SEAT bus drivers want more protection after man threatens driver with knife
New London ―The union representing bus drivers for Southeast Area Transit are calling for increased safety measures after a driver was threatened at knife point last month in New London.
The union is calling for improved bus shields to protect drivers, more police presence at transit centers like the one where the New London incident occurred and “a voice when it comes to violence in the workplace.”
“We’ve seen a dangerous increase in passengers verbally assaulting and threatening our members,” Sendra Childs, president of Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1209, said in a statement. “This latest incident with one of our female bus operators by an assailant with a knife is unacceptable. It is long overdue for (SEAT) General Manager and Supervisors to make changes to ensure our members and riders are safe on our buses, at bus stops, and at transit centers.”
Childs said instances of attacks on transit workers nationwide is on the rise an includes drivers being spat on, hit in the head, punched in the face and shot at. She said her concern is that safety is not being taken seriously by SEAT management, an allegation SEAT General Manager Michael Carroll disputed.
Carroll said the safety of the employees is a priority and for the past two years buses have been outfitted with security barriers to protect drivers. Drivers are also trained in deescalation techniques and there are periodic safety reviews. He said SEAT is always open to conversations about concrete ways to improve safety.
“As a small transit agency we don’t have the resources for a police force,” he said.
SEAT bus driver Rose Dawson was the victim of the Dec. 27 incident on the sidewalk on Water Street in New London, where she and others park SEAT buses every hour. A man came up to her, held a knife to her throat and threatened to kill her, Dawson said. She did not know the man, did not know why he was threatening to kill her but said thinks he was “definitely under the influence of something.” The incident occurred at about 8 p.m. and she said police arrested the man shortly after the incident.
“Nobody was out here when that happened to me. I was completely alone on the sidewalk,” Dawson said.
Police identified the suspect in the incident as 31-year-old Uhuru Small Jr. Small Jr., with no certain address, was charged with carrying a dangerous weapon, second-degree threatening and breach of peace. Court records show Small remains held in prison while his court case is pending.
Dawson said there are are more people riding the bus these days because of the statewide free fare initiative and she has noticed an increase in riders who are either intoxicated or riding the bus to get warm. Public bus services across the state have been free since April and will remain free until March 31 thanks to a vote by the General Assembly.
Carroll acknowledged that ridership on buses has exceeded pre-pandemic numbers and some of the people riding may be seeking refuge rather than a ride. He said ridership, which dropped dramatically during the pandemic, is averaging 100,000 boardings per month, up from the 80,000 to 90,000 boardings per month prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As a result, Carroll said, “I think there’s more negative interactions between the drivers and the riders,” he said.
Carroll said SEAT is reviewing its safety protocols as a result of the New London incident and the man arrested is barred for life from SEAT buses.
Captain Matthew Galante said “everyone’s safety is of the utmost importance” and the New London bus stop on Water Street is part of an assigned patrol route.
“Efforts will be made to increase checks of SEAT bus stop areas. Our goal is always to provide the highest level of services,” Galante said.
In a statement, ATU International President John Costa said action needs to be taken.
“If any other workers were assaulted as much as bus operators while performing their duties, there would be immediate steps to ensure a safe and secure workplace. Bus drivers aren’t being protected. After they’ve sacrificed so much during this pandemic to keep our communities moving, their concerns are still not being heard.”
This story was updated on Wednesday with additional information provided by the New London Department.
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