Bill would increase penalty for assaulting transit employees in New Jersey

Secaucus Junction
A N.J. Transit train pulls into Secaucus Junction in February 2016. (Photo by Todd DeFeo/The DeFeo Groupe)

(The Center Square) – The New Jersey Assembly Transportation and Independent Authorities has advanced legislation to increase the penalty for anyone who assaults a bus operator or passenger railroad employee in the state.

Assemblyman Hal Wirths, R-Sussex, co-sponsored A-6013, the Motorbus and Passenger Rail Service Employee Violence Prevention Act, in response to what he says is an increasing number of attacks on NJ Transit employees.

Currently, assaulting a transit employee is a fourth-degree crime unless the victim suffers bodily injury. The legislation would make it a third-degree crime.

“Since the pandemic, mass transit employees have put their lives on the line while being asked to do more than ever before,” Wirths said in a news release.

“We need to do a better job of protecting our front-line mass transit workers while sending a strong message to passengers that assaults will be punished to the fullest extent of the law,” Wirths added. “Upgrading fines and implementing additional safety measures will go a long way toward ensuring a smoother ride for employees and law-abiding passengers alike.”

The bill also authorizes NJ Transit, motorbus companies and passenger railroads to ban riders for up to one year for all assaults. They may ban a rider for life if a deadly weapon is used.

In November, the Senate Transportation Committee passed its version of the measure, S-4071.

According to NJ Transit, the agency reported 82 assaults of bus operators between January and September 2021 and 52 assaults of rail crews during that time. The agency reported 81 assaults of bus operators and 32 assaults of rail crews during the same period in 2020.

The agency said it made 45 crew assault arrests between January and September 2021, up from 26 arrests during the same period in 2020.