WASHINGTON - After a spike in assaults on Metrobus drivers, two D.C. council members tell FOX 5 they are planning to introduce legislation to make all assaults on transit workers automatic felony offenses.
Councilmembers Trayon White (D-Ward 8) and Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), who is also the Metro Board Chairman, said Thursday they believe they can get the support of other council members to pass the legislation.
"When [bus drivers] lives are in jeopardy, the passengers' lives are equally in jeopardy," White said. "So we need to make sure we put ramifications in place to protect these workers."
While major crime is down on Metro, assaults on bus drivers are up more than 23 percent over last year. According to Metro, there have been 67 driver assaults so far in 2017 compared to 53 for the same time last year.
Earlier on Thursday, Metro transit workers and union leaders gathered for a press conference to demand changes to improve safety. It comes after a rider allegedly threw a Sterno can at a driver on Wednesday while another rider used a knife to threaten to kill a driver one day prior.
"It has been open season on transit workers at Metro," said Carroll Thomas, with Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689.
In the most publicized recent attack, a woman threw a cup of urine at a driver in August, an attack that was only considered a misdemeanor.
"It's incumbent upon us at Metro to figure out ways to protect our service workers," said Evans.
Evans said he was not aware he and White were working on similar legislation and that he would reach out and see if they could work on something together.
Mayor Muriel Bowser's office could not say Thursday whether she would support the legislation, but pointed to her prior efforts to increase penalties for violent crime on Metro.
While Metro's union also wants to see the change in Maryland and Virginia law, they especially want D.C. leaders to act because of the high crime on the District's X2 line.
The union is also demanding an immediate deployment of additional police on buses, a new policy that would allow Metro riders to be suspended and banned, and a "post incident structure" for operators who are assaulted where they are guaranteed paid administrative leave. In addition, union leaders want fare boxes relocated and a public education campaign on paying fare to help reduce fare disputes with drivers.
"We know we can't stop every assault, every crime. We know it," Thomas said. "There has to be something done to curtail this, to bring those numbers down."