetted.

“No one should have to deal with this,” Crichlow said. “We are personally vested in finding a solution.”

Creeped Out

The MTA report shows that, agencywide, assaults against subway, bus and train workers were up nearly 40% for the first eight months of 2023 — climbing from 79 to 110 — when compared with the same period last year.

The encounters add up to an impact on service. THE CITY reported earlier this month that the number of monthly subway delays blamed on crew shortages has been climbing steadily since the start of the year.

“All of this affects crew availability,” the TWU’s Gomez said. “All of it.”

Norbert Williams, a 32-year-old homeless man, is facing harassment charges, the NYPD said, for the Sept. 11 incident that sent Muniz to New York-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital for treatment and has kept him out of work for several weeks.

Muniz said he will likely not return to work until he is “a little more comfortable” with popping open the window to the conductor’s cab and poking out his head on the platform.

“It definitely creeps in your head once something like this happens,” Muniz said. “I’m nervous to go back right away and have someone spit at me.

“We’re out in the open with our heads out the window,” he added. “We’re sitting ducks.”