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Posted at 03:17 PM ET, 08/29/2011

Drivers for disabled protest

Drivers for Metro’s shuttle service for disabled riders protested Monday against their employer over what they call overly long work shifts, saying the hours endanger their lives and customers.

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1764, which represents about 800 drivers for MetroAccess — the paratransit service for those with disabilities — demonstrated outside MV Transportation’s office in the 6500 block of Belcrest Road in Hyattsville.

The workers are employed by the Fairfield, Calif.-based company and drive vehicles to pick up customers for MetroAccess, the division of Metro that gives door-to-door shuttle service for those who have disabilities and may not be able to use the regular bus and rail systems.

Wayne Baker, president of Local 1764, said drivers are being required to drive 13-hour-long shifts, causing fatigue. One of his drivers, he said, drove 14 hours without a break.

“It is a safety hazard,” Baker said of the long hours of driving. “They’re endangering the lives of the elderly and disabled and their own lives,” he said of the drivers.

“They’re driving 12 hours a day. They’re fatigued,” Baker added. “There hasn’t been any accident but I don’t want to wait until there is one.”

Federal law limits the number of hours that commercial vehicle operators can drive in a certain period of time. The rules are based on the weight of a vehicle and the number of seats inside, according to union officials.

MV spokesman Patrick W. Reilly wrote in an email that the company’s “goal is that no driver ever become fatigued while operating a vehicle for MetroAccess.”

He said that “no driver is ever scheduled to work a full 8 to 13 hour work-shift without having at least 9 hours off before the driver’s next assigned shift.”

The union alleges that MV has circumvented the rules by purchasing more than 100 new vehicles that are under the seat limits. The union also alleges that MV “pulled seats” out of 13 vehicles to get in under the federal rules.

“MV is playing a dangerous game that must stop before someone gets killed ,” Baker said.

The union pointed to several incidents that happened this year because of driver fatigue. In one incident this May, four people were killed and dozens injured after a tour bus overturned on Interstate 95 in central Virginia.

Reilly referred questions about whether MV took out seats in vehicles to answers the company previously gave in a June 12, 2011 newspaper story that ran in The Examiner.

In the article, MV said that it removed seats on 13 vehicles out of a 600-plus fleet to accommodate passengers who have larger wheelchairs.

MV has a 7 1/2 year contract that expires in 2013 with Metro to run the transit agency’s service for the disabled. The contract is worth $540 million and MV hires 10 subcontractors to help it transport more than 7,000 customers a day for Metro around the D.C. region.

By law, Metro must provide equal access to public transit for those with disabilities. But it has been hit with a rising demand for the costly paratransit services because of an aging population and more people with disabilities using the service, experts said.

Follow me on Twitter @postmetrogirl.

By  |  03:17 PM ET, 08/29/2011

 
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