New York, NY – Transit workers on edge in the aftermath of this weekend’s vicious attack on a subway conductor in Brooklyn want those guilty of the assault caught and prosecuted — but they also want frustrated riders to understand they are not to blame for lousy MTA service.
“You are not alone — I’m in that train with you,” subway conductor Natasha Letman told LaborPress following a joint press conference with TWU Local 100 President Tony Utano and NYCT President Andy Byford at the Bowling Green subway stop on Tuesday morning. “You’re getting home before I get home. You’re getting home to your family before I get to my family. You’re taking your frustration out on the wrong person.”
Byford called Saturday’s early morning attack, in which a 62-year-old train conductor was “absolutely pummeled through the window of his train” at the Grant Avenue station in Brooklyn, “disgusting” and “appalling.”
“Most New Yorkers are decent, honest, kind people — humane people who would never dream of assaulting a Transit worker,” Byford said. “They get frustrated from time to time — and we know the service isn’t as reliable as it should be, and we’re working very hard to address that — but there are a small minority who think it’s acceptable to take their frustrations out on Transit workers. And I’m saying, as is President Utano, enough is enough.”
They get frustrated from time to time — and we know the service isn’t as reliable as it should be, and we’re working very hard to address that — but there are a small minority who think it’s acceptable to take their frustrations out on Transit workers. — NYCT President Andy Byford
Both NYCT and the union are flooding the system with wanted posters displaying photographs of those responsible for this weekend’s attack. Assaulting a transit worker is a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison.
“I think if we have a couple of people arrested the assaults will stop because people will be going to jail,” Utano said.
In addition to the wanted posters, Utano said that train conductors will also begin using body cams “so we can get clearer pictures of the people who are assaulting.”
“They’ve got to understand that Transit workers come here to work and go home — they don’t want to come to work and go to the hospital,” the TWU Local 100 president said.
Letman expressed support for the plan to outfit train conductors with body cams.
“I don’t know how everything is going to play out — I’m just looking for us to be safe,” she said. “Anything that’s going to help us feel safe and be safe — that’s all I care about. It’s sad, because the person that was attacked could have been your parent….or could have been your grandparent.”
Byford insists that NYCT is “actively driving down delays” by focusing on the basics of existing service — including things like spacing out trains, dispatching trains from termini on time and providing riders with necessary information about their commute.
“But, ultimately,” Byford said, “what we’re doing is seeking funding for what really needs to be done, which is the Fast Forward plan to move on from what we currently have, which is a very old infrastructure carrying record numbers of people with finite funding. What we need to do is bite the bullet, fund Fast Forward and create a modern Transit system here that is inherently and exponentially more reliable, so that people don’t get frustrated.”
According to the NYCT chief, the riding public has a “whole raft of ways” — from Twitter to snail mail — in which they can communicate their displeasure with his agency.
“You can proactively, effectively give us feedback — and we will act upon it,” Byford said. “Punching someone as a means of conveying your frustration is not an option.”
Letman hopes that riders will try to “empathize and understand” with workers and know that they are trying their utmost to get everyone to their destinations safely and efficiently.
“We’re in this together,’ Letman said. “When you hit one of us or hurt one of us — you’re not getting to your destination any faster. So, the faster we work together, the faster we get there.”