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October 19, 2009

Ride at your own risk

Filed under: Uncategorized — ajdoesdc @ 10:00 pm

WASHINGTON – Since 2004, Metro bus drivers and train operators have been cited more than 4,000 times for endangering the lives of their passengers. The incidents of dangerous and sometimes illegal behavior include speeding in residential neighborhoods at more than twice the posted speed, running red lights and collisions with pedestrians, bicycles and even a wheelchair.

In addition to the daily occurrences of unsafe behavior by the operators, records obtained by WTOP through a public records request show there have been hundreds of cases of unprofessional behavior, ranging from physical altercations with passengers to bus drivers urinating into random containers on their buses. See a spreadsheet of the offenses, broken down by year.

Records show 246 documented cases of bus and train operators being rude to passengers. They include pushing a senior citizen to the floor, refusing to provide services to senior citizens and disabled passengers and hitting a passenger who was holding a small child.

Despite the number of documented infractions, Metro has fired only 18 operators over this same time period.

Emeka Moneme, Metro’s chief administrative officer, does not condone the behavior and says Metro can do better, but says the numbers have a positive side as well.

“The majority of our employees every day go about doing their jobs in the safest manner they can. That’s something we know and the numbers frankly bear that out,” Moneme says.

Metro General Manager John Catoe declined to be interviewed for this series, citing possible conflicts of interest since he decides many of the disciplinary cases.

Moneme says in every incident Metro has investigated and taken the appropriate action. Records show over the years, many of the operators were suspended, and many had to go through re-training sessions before they were allowed to return to service.

As to why so few operators have been fired over the years, Moneme says management is working to modify the disciplinary policy.

“We’ve been trying to find a way to match up the level of discipline with the offense,” Moneme says.

He points to the recent zero tolerance policy on distracted driving. The disciplinary records show more than 600 incidents of distracted driving, ranging from cell phone use to watching television while driving.

When asked about the behavioral issues, such as bus drivers urinating into containers on their buses including one instance of a driver caught urinating into a Doritos bag, Moneme would not speculate as to why drivers did so, but again said the behavior was not acceptable.

“It’s obviously not behavior that is condoned by the management of Metro.” Moneme says.

“We are obviously working very closely with all of our employees to make sure that we do follow and adhere to those standing operating procedures and make sure they operate their bus in a manner that’s expected and safe and customer friendly.”

There were several reports of operators driving so recklessly that wheelchairs tipped over on their buses. The records also show numerous cases of Metro operators refusing to provide services to senior citizens and disabled passengers. Moneme says Metro is committed to providing senior citizens and disabled residents the mobility they need.

“We want their ridership and we want them to feel safe and secure on our system. We are hearing you. Obviously, it’s being captured in the documents WTOP requested and we are taking action.”

Moneme acknowledges the records indicate that Metro can do better but says an average of three incidents of unsafe operating a day isn’t that bad compared to the size of the system.

“If you do break it down on a per day basis, in terms of bus operations, we’re talking about 1,200 buses covering a 1,500-square-mile service area providing 20 hours of service per day to almost a half a million people.

“In that broader context, it’s undeniable the system is incredibly safe in terms of the incidents we’ve received and done something about. Do we accept that that’s acceptable? Absolutely not. We want to do better and we want all of our employees to recognize that they have a personal responsibility to make sure they come back with no violations. I hope our riding public understands that’s the expectation and that’s the standard. Transit service is a very safe way to get around the region.”


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