At least 170 Metrobus drivers have suffered on-the-job assaults since 2011, some involving punches and pepper spray, according to a review by the News4 I-Team.
Footage of some the attacks, obtained by the I-Team, show assaults happening in front of children and in broad daylight.
Incident reports and Metro Transit Police said disputes over bus fare payments have triggered a large number of the attacks.
“If a bus operator challenges the customers and reminds them what the fare is, it sometimes upsets the customers, and they resort to violence,” the agency's transit police chief Ron Pavlik said.
Security camera video shows a February incident in which a verbal dispute turned violent. A 26-year-old female bus passenger argued with the bus driver, then doused him pepper spray. No passengers were injured, but footage shows another woman and young child were standing in the doorway as the attack unfolded. No other passengers were hurt.
Footage also obtained by the News4 I-Team shows a man shouting at a bus driver on a driveway of the Anacostia bus station on Howard Road SE in 2013. The man is then seen charging toward the bus with a rock in his hand, entering the bus and wrestling with the driver. Police subdued the man with pepper spray and arrested him.
Another 2013 dispute over unpaid fare sent a female bus driver to the hospital. Police said the passenger struck the driver with a “closed fist” and lacerated the driver’s lip. She was transported to George Washington University Hospital.
WMATA is installing new protections for drivers to reduce the risk of attack. The agency has been working to install retractable protective shields on its buses, to allow drivers to block physical contact from passengers.
A Metro spokesman said the agency will install shields on about 100 buses each year, until the entire fleet is equipped. Each shield costs $1,500.
Nathan Hall, a Metrobus driver since 1977, said he plans to deploy the shield once it’s installed.
“It’s good to know that you have the devices if you need them," Hall said.
The bus system has 2,550 operators. A spokesperson said the recent assaults have also siphoned money from WMATA’s budget.
“[Assaults] involve workman compensation, expenses, medical cost increases, delays in service … and the effect it has on customers’ perception of safety. That is why we take these incidents so seriously," she said.