[This post has been updated]
Some bus operators at Metro said they are concerned that management is not paying attention to their concerns about driver safety and may refuse to drive Thursday, union officials said.
Drivers at Metro’s Northern Division, which is located at 14th and Buchanan streets NW, said Wednesday morning that superintendents and managers at the garage where roughly 150 buses depart were “ordered to leave” before the drivers had a chance to check safety equipment, according to Gerry Garnett, assistant business agent of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 , the union that represents more than 10,000 Metro employees.
Garnett said four to five supervisors at the Northern Division were instructed Wednesday morning to write violations for drivers who refused to leave the lot. The drivers were running late but had not performed required safety checks on equipment, which include radios and security cameras.
Many of the drivers at the division left without having a chance to do the safety checks because “they were afraid they’d be fired or suspended,” Garnett said.
“Metro doesn’t care about operator safety,” Garnett said. “It’s the second anniversary of the Metro’s worst accident and they’re preaching safety to the public but in reality when it comes to bus they don’t spend the time or resources to protect operators.”
Dan Stessel, a Metro spokesman, said Jack Requa, the assistant general manager of bus services, is meeting with union leaders Wednesday morning to discuss the bus issues.
Garnett said some drivers may refuse to drive Thursday. However, union officials said they are not giving drivers that instruction but are concerned about them having the proper safety equipment.
At a Monday night town hall meeting, union leaders said bus drivers are concerned about their personal safety. Not having working radios or surveillance cameras is part of that concern. In recent weeks, three bus drivers have been attacked, union officials said.
Metro reported in February that a third of aggravated assaults reported in the transit system involved bus drivers, some of whom confronted passengers who refused to pay fares.
Anthony Garland, Local 689’s recording secretary and safety officer, said Metro’s management is quick to dispatch transit officers when there’s an incident in the rail system but not when attacks happen on buses. Stessel said there are “more than a dozen” Metro Transit police officers assigned to Metro’s buses and noted that the police “staffing varies on bus and rail depending on threat levels and resources.”
Garnett said survellance cameras on buses are sometimes broken or missing and the union encourages operators to report those to Metro managers.
“We tell them to do a pre-inspection trip before they take off with the bus,” Garland said. The check includes calling Metro’s central command to make sure radios are working properly.
Stessel said it is not a requirement that bus operators call into central command to check if their radios work. The radios have a “status light” on them that indicate if they are working. He said central would get “overloaded” if every bus operator called in just to check radios.
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