SEPTA bus driver Bernard Gribbin was shot and killed while driving on his route in the Germantown section of Philadelphia last month. Police charged a woman passenger with his murder.
A bill named for Gribbin, a U.S. Army veteran, sponsored by state Sens. Frank Farry (R-Bucks) and Christine Tartaglione (D-Philadelphia) that would make it a crime to interfere with a mass transit operator passed the Senate transportation committee unanimously this week. Senate Bill 977 would make it a felony of the third degree. If a person commits an aggravated assault against an operator, the penalty would be a felony of the first degree.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a significant increase in threats and assaults against transit workers in Pennsylvania – especially Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) operators – including gun violence, physical assaults, and other disruptions.
“Our hope is this legislation will not only help safeguard our transit operators so they can safely do their job but protect passengers and other commuters on the roadway,” Farry said. “The bill is named after U.S. Army veteran Bernard Gribbin – a SEPTA bus operator who was murdered while working on Oct. 26. Operators deserve our protection.”
While the COVID-19 lockdowns are long over, John Golden, a spokesman for SEPTA, said the transit system is still feeling the impacts. SEPTA’s daily ridership is around 700,000 daily riders, or 70 percent of their pre-pandemic ridership.
However, despite Gribbin’s murder, crime on SEPTA vehicles has been going down.
“We are seeing progress in efforts to reduce criminal incidents, driven by efforts to hire new officers and adjust patrol strategies,” said Golden. For the quarter that ended Sept. 30, serious crimes were down 6 percent, serious violent crimes like robbery and aggravated assaults were down 31 percent, and criminal assaults on employees were down 62 percent.
Perhaps not coincidentally, arrests increased by 5 percent.
Also, “more customers are reporting incidents via the SEPTA Transit Watch App, which we have been encouraging. This is a great resource for customers to discretely communicate with SEPTA Transit Police about anything they see that is of concern.”
SETA officials expressed their gratitude for the legislation.
“SEPTA is grateful for the efforts of Sens. Farry and Tartaglione for leading this bipartisan effort to increase the penalties for those who assault bus and rail operators,” said SEPTA Board Chairman Pasquale T. Deon Sr. “There is nothing more important than the safety and security of our employees and customers.”