Austin driver slapped in the face after asking the rider to go

AUSTIN (KXAN) – “Are you going to sleep or what?”

The interaction between a passenger and a CapMetro driver started with this question. The driver told the man he could not sleep and drive through the same route again. He urged him to take the next bus.

The man begged the driver to let him ride, and then started shouting. The video shows the man hitting the plastic barrier that separates him and the bus driver before removing the barrier completely.

“Get your b **** a ** out of this bus,” the man shouted to the bus operator with his hands placed in front of his face. The exchange seemed to stop abruptly when the bus operator warned the man: “You will go to jail if you attack me.”

Passengers shout to CapMetro bus operator (Courtesy CapMetro)

But minutes later, as the bus operator got off the bus, the man is seen on a bus surveillance video that threw a blow at the bus driver. The test ended with the bus driver striking back and the passenger laying out on the sidewalk.

The scenario is one of at least 55 cases of attacks on bus operators registered by CapMetro since 2018, nine of which occurred in September 2021.

Other videos that KXAN has investigated show that bus operators endure threats of physical violence – and stink from angry passengers.

The attacks are not limited to CapMetro employees. A video shows a passenger pushing an elderly woman to the ground while they are both trying to get on the bus. (The man seen in the video was later charged with a felony of assaulting an elderly person, according to an arrest warrant.)

The assaults on riders and bus operators are part of the reason why the agency’s board approved a plan to set up a police force dedicated exclusively to CapMetro’s transit system. The agency has been using official Austin Police Department officers for part-time security along their routes since 1988.

In a March 2021 report from the American Public Transit Association, a peer review panel said that growth in the transit system over the past three decades made the current police model “inadequate.”

However, in its report, the APTA peer review panel noted that in some cases, APD officers were unaware of transit-specific laws. (A spokesman for CapMetro says “all officers receive an annual training course on nuances of transit safety.”)

The panel also noted “lack of investment from volunteer APD officers working to make CapMetro proactive and able to follow up on CapMetro offenses”, specifically assaults on bus operators.

In August, a CapMetro bus operator was threatened with physical violence. In the video, officers who responded to her bus are overheard and told the operator that she herself should go to court to bring charges.

Passengers shout to CapMetro bus operator (Courtesy CapMetro)

“You can charge, but I can not arrest him for a threat unless I hear the threat,” the officer is heard saying on surveillance video.

When the operator requested the video of the incident, she was suspended without pay because executives with MV Transportation, a third-party contractor for CapMetro, saw her use her cell phone to call 9-1-1 from the driver’s seat of the bus. A violation of company policy. She was later reimbursed after going to the CapMetro board to explain the incident.

In an interview in September with the president of ATU Local 1091, a union representing CapMetro bus operators said a dedicated policy agency is promising — but not a short-term solution where operators must enforce the agency’s COVID-19 rules. CapMetro officials estimated during a board meeting in August that the new police station could take up to 18 months to become operational.

“Over the past year and a half, we’ve had a lot of problems with repeat offenders verbally assaulting the operators, some physical, shouting – just overall threatening behavior,” said ATU Local 1091 President Brent Payne.

CapMetro officials declined our repeated requests for an interview with Executive Vice President and Chief Security Officer Gardner Tabon, but answered questions via email.

In a statement, the agency said “One of the reasons why CapMetro is expanding its public safety program is to provide a group of professionals, e.g. Ambassadors, intervention specialists and law enforcement agencies, the opportunity to become familiar with routes, staff and customers because they will interact with them on a daily basis. “

“When an incident occurs on our system, everything from the officer responding to the detective’s investigation to tracking through the system provides a safer and more desirable environment for staff and customers.”

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