Assaults on LIRR employees increase as conductor safety concerns grow
Lax enforcement of fare evasion and rider frustration over recent service changes have contributed to growing safety concerns among Long Island Rail Road conductors, like the two who were assaulted on a train last week, a key union official said Monday.
Following the March 22 attack on a pair of LIRR conductors by a teen who, according to police, refused to pay his fare, Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board member Vincent Tessitore Jr., who represents LIRR union workers, said Monday that he is “starting to question” the railroad’s own role in contributing to rider aggression toward employees.
Speaking at a meeting of the MTA Board’s railroad committee, Tessitore noted that train crews have been “getting the brunt” of riders’ frustrations over the railroad’s new schedules, enacted last month, that contributed to delays, crowding and confusion.
Conductors have further been burdened by confusing and inconsistent fare policies, including those governing how to deal with passengers who refuse to pay fares, he said.
MTA Police statistics show that, over the 12-month period ending in February, assault and harassment incidents against LIRR employees climbed 78%, from 32 between March 2021 and February 2022, to 57 between March 2022 and February 2023. Ridership over the same time climbed about 34%.
“Enough is enough. We have to deal with this," said Tessitore. "These are all things that are creating tension. Our riders are frustrated. And our conductors can’t get beat up for it.” He called for increased enforcement against LIRR fare beaters, including having police remove them from trains. Currently, passengers who refuse to pay fares are typically given an invoice for future payment.
MTA police said the two LIRR conductors were attacked by a 17-year-old male onboard a Brooklyn-bound train when they requested he pay his fare.
The suspect took a ticket-issuing machine from one conductor, struck them both, and fled at the East New York station.
He was arrested Thursday and charged with 22 counts, including several felonies, including second-degree assault, fourth-degree grand larceny, and second-degree robbery.
On Monday, LIRR interim president Catherine Rinaldi said the railroad was “appalled” and “outraged” over the attack on the conductors, who she said were home recovering from their injuries. She said the railroad was committed to ensuring workers “are safe as they possible can be.”
Although a judge initially ordered the 17-year-old held on $20,000 cash bail of $40,000 bond, Brooklyn Criminal Court Justice Elizabeth Warin on Thursday released the teen without bail, court records show.
Anthony Simon, who heads the LIRR conductors’ union, said the ruling “sends the message, if you assault our crews, you will get off with no consequences.”
The defendant's attorneys, from Brooklyn Defender Services, did not respond to requests for comment. Oren Yaniv, spokesman for the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office, said the defendant will be back in court Wednesday for a hearing to determine whether the case should be moved to family court, because he is a minor.
MTA spokesperson Renee Price called it “regrettable” that “a judge overruled a colleague who had set bail in this case, trusting a violent offender to return to court to face serious charges.”
The story has been updated to reflect that the statistics include harassments as well as assaults.