On July 19 HART driver Colin Brown was attacked while driving the #2 bus route by a woman named Mayi Nathali Rijo-Martinez, who was subsequently arrested and charged with battery on a public transit employee.
Madeline Orio, a bus driver for over five years, told HART board members that Brown suffered a concussion while being attacked, and that she wanted to convey the occasional dangers that she and her colleagues endure in their line of work.
After the meeting she told CL that a week before the attack on Colin Brown, a female bus driver she knows was pushed and shoved around while working. "It happens regularly.....we want to feel we're in a safe situation and that if something should happen, somebody will be there."
When a HART driver feels imperiled, he or she is directed to call a dispatcher to inform them that they need help.
But Carlitos Martinez, the President of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local #1593, says the problem now is that the dispatchers use that call to assess the situation before deciding on whether the driver is in sufficient danger that will necessitate providing immediate assistance.
"The problem we have is when we make the call, we expect for them to respond, not for them to find out over the radio, what's going on," he told CL after the meeting concluded on Monday. "The facts are going to be given, later on in a report. They insist on trying to figure out whether they need to send police or not."
Martinez handed a letter to the HART board signed by other officials with the ATU regarding their concerns. In some U.S . cities (like New York, Atlanta, Dallas and San Francisco) transit systems have their own police force who keep the peace and attempt to maintain order.
HART does not have their own police force, but spokesperson Marcia Mejia said the agency does contract out with the Tampa Police Department to provide assets and personnel to surveil the Marion Transit Center and Marion Parkway in downtown Tampa.
Cameras located in the interior and exterior of each HART bus are provided for safety reasons as well, Mejia said.
The ATU's Carlitos Martinez said once when he was driving a HART bus he had an incident in which he felt threatened enough to call in to dispatch for help. He said that instead of having to answer questions to the operator, having that operator sending somebody immediately to help him would have been better, with plenty of time afterwards to assess the danger level.
With the Colin Brown assault still being investigated internally, HART spokesperson Marcia Mejia said she could not comment specifically on his situation.
In an interview with the Florida Sentinel-Bulletin, Brown said HART isn't concerned enough about safety issue, saying, "I think if they put certain policies in place, it would stop this kind of violence."