Spike in bus driver attacks prompts SamTrans to enact safety changes

The San Mateo County Transit District, known as SamTrans, operates bus routes throughout the Peninsula, spanning from South San Francisco to East Palo Alto, and Foster City to Half Moon Bay. 

As of late, SamTrans bus operators have increasingly become targets of attack.

"The driving part I would say, (is) about 20% of the job. And the other 80% is dealing with the public. That’s what makes it very difficult," said Ernie Solero, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1574. Solero has been a SamTrans employee for 22 years and drives Route 68 – Hiller/Wessex - Ralston.


Hammer attack on AC Transit bus driver in Oakland caught on video

An hammer attack on an AC Transit bus driver in Oakland over the weekend was caught on video.

He said that the district's 320 drivers routinely encounter verbal and physical assaults, with instances of passengers even spitting on them.

"Sometimes it’s over a fare dispute. And also when the operator just tries to enforce the rules," he said, recalling a recent incident. "When I was telling her (passenger) not to lie down on the bus (so) other passengers could use the seats, and she just kind of ran towards me."

Solero escaped that encounter without harm, but such incidents are not uncommon.

According to SamTrans officials, there has been a recent surge in such incidents, with 14 cases of assaults against bus operators reported in 2023, compared to a handful of incidents from 2018 to 2022.

SEE ALSO: VTA driver praised for quick actions after bus attacked in Morgan Hill

"This mirrors a national trend that’s really concerning. And so it’s our mission to prevent as many of these assaults as we possibly can," said Randol White, a spokesman for the transit agency.

White said the district is installing see-through protective barriers around the driver’s compartment to help reduce the risk of violence.

Additionally, the SamTrans Board has approved the implementation of a new Code of Conduct and Enforcement Policy, applicable to all passengers and members of the public.

The policy addresses behaviors such as harassment, discrimination, fare evasion, physical and verbal assault, and carrying or using weapons. Violators can be removed from a SamTrans vehicle and banned from future use for a defined or indefinite period.

"I would really think it’s going to make a whole lot of difference with our bus operators, especially our female operators," said Solero. White added, "It’s a zero-tolerance policy, we’re not gonna put up with this."

So far this year, SamTrans officials have reported four assaults on its buses.

The installation of the partitions is expected to be completed within the next three months.

The Code of Conduct will take effect once it is posted on the SamTrans website.

Jesse Gary is a news & sports reporter, and a sports anchor, based in the station's South Bay bureau. Follow him on X (formerly Twitter), @JesseKTVU and on instagram, @jessegontv.