‘Tsunami’ of attacks on transit workers has MTA brass, unions joining to suggest body cams, other preventive measures

EAST NEW YORK, Brooklyn -- After yet another MTA worker was attacked by passengers -- this time, in an attack captured on cellphone video -- top brass at the MTA joined with the Transport Workers Union to share new methods they're employing to try and find some of the attackers, and to help prevent further assaults.

The most recent major attack was carried out against a conductor on the A train, on the Grant Street subway platform, around 4:30 a.m. Saturday. Cellphone video posted on social media and circulated by the NYPD shows a man and a woman grab and punch the conductor through the conductor's window. The pair had apparently gotten irate when the conductor announced that their train would not be making a number of local stops.

The photo of the attackers is one of many on a new wanted poster that the Transport Workers Union, TWU Local 100, unveiled on Tuesday morning. It highlights six different major assaults on transit workers in the last year.

TWU President Tony Utano was joined at a mid-morning news conference regarding the violence by New York City Transit President Andy Byford.

"Every day, pretty much, people are verbally assaulted, they're spat at, they're punched, they are threatened," said Byford about MTA employees.  "That is unacceptable."

He was referring to people like Felix Olivo, a bus operator who was driving the M5 bus in Manhattan, he said, when a passenger took out his frustrations on him.

"The guy ripped my badge off, and he assaulted me," Olivo told PIX11 News. "I stayed in my seat. I couldn't believe what happened."

Attacks like that are the motivation behind another initiative the transit chief and the union president jointly announced at the Tuesday morning news conference. Some subway conductors will start wearing body cameras on a trial basis, starting as early as next month.

"We're gonna see how it works out," TWU president Utano said. "If the assaults start to go down, and it's a good program, then we'll expand it."

Meanwhile, the union and the MTA are posting the wanted posters at subway stations, and on trains and buses across the five boroughs.

"I want to flood the system now," Utano told PIX11 News. "Now that I've got the buy-in from the Transit Authority that we can put these everywhere, I want to flood the system with it."

At Grant Street station here, where the latest attack happened, there was clear evidence on Tuesday afternoon of the union, the city and MTA all taking action. A police patrol was making regular checks of the waiting area and platform, and throughout the station, wanted posters were displayed widely.

"They're gonna get caught," said passenger Rahi Rahman. "Their fliers are everywhere."

In the latest attack, there's a $2,500 reward. For the five other attacks listed on the wanted poster, no reward is offered. The union and the MTA are depending on the public's good will to turn in assault suspects. Byford said that he'd failed to see why "a pecuniary award" should be a motivation for someone to do the right thing.

Byford did admit that one reason for what he described as a "tsunami" of increased assaults on transit workers could be passengers' frustration over declining service.

Some passengers said as much.

"New York needs to get its head together," said one subway customer here at Grant Street who wanted to only disclose her first name, Sharmayne. "Get these trains working, so people can get to work on time."

"Yes, people should get frustrated," Byford said at the news conference, regarding customers' complaints. "They should hold me to account."

However, he said, complaints should be addressed to the MTA, through its social media sites, its app, its website, and by phone, rather than attacking its employees.

"There is no excuse to take it out on somebody least able to do something about it," Byford said.