City bus drivers are told when they are hired that they someday may be called upon to assist the police department, a judge noted Tuesday as he rejected a request to ban police from using city buses to transport arrested protesters.
U.S. District Judge Paul E. Engelmayer made the ruling from the bench after listening to arguments from a lawyer for The Transport Workers Union of Greater New York and attorneys for the city and the New York City Transit Authority.
The union had sought a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction, saying that police might try to commandeer buses again during a protest on Wednesday if a judge did not protect the drivers.
But Engelmayer noted that the bus controversy over the Occupy Wall Street demonstration on Saturday was unusual because no one could remember another instance in which the police department asked city bus drivers to transport people after arrests. Police stopped four city buses, asking the drivers to go to the Brooklyn Bridge to pick up some of the 700 people who were surrounded by officers in the middle of the bridge and arrested.
Engelmayer cited a section of the new bus operator's instruction manual that puts bus drivers on notice that they may be called upon to assist police officers, as they were after a building collapse, on Sept. 11, 2001, and during Hurricane Irene, when 200 buses were used to evacuate nursing homes.
The judge said he would not order a stop to the use of buses to transport people during an emergency because it did not appear that the union had legal standing to bring the lawsuit. He said it did not appear that the Constitution was violated and the proposed ban on the police department was overly broad.
Baimusa Kamara, a lawyer for the New York City Transit Authority, told Engelmayer that police officers and bus drivers shared a responsibility to keep the public safe.
"They call us. They say, `We need help.' And we do it," Kamara said of the response the transit authority gives when called upon for help by police.
He added: "We're a government agency and we've assisted the city every time they've asked us to assist."
Grantley Greenidge, 57, one of the bus drivers who carried protesters on his bus Saturday, attended the hearing Tuesday to support the union's effort.
"It was unprecedented to back a bus across the Brooklyn Bridge," he said.
He said he saw several protesters on bicycles and worried that they would be struck by the bus.
"If I had injured one of them, I would have to live with that," he said.
Greenidge said he did not object when police approached him in Brooklyn and asked him to carry protesters. He said the protesters were better behaved than many of his usual passengers, and they thanked him as they got off the bus even though they were in handcuffs.