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CBS New York Investigates: MTA workers under attack in New York City

CBS New York Investigates: MTA workers under attack in New York City
CBS New York Investigates: MTA workers under attack in New York City 04:31

NEW YORK -- An MTA safety report obtained by CBS New York shows assaults on transit workers were up 39% in the first eight months of year and are on pace to surpass last year. It continues a concerning increase that has been happening since at least 2019.

CBS New York investigative reporter Tim McNicholas filed a public records request for previously unreleased videos to show what the workers have dealt with over the past few years when taking you from point A to point B.

Footage showed a bus driver in Inwood who, according to police, got glass in his eye after a man grabbed something from his car and hurled it at the bus window, breaking it, in a fit of road rage.

In another example, a concerned passenger on a Staten Island bus is seen checking on a driver after prosecutors say a man broke a window, punched the driver, and tried to pull him out.

Another clip showed a woman moving a young child off a bus in the Bronx in September of last year, and then pepper sprays 17-year MTA employee Efrain Martinez.

"How did you feel in that moment?" McNicholas asked.

"My mind was racing and my first thing I thought was am I gonna go home to my family?" Martinez said.

READ MOREMTA expresses outrage following attack on worker on subway platform in the Bronx

Watching the video CBS New York obtained for the first time, Martinez said the passenger became irate from him simply asking her to clarify a question.

"I was telling all the passengers to run to the back of the bus, so they wouldn't get in crossfire with the chemicals, and all this time I was blind. I couldn't breathe and I was just thinking I didn't know was this person gonna come behind me to stab me? Because I didn't see when she went out the door. This is my first time looking at this video. I thought she was still on the bus," Martinez said.

Martinez was one of 140 MTA workers assaulted on the job in 2022, according to an internal MTA security report obtained by CBS New York. The report says 110 employees were assaulted in the first eight months of this year -- a 39% increase over the same period last year.

"Why is it that the number of employees assaulted continues to increase?" McNicholas asked MTA CEO Janno Lieber.

"That is a really important question. Here's what the MTA has done: We were the principal advocates and proponents of tightening the law that allows us to do transit bans for people who attack MTA workers," Lieber said.

READ MOREPolice: Off-duty MTA worker attacked with unknown substance at Queens station

Lieber said the agency is also working with the NYPD to address the problem and training employees on safety.

"Do you have an idea of why the number is still increasing even with all those efforts you just mentioned?" McNicholas asked.

"The attacks on transit workers are one element of the crime problem of the system that the numbers are not in the right direction, and we need to make sure that turns in the right direction like the rest of subway," Lieber said.

When McNicholas asked that question to the union for drivers and conductors, members said attackers are emboldened.

"It's because repeat offenders are being released over and over again," TWU Local 100 Stations VP Robert Kelley  said. "We're gonna call out the names of these people, who's releasing these people that come back out here and create havoc."

In the pepper-spray case, police say the woman they arrested in December has no other arrests on file with the NYPD. The case is sealed, so prosecutors can't say where it currently stands in the courts.

Martinez, though, is worried what might happen if he runs into her again some day.

READ MOREMTA worker attacked with hammer inside dispatch room at Chelsea station

Martinez said his therapist advised against returning to work yet due to PTSD he suffers from the incident. When he does return, he wants his passengers to know this:

"We are normal people with lives, with families. As we respect you as you come on the bus, respect us," Martinez said.

The MTA also announced earlier this fall it is testing out new glass barriers for bus drivers that extend all the way to the bus ceiling. Martinez said that might have helped him because the current barriers only go so high, which he said left him vulnerable to that pepper-spray attack.

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