MILPITAS, Calif. (KGO) -- Bus operators with the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) say they're feeling targeted. The transit agency described recent attacks on bus drivers as unrelenting.
The agency told ABC7 News, there have been at least 14 attacks on VTA bus operators in the last four months alone.
"It's been a very disappointing time for the community and for operators," VTA Deputy Director of Bus Operations, Lisa Vickery said. "To have a feeling that they're being targeted, or that there's been an uptick in attacks on operators- or frustration with operators."
Vickery said incidents have ranged from verbal attacks, to drivers being spit on by passengers, to serious physical assaults.
This week, the transit agency turned to the community for help finding a man who they say attacked a driver on May 25 at the Milpitas Transit Center.
According to Santa Clara County Sheriff's Deputy Russell Davis, the attack left a bus driver with a concussion and laceration to his face.
In a release, VTA described, "The operator, who had stepped off his bus for a break, was knocked to the ground, suffering a concussion."
The is described as a Hispanic male adult, about 5'10" tall, 160 pounds with black hair, a mustache and long facial chin hair.
Vickery with VTA explained that in many cases, attacks are completely out of the blue and unexpected.
"I've had three separate occasions... guns pulled out," VTA bus operator Felipe Begines, Jr. told ABC7 News. "One, I was hit with a baton over the face. One, I was assaulted by a lady."
Begines, Jr. said he was sent to the hospital after that woman scratched him and broke skin. He's suffered additional incidents in his time as a driver.
In his 10 years at VTA, he blames COVID-19 for cutting passenger patience down to zero.
"This pandemic certainly did something," he shared.
Vickery added, "I do think that the experience that we've all had as a community with the pandemic has increased some of the anxieties and anger and frustration that's just out there. And it's being expressed against our operators apparently."
With the change in behavior, comes change in the agency's safety blueprint. VTA said its modified policies and more- even putting up physical barriers between operators and the passengers.
"That barrier, I use it religiously," Begines said. "Because that that gives us a fighting chance for anything."
"We changed our fare policies," Vickery said. "So, instead of creating confrontations with passengers, operators are encouraged to really look at the situation and determine the best way to handle it."
Beyond the barriers, VTA said it's working with the Santa Clara County D.A.'s office and local law enforcement to send a message that it is a serious situation when you attack a public servant.
Deputy Davis with the sheriff's office told ABC7 News, "We will do a full investigation to find the suspects that commit these crimes and take them into custody."
"It's unfortunate, but these bus operators do get assaulted quite frequently," he added.
Vickery said, "These people are trying to serve our community and get people where they need to go. They should not be targeted. And we will look to do whatever we can to make sure folks know we won't tolerate it."
Anyone with information on the May 25 attack is asked to call the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office at 408-808-4431.
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