TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — After not one but two vicious attacks against HART bus drivers in 2019, HART is teaming up with lawmakers to try and ramp up transit safety statewide.
Filed this week, the Uniformed Public Servant Protection Act would:
- require the installation of protective barriers on public transit
- require the posting of the maximum penalty for assaulting a transit worker
- require mandatory training for drivers to defuse and de-escalate potentially violent situations
- increase the current enhancement for assault against a uniformed public servant (transit workers, law enforcement and other first responders) from a 1st degree misdemeanor to a 3rd degree felony.
HART already has implemented the first three proponents of the bill, urging other transit authorities to do so as well.
The bill is co-sponsored by state representative Michael Beltran of Tampa.
While he appreciates the gesture, HART driver Schnaider Prophete, fears the measure if passed won’t do much to actually keep drivers safer.
“If you’re going to do something like that, it shouldn’t be based on emotion,” he explained. “It should be done so that it’s effective.”
Prophete, a long time HART operator, survived a vicious attack from a passenger with a box cutter in November. That week, from his hospital bed, he told 8 On Your Side he asked HART for protective shields years prior but was denied.
HART started installing protective barriers after another driver, Thomas Dunn, was stabbed and killed in May 2019. Prophete’s attack forced them to speed up the process, with a promise of a shield on every HART bus by the end of 2019.
“You cannot reason with people that are mentally ill or under influence of substance,” he said.
Prophete returned to work a couple weeks after the attack, but remains on light duty as he is still recovering.
“I try to deal with it day by day,” he said.
A HART spokesperson told 8 On Your Side Friday that the agency is still working to install protective barriers but that every bus should be equipped by this weekend.