Muni driver confrontation highlights safety issues

Members of an advocacy group for public workers Friday demanded that the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency release surveillance video to the public which allegedly shows a female bus driver being assaulted by a man last week in San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood.

During a news conference outside Muni’s office at 1 South Van Ness Avenue, members of United Public Workers for Action alleged that the driver is not being supported by her employer, Muni, and is instead being punished for speaking out about the incident.

UPWA member Steve Zeltzer said:

“Why is the SFMTA not releasing the video for the public? … We think there is a record of harassment, of bullying of San Francisco Muni transit workers in San Francisco. Many have been harassed and bullied for making health and safety complaints.”

The incident reportedly happened the morning of Aug. 13, near the corner of Third and Mission streets. Driver Carla Romero had exited her bus to correct an issue with the bus’s overhead poles, when a driver stopped his car and confronted her, resulting in a physical altercation, according to Zeltzer.

Both the driver and the man filed complaints against each other, and both were cited with battery.

The UPWA believes releasing the video is important, as it shows Romero was defending herself during the incident.

Muni spokesman Paul Rose said surveillance video from the bus Romero was operating has been handed over to police.

Additionally, Rose said that while Muni is working with the police department on investigating the incident, Muni fully supports Romero, who is still employed with the transit agency:

“We know that our operators have very difficult and demanding jobs and that the vast majority of them do an extremely great job. … However, physical violence should never be an option for people who have issues with the system.”

In response to the incident, Muni has launched a campaign in conjunction with the Transport Union Workers Local 250-A aimed at the public to educate them about the dangers drivers often face.

The ads, which will be displayed across buses and trains next month, include pictures of Muni operators and quotes from them, as well as apparent friends and family members, urging people to avoid targeting bus drivers. The ads also employ the hashtag #Keepthemsafe.

The UPWA agrees that bus drivers are often the targets of drivers and others who are frustrated with the city’s increasingly congested traffic conditions.

Zeltzer said:

“Unfortunately a lot of that stress and anger is being taken out on public workers. It’s being taken out on the drivers and that’s unacceptable for us. We have to end the harassment and the bullying. We have to have healthy and safe places for our Muni drivers.”

Zeltzer, however, maintained that Muni has not done enough to protect operators and discourages employees from making complaints:

“What happens in many of these incidents is that the driver gets fired. They blame the driver and they retaliate against the driver. The driver gets the brunt of this.”

The San Francisco Police Department was not immediately available for comment on the incident.