It’s 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, the night after someone armed with a screwdriver on the 14-Mission bus stabbed a 32-year-old passenger multiple times.
The driver tonight is not surprised by the stabbing, which left the victim in critical condition. Fights on the bus break out often enough, and getting to them quickly is not always easy for the drivers, he said.
“If people argue, I can’t leave my post and tell them to get off, that’s unrealistic,” the driver said as the bus came to a halt at a stop sign.
The 8.4-mile route of the 14 Mission — from Embarcadero to Flournoy Street in Daly City — has long been one of the toughest routes in the city.
As the driver picks up passengers, some refuse to pay and others bargain for a free ride. There’s no time to deal with fare evaders. Timed arrivals are Muni’s number-one priority, and a minor confrontation involving the driver can create a backlog of late arrivals, the driver said.
“We are under constant stress,” he said.
Unlike other public transport workers who are isolated in their cabins, bus drivers are exposed to the public and are often held accountable for the safety of everyone, forcing them to multitask.
As we headed south on Mission Street, the driver avoided the bicyclists who rode dangerously close to the bus, made sure to ask everyone to pay their share, watched the traffic and stopped to ask riders to make space for a wheelchair.
With all this to do, the driver said, it can take time to notice and then manage a disturbance among passengers. By the time he does, the argument may already have escalated into a dangerous fight, as one did last Friday at 8 p.m. on the 14-Mission.
According to the police report, the incident occurred when a group of teenagers and young people in their early twenties boarded the bus and began arguing with a passenger. Soon the fight escalated, and the 32-year-old male was left in critical condition.
So many people were involved in the attack that witnesses failed to see who was responsible for the stabbing, Officer Albie Esparza said. Moreover, the suspect managed to escape along with the others involved in the fight. Police are reviewing security footage from the incident to identify the suspects.
When such incidents occur on Muni, other passengers should call the police immediately, Esparza said. It’s unclear if many passengers do take the initiative.
On Saturday, an intoxicated male boarded the bus at 16th Street and began harassing a couple verbally. “The archangels of death will pass judgment on you, whore!” the man said very loudly as the couple did their best to ignore him — difficult because he was just inches from the young woman’s face.
The rant lasted several minutes and everyone stood by watching. There was a sense that the driver would do something or that the man would simply stop.
“People often ask me to intervene,” said the driver, but realistically he has other things to do — like keep his eye on the road. “What’s going on outside is dangerous enough,” he said.
The man continued to harass the couple as other passengers stood by, minding their own business. The driver continued undisturbed. When the bus arrived at Fourth Street, the couple got off, their harasser in pursuit. As they walked toward Market Street, the three disappeared into the crowd.
The driver said that more officers should patrol the buses, but he also said that other passengers should intervene in dangerous situations. “If I had the support from everyone, I could’ve been braver,” he said, referring to the earlier episode with the screamer.
Officer Esparza disagrees. He said that other passengers should not try to stop a fight; rather, they should contact police immediately. Good samaritans can get hurt if they try to stop an argument or fight.
Earlier this month, a passenger tried to intervene when a man boarded and started screaming at the driver. The man then pulled a knife on the passenger, who got off the bus and called police. The suspect was later arrested.
Because situations can quickly get out of control, the police also recommend that bus drivers contact them instead of intervening.
Incidents involving verbal arguments occur every day, the driver said, and it’s impossible to judge when a confrontation will escalate into a physical fight that may put someone in the hospital.