Recent Muni incidents raise commuters’ safety concerns

Zoe Newcomb

News Editor

Recent stabbings on San Francisco Muni buses has left much of the student body uneasy and unsure how to protect themselves on public transportation.

The unprovoked stabbings of a 24-year-old woman on Muni and an 11-year-old boy, who was riding the bus for the first time, are just two blatant examples of increasing crime on San Francisco public transportation.

“It’s really nerve-wracking,” said junior Julianna Wetmore. “I’m afraid to wear colors, and sometimes I have to take taxis because I don’t know if the bus is safe.”

Similar descriptions of the stabber have led police to believe they are looking for one man, who is described as having a distinct, strong odor.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) suggests that passengers “be aware of your surroundings” and inform a police officer or SFTMA employee “if you are genuinely concerned.”

Safety tips on the SFMTA Web site have not been updated since the Sept. 11 attacks, but in light of the recent stabbings, the entire transportation system is undergoing a safety upgrade — beginning with broken security cameras aboard trains and buses.

Police were unable to use security tapes in their ongoing investigation of the stabbings because security cameras aboard the both trains were broken during the attacks.

“The best advice I can give is to just use common sense,” said a SFMTA employee who asked to remain anonymous due to contract restraints. “When it comes down to it, you can’t control anything except how you handle yourself.”

Despite the Bus Inspection Program, a program that requires police officers to spend their shifts riding buses and providing security, crime aboard San Francisco public transportation is on the rise. Robberies increased from 38 to 57, thefts rose to 50 percent, aggravated assaults doubled in the last three months of 2008 and numbers show no sign of slowing in 2009, according to San Francisco Police Department statistics.

“One time I was on the bus with my grandma and two women got into a huge fight,” said freshman Bianka Quintanilla-Whye. “They were falling on us, and we had to get off and transfer. I was so scared.”

Fights aboard buses are not uncommon, like the infamous “Fight on SF Muni Bus in Chinatown,” a video on the popular video hosting Web site You Tube that gained infamy and over 700,000 views in October.

Transit Watch, a “public awareness and education campaign patterned after the successful Neighborhood Watch program,” engages passenger to work along side SFMTA employees to ensure bus saety.

“I’ve starting sitting in the middle of the bus, because once when I was sitting next to the driver two people got in a fight and I was right in the middle of it,” said Wetmore. “The middle is safer now than the front. To protect myself I sit next to normal looking people.”

The best way to stay safe is to not confront suspicious persons, or packages and leave enforcing rules to professional security and SFMTA employees.

“Ride in groups and keep to yourself,” said Wetmore, explaining her strategy to staying safe. “Oh, and be sure to avoid weird looking people.”