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Transit anarchy

RTA working on addressing violence on its buses

By Amanda Duncan

November 26th 2012

The Regional Transit Authority is considering changes because of recent assaults on bus drivers that raise questions of safety for Cleveland State students who use public transportation.

Artis Hughes, the RTA driver who uppercut passenger Shidea Lane after she physically attacked him on the bus, ignited the controversy over driver and passenger safety.
Lane filed assault charges against Hughes while RTA filed a disorderly conduct charge against Lane — the only charge they could file against her.

Hughes’ story came to public attention after a video of the September incident went viral for the entire world to see. Many people have supported Hughes’ response to the attack while others feel the driver had no right to punch Lane. Hughes lost his job after the video surfaced in October.

After the uppercut incident, a passenger threw hot coffee in the face of a driver after both had gotten off the bus at the Cedar-University bus loop. The driver had challenged the passenger to pay his fare.

On Nov. 8, driver Gregory Vranekovic was punched by a passenger and required medical attention for cuts and scrapes. Vranekovic told a Cleveland news station that he thought twice before defending himself because of the firing of Hughes.

Treasury Services Director Veronica Herschbach said more than 15,000 Cleveland State students received a U-Pass sticker this semester, which allows them to ride any RTA line.

RTA’s factsheet released on Nov. 14 states that while RTA never hopes that it comes to a driver having to defend his or herself against a passenger, RTA feels that the operators do have the right to fight back.

Jared Weppelman, a student who works as a safety escort on campus, agrees.

“In light of the attacks on the bus drivers, I think that bus drivers should be able to defend themselves if they are attacked,” Weppelman said.

He added that he feels safe while riding on the bus.

Weppelman explained that the drivers are responsible not only for their safety but for the other passengers on board, and “anything that might threaten those passengers needs to be dealt with.”

RTA’s factsheet shows from 2007-11, 71 operator assaults were reported, which represents a frequency of one assault per every 80,000 RTA trips. A rail operator performs the company average of 10 trips per day for 250 days annually.

Stacy Konkol, a Cleveland State medical student, commutes every Tuesday and Thursday from Garfield to Cleveland. She feels safe on the bus even after learning of the driver assaults.

“It’s not the drivers to fear, it’s the people that ride the bus,” Konkol said.

RTA is working with state legislators to strengthen penalties against those who assault a public transit worker and enhance employee training on how to deal with unruly customers.

Other law enforcement jurisdictions are being requested to assist RTA in ensuring the safety and well-being of drivers and passengers. RTA allows uniformed law enforcement personnel to ride for free.

Alison Lancaster, also a commuter student, feels that the incidents are disturbing, but are isolated incidents.

“I have always felt safe on the bus,” Lancaster said. “The only incident I have had was at a transit station, but it wasn’t anything to do with RTA.”

RTA HealthLine buses have a switch where the driver can change the bus traffic signal, and many cars are not aware of it, causing accidents like the one on Nov. 19 on Euclid Avenue across from Rascal House.

Alek Uskokovic witnessed the accident and heard from the other students that the car was at fault. This makes her want to reconsider taking the bus. She said she has noticed more transit police on buses as of late.

Weppelman feels that passengers need to step up to defend the driver and that accountability is important for everyone.