NJ Transit officials and employees are hoping a new law that kicked in last month will help to stop the rash of physical assaults against train conductors and bus drivers.

The Motorbus and Passenger Rail Service Employee Violence Prevention Act upgrades penalties for attacks on NJ Transit workers to at minimum third-degree aggravated assault. It allows the agency to ban offenders from mass transportation services for up to a year for a regular assault, and they could be banned for life if the attack involved a deadly weapon.

According to NJ Transit President and CEO Kevin Corbett, it’s not uncommon to have disruptions when you’re moving close to a million people a day on mass transit but the level of violence since the start of the pandemic has been nothing less than shocking.

A masked NJ Transit bus driver
A masked NJ Transit bus driver (NJ Transit)

“We noticed a significant increase. In 2020 we had 158 assaults and 2021 we had 183,” he said.

That’s more than triple the normal number of reported annual assaults.

Corbett said hopefully the new law will deter passengers from attacking NJ Transit workers.

“You know it’s one thing if somebody has a temper issue verbally, but when it actually gets to physical assault or spitting, we wanted to get more teeth in that, so there would be more serious consequences,” he said.

No excuse

He said whether somebody agrees with the federal mandate requiring passengers to wear a mask on mass transit or not, there is no excuse for assaulting transit workers.

“They’re out there every day doing their best, they’ve done a great job during COVID, providing that essential service that so many needed,” he said.

“If people think they can get away with it, somebody will punch a female ticket collector who’s just doing her job, we want to make sure the most serious consequences are taken for people who think they can get away with that," he said.

NJ Transit police officers who saved a commuter's life at the Trenton train station
NJ Transit police officers who saved a commuter's life at the Trenton train station (NJ Transit)

Getting back on track

He said during the omicron surge, from mid-December into mid-January, NJ Transit ridership, which had been in the 50% to 55% pre-COVID capacity range on weekdays and up to 80% on weekends, fell to the 30% range.

Corbett noted the agency had a lot of employees testing positive for the virus and calling out sick during that time frame. But with omicron fading fast, fewer employees are out sick and ridership numbers have started climbing.

“We hope it comes back as quickly as it dropped down, I think a lot of it ties in particularly to New York and also Philly,” he said.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.

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