“We’re Sitting Ducks,” Say Bus Drivers
By Edmund DeMarche
New York City bus drivers are not heroes like firefighters and not impenetrable like police officers. And unlike train conductors, they are not isolated from passengers. They must coexist with them.
Before Edwin Thomas became a bus driver, he drove armored trucks. He thought driving buses was a safer profession and began working for the transportation department. He had two young children at the time and didn’t want to jeopardize his future with them.
His choice proved fatal.
Shortly after 12:30 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 1, Horace D. Moore, 20, of Crown Heights, allegedly took a knife to Thomas’s chest after being rebuffed by Thomas for a transfer. The man had not paid his fare. Shortly after the stabbing, Thomas was pronounced dead at Woodhull Hospital in north Brooklyn, according to police.
Word of Thomas’s murder on his B46 route while driving at Malcolm X Boulevard in Bedford-Stuyvesant spread like wildfire in his bus depot on Utica Avenue and Fillmore Avenue.
Shock and sadness inspired by the loss of a colleague and friend known throughout the depot for his willingness to work overtime and his affection for BMWs, was replaced by anxiety and fear regarding the dangerous realities bus drivers face when driving their routes.
Drivers here say Thomas’s murder illustrates the risks they face from disgruntled passengers who verbally and at times become physical. They say the transit authority does little to ensure their safety during a time riders are becoming increasingly emboldened.
To be sure, few public service jobs bring consumer and provider to such close proximity as a bus driver and his passengers.
Seventy-four bus drivers have been assaulted so far this year, according to the Transit Authority. Thomas’s was first killing of a city bus driver in more than 25 years.
Drivers here consider themselves sitting ducks. They are in a vulnerable position compounded by the fact they are not allowed to carry a weapon for self-defense.
“We threw around some ideas a few years back about putting up some kind of Plexiglas-type window, but we need to have access to the passengers,” said Robert Clouden, a bus driver for 19 years. “But something needs to be done, passengers are getting a lot more aggressive.”
The bus drivers we spoke to say they cringe when they see groups of high school-aged passengers about to board. These passengers are rambunctious and often make excuses about forgetting their Metrocard at home, or some other excuse to get out of paying. They also resort to sneaking through the back door.
“We operate in the real world,” said Clouden. “You’re not going to be able to tell a 6’5” guy, “Hey, get off my bus.”’
A passenger assaulted Clouden back in April 2007. A teenager complained that he missed his stop. The teen punched Clouden in the face, fracturing his nose and putting him out of work for two months.
Clouden, who used to trade tips with Thomas because they both had BMWs, said this incident sharpens his senses. “I think everyone in here is a little bit more concerned then yesterday, but we always knew what’s out there,” said Clouden.
The B46 route is considered by some drivers as a tough route to get stuck with. It begins in Marine Park and continues for 12 miles along Utica Avenue, terminating at the Williamsburg Bridge.
You never know what kind of person you’re picking up, said Warren.
“You get two different areas,” said Warren, a bus driver who declined to give his last name. “You drive through Crown Heights and Bed-Stuy where you get a little nervous and then you get to Marine Park, where you feel OK.”