MBTA bus driver suspended after fight with passenger

Boston Globe | By Sara DiNatale and Steve Annear | August 26, 2015

 A woman gets up briskly and calls to a young girl, presumably her daughter, to get off an MBTA bus parked on Warren Street. Just before the woman steps off the bus, she rips the cover off a plastic cup and tosses the liquid into the driver’s face. The altercation, shot on video from the bus by another passenger, escalates from there.

The driver jumps out of her seat and charges onto the sidewalk, where the woman scoops up the child in her arms and faces her. The women yell and curse, the child screams and cries. The driver raises her arm, and the passenger falls backward on a stairway, the screaming child still in her arms. As the driver pursues her, panicked bystanders rush in, yelling, “She has a kid!”

The MBTA said Wednesday that the driver of the Route 28 bus, whose identity hasn’t been released, has been suspended as a result of the altercation, which took place Aug. 19 and was posted online this week.

MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said the confrontation began because the passenger refused to pay the bus fare. MBTA Transit Police are seeking charges against both the driver and the passenger, Pesaturo said.

“Transit Police are working to identify the woman who assaulted the bus operator,” Pesaturo said. “The bus operator is suspended while a full investigation takes place.”

The video appeared Tuesday on Worldstarfights.com’s Facebook page, which regularly posts videos of altercations to the Web. The video was shared more than 13,000 times by Wednesday afternoon.

The video shows bystanders trying to break up the fight, but the suspect and driver continue to scream at each other as the others stand between them.

“While it’s very clear that the passenger was the instigator, it’s incumbent upon the bus operator to demonstrate restraint and allow police to handle such a matter. Two wrongs do not make a right,” Pesaturo said.

James O’Brien, president of the Boston Carmen’s Union, said the driver in the video “is a very good employee,” but declined to disclose how long she’s worked for MBTA.

As a Route 28 bus rumbling down Warren Street Wednesday afternoon passed the scene of the altercation, Yolette Rose, 29, and friend Nay Banks, 27, were discussing the video.

Others on the bus nodded along as the women spoke, familiar with what happened.

“The whole world must have seen that video by now,” Banks said, joking.

The two Roxbury women saw it on Facebook.

“I don’t think that’s normal,” Rose said. “It shouldn’t have happened. They were both wrong, but the bus driver should have stayed on the bus.”

A few seats away, Jivenson Lormin, 25, of Dorchester, reflected on his own run-in with an MBTA driver last year. Lormin said he was wrongly accused of spitting in a driver’s face.

He said video surveillance exonerated him, but when the driver thought he was the perpetrator, she called the police.

He said he felt bad that someone spat on her, and that she did the right thing by calling the police.

“People should respect drivers,” he said.

O’Brien, of the Carmen’s Union, said that seems to often not be what happens.

He said drivers are furious and tired of being harassed. He hears instances of passengers spitting or throwing things at drivers “almost weekly,” he said.

“It’s an epidemic,” he said. “The MBTA has a legal responsibility to provide a safe place to work and they’re not.”

Pesaturo said drivers attend four days of “customer relations classes,” where they’re trained to manage emergency situations and unruly passengers.

O’Brien said the training is inadequate in teaching drivers how to diffuse intense situations and that drivers are “rushed through” it.

“They need to do a better job of protecting their employees,” O’Brien said.

Pesaturo said there have been 40 reported assaults on MBTA employees this year, down four from this time last year.

While O’Brien wouldn’t comment on the specifics last week’s altercation, he said the incident could have been avoided if the buses were equipped with partitions to protect drivers.

He said the union has been pushing the MBTA to install clear barriers around drivers for years.

A prototype barrier introduced a few years ago caused glare that blinded the drivers and made some feel boxed in, but O’Brien said the union never abandoned the idea.

Pesaturo said the MBTA is working on a new model and that drivers may be able to test it within the next six months. He said, with union approval, it could be added to a fleet of 325 buses the MBTA plans to purchase.

Sara DiNatale can be reached at sara.dinatale@globe.com Follow her on Twitter at @sara_dinatale. Steve Annear can be reached atsteve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.

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