Beaten driver's family and SEPTA differ on agency's response

In a follow-up story I did for today's paper about the assault of a SEPTA bus driver Saturday by a group of teens, some interesting information had to be cut out because there wasn't enough space. I'd like to share it with you now.

According to the driver's niece, Natalie West, her uncle had pressed a priority call button on his bus, letting the dispatch operator know he needed to talk to someone. But West said her uncle never received a response and the first responders to the scene were city police who had been called by passengers on the bus.

"He pushed the button for the transit police to come while the kids were still on the bus because he wanted them to escort them off the bus," West said. "Instead, they had time enough to throw him off the bus, assault him and run away and the transit police were not there."

SEPTA spokeswoman Jerri Williams had the dispatch records from that day pulled and said the driver first pushed the priority request button at 1:42 p.m. Six seconds later, the dispatcher tried to call the driver but got not response, Williams said. The dispatcher then tried calling again about 30 seconds later and still got nothing, she said.

The operator then dispatched SEPTA supervisors to the bus, Williams said, but she didn't know when they arrived on scene.

Four minutes after the initial call from the driver, he radioed dispatch to let them know he'd been assaulted, Williams said.

"We are very proud of the response that we gave," she said. "There seems to be some confusion and that's why we're going out of our way to make it very clear there was only four minutes between the time he called and when he was assaulted."

Williams said drivers use the priority call button for a variety of situations, from reporting intoxicated passengers to reporting confused, elderly ones. In February alone, there were 458 priority request calls from drivers, she said.

Transport Workers Union Local 234 John Johnson Jr. said drivers have waited too long in the past to receive responses to priority calls but he didn't know the specifics in this instance.

"This gentleman, this weekend, he was doing everything he was taught and he still got beaten," Johnson said.