ONLY ON: Bus driver assaulted in Tucson

ONLY ON: Bus driver assaulted in Tucson
(Source: Tucson News Now)

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Gabriel Munoz will be back to driving his Sun Tran route Tuesday after he was assaulted on the job Monday morning.

Munoz stopped near Stella and Wilmot on around 7:30 a.m. when he said someone boarded his bus, but couldn't pay. He said the man's phone screen was cracked so he could not confirm the payment through the Sun Tran mobile app.

That's when the man began to cuss and yell, according to Munoz. He said verbal assaults are a common occurrence but he never expected what would happen next.

"When I turned my head is when he clocked me," he said.

Munoz said the man left the bus and it took everything he had to not chase after him. He worried about losing his job.

"Even if people are cussing us out, or threatening us, you know...we have to try and contain all that," Munoz said. "But I think it's wrong when the driver gets assaulted, that we're not allowed to fight back. We have to sit there like a duck and take the abuse."

The police, the company and the union were all called. Munoz said it's protocol for drivers to ask passengers to wait until another bus can pick them up. With blood on his shirt, Munoz said he could hear some folks complaining for him to simply continue his route.

Teamsters Local 104 provided the following statement from Secretary-Treasurer Karla Schumann:

"It is a travesty to what is happening to our members in Tucson, who work for Sun Tran as coach operators. Whether it be through stricter safety regulations or laws passed through legislation, we have to do more to protect our members who are being assaulted regularly."

Sun Tran has received three reports of a driver being assaulted in 2018, according to Communications Director Pat Richter. The total for 2017 was 31.

The bus Munoz was driving did not have a partition to separate him from passengers. To date, those protective dividers have been installed in 71 buses, according to Richter. That makes up 29 percent of Sun Tran's active fleet.

He said there are already plans to roll out another 23 new buses with partitions in 2018, with 17 other dividers expected to be installed sometime next fiscal year.

Sun Tran provides an average of 55,000 rides a day during the week, according to Richter, so an assault on a driver is not common*.

Munoz said he considered offering the passenger a free ride, something he occasionally provides to folks who seem to truly need it. The potential in this situation was shot down as soon as the man raised his voice and cussed at Munoz.

He said it's not going to sour his outlook on passengers who are, generally speaking, kind people.

"I'm still going to do the same job I do every day," he said. "Keep my calm with everybody, try to explain things to them, and if I can give a free ride, then Ill give a free ride."

*EDITOR'S NOTE: An on-air version of this story stated that assaults on driver were not uncommon, according to Sun Tran. That was a live mistake that was later repeated.

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