TriMet, NJ Transit take steps to strengthen employee protections

Dec. 15, 2022
The boards of both agencies took action that will allow riders to be suspended from using the system under certain circumstances.

The boards of TriMet in Portland, Ore., and New Jersey Transit (NJ Transit) have approved efforts to ensure a safe environment for both riders and transit employees.

The actions would allow riders to be suspended from using the systems under certain circumstances, such as assaulting operators and both agencies provide a path of appeal for offenders who are suspended.

TriMet: Ordinance 369

The TriMet Board of Directors approved Ordinance 369, an amendment to the agency’s code that was introduced earlier this year, that allows stiffer penalties to be imposed for prohibited conduct on the transit system. Fare evasion is not covered by the amendment, which was written to address behavior-based conduct only.

The amendment expands the types of offenses that can result in long-term exclusions, including those that stretch from six months to a lifetime ban. While felonies already fall under the scope of the current long-term exclusion policy, attempted felonies and Class A misdemeanors—the most serious category, which includes fourth-degree assault and some bias crimes—will also be eligible for longer exclusions.

TriMet says the ordinance will change three principal changes:

  1. The most serious misdemeanors will be covered under TriMet’s definition of “serious physical offense.”
  2. The distinctions between first and second offenses will be removed.
  3. Chronic offenders, a person with three or more violations for conduct (not fare evasion) within a 90-day period, are eligible for long-term exclusions.

“TriMet aims to keep both its operators and riders moving safely, and it’s important to have a means to hold people accountable for inappropriate, threatening or dangerous behavior. While the district attorney’s office determines punishments for crimes, those punishments don’t always include long-term exclusions from TriMet,” the agency explained.

The changes will take effect on Jan. 13, 2023.

NJ Transit: Proposed regulations

NJ Transit’s Board of Directors approved the start of the process to enact proposed regulations that would establish a procedure by which the agency would be able to administratively suspend ridership privileges for individuals who assault transit employees while also creating due process for offenders to appeal proposed suspensions.

The proposed regulations would create progressive sanctions, with the length of the suspension increasing with each ensuing offense and provide due process to individuals facing a suspension. The proposed rules would also set procedures for the creation of a Ridership Appeal Board, when necessary, to review initial determinations made by NJ Transit.

“There is nothing more important than ensuring our employees are safe and protected while carrying out their duties in service to the riding public,” said NJ Transit President and CEO Kevin S. Corbett. “These new proposed regulations should serve as powerful deterrents against an assault on our valued employees, particularly after the dedication and commitment they all demonstrated through the pandemic for all those who depend on public transit.”

The proposed regulations are supported by new legislation signed into law in January 2022 that enables NJ Transit and other carriers to suspend or prohibit individuals who commit assaults against employees. The law also ensures the state’s mobility providers equip buses and trains with communications systems to quickly contact law enforcement in an emergency.

The law requires NJ Transit and motorbus companies to coordinate with law enforcement and transit police to help protect bus operators and rail employees on potentially problematic routes. It also requires the establishment of an employee assistance program for employees who have been assaulted and to provide periodic de-escalation to employees.

“The safety of NJ Transit employees is always our top priority,” said New Jersey Department of Transportation Commissioner and NJ Transit Board Chair Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti. “Individuals who commit an assault against a transit worker will face serious consequences, including the possibility of losing the privilege to ride the transit system. Let these proposed regulations be a clear message this behavior will not be tolerated on NJ Transit services.”

The proposed regulations will be published in the NJ Register for a public comment period of 60 days, after which NJ Transit will incorporate public feedback into the proposed rules before presenting the final regulations to the NJ Transit Board of Directors for adoption.

About the Author

Mischa Wanek-Libman | Group Editorial Director

Mischa Wanek-Libman serves as editor in chief of Mass Transit magazine and group editorial director of the Infrastructure and Aviation Group at Endeavor Business Media. She is responsible for developing and maintaining the editorial direction of the group and is based in the western suburbs of Chicago.

Wanek-Libman has spent more than 20 years covering transportation issues including construction projects and engineering challenges for various commuter railroads and transit agencies. She has been recognized for editorial excellence through her individual work, as well as for collaborative content. 

She is an active member of the American Public Transportation Association's Marketing and Communications Committee and serves as a Board Observer on the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC) Board of Directors.  

She is a graduate of Drake University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Mass Communication with a major in magazine journalism and a minor in business management.