Police say a man punched an MTA bus driver after he was asked to wear a face-covering before boarding.
The 62-year-old bus driver was on his route near Madison Avenue and East 29th Street on Monday after when the suspect tried to get on the M2 bus around 2 a.m. without a mask, which is mandatory for all MTA buses and subways, according to the NYPD. When the driver stopped the man from entering the bus, the suspect hit him in the face and fled.
Police say the victim suffered pain and swelling and was transported to the hospital.
"The attacks on transit workers are abhorrent, they violate the law and we're going to do everything we can with MTA managers, volunteers and police officers from the NYPD and the MTA police to make sure that those attacks do not occur," MTA Chair Pat Foye told Cheddar on Tuesday.
NYC Transit Interim President Sarah Feinberg shared similar sentiments in a statement provided to News 4.
“This is a despicable attack on a hero moving this city during a pandemic and simply trying to protect the safety of all customers," Feinberg said. "We are cooperating with the NYPD’s investigation and search for the perpetrator. We recently launched Operation Respect to make masks available for anyone who needs them, have deployed MTA security and staff safety volunteers to assist with mask distribution, and ask all New Yorkers to join in this effort to protect health and safety.”
On the same day as the incident, the MTA announced "Operation Respect" where volunteers wearing yellow shirts will go on buses and to train stations to distribute free masks to commuters.
TWU Local 100 President Tony Utano called the move "positive steps" after the organization has been urging the authority to act to ensure the safety of workers.
“Everyone on a bus should be wearing a mask or face covering,” Utano said. “Passengers who are not complying with the mask rule are selfishly endangering the health of Bus Operators and their fellow riders.”
The union said it surveyed several bus routes and found compliance of the mask requirement ranges from "excellent to horrible." On some routes, 35% to 40% of bus riders were not wearing masks, according to the union.
Richard Davis, Vice President of TWU Local 100, said the union was concerned about multiple recent attacks against bus operators, as a similar attack occurred in Harlem on Monday. A bus driver there told a passenger in a wheelchair that he had to wear a mask to ride, which is when the man went off.
"(He) pulled down my mirror, he ripped the mirror off the bus and threw it through the glass, hitting me on the left side of my face," bus driver Vernon Bullock said. "A lot of people are angry and don't want to be told to do something."
Union members, like Bullock, are asking for more masks they can hand out to riders, and have called for more enforcement and consequences for riders who refuse to comply with the mask order.
"Most of them are compliant with it, but then there are some that don't care, they are not afraid of the virus," Bullock said.
Davis said that the union is going to push to use the threat of up to seven years behind bars for the assault of an MTA employee as a possible deterrent.
The MTA says ridership remains low, with subways at 23% and buses at 60% of pre-pandemic levels, even as New York City entered the final fourth phase of reopening. The transit agency also said mask compliance is above 90% for subway riders and 96% for bus riders.