Metro Tests Repositioning Mirrors on 15 Buses

Metro General Manager John B. Catoe says bus supervisors told him there were concerns about mirrors.
Metro General Manager John B. Catoe says bus supervisors told him there were concerns about mirrors. (AP)
By Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 22, 2007

Metro General Manager John B. Catoe has ordered the repositioning of side mirrors on 15 buses to try to improve sightlines for drivers following several recent accidents, including two involving drivers who killed pedestrians after making left turns.

The mirrors will be moved on a trial basis on Orion V buses, the same model involved in three accidents that resulted in the deaths of four pedestrians since January, according to Metro spokeswoman Joanne Ferreira. The Metrobus that rear-ended a car in downtown Washington last week was also an Orion V, she said.

Catoe said yesterday that bus supervisors informed him about the mirror concerns during recent agency-wide discussions about ways to improve bus safety.

"Some drivers have said, through the supervisors, that the mirrors could block their view from certain angles on the driver's side," he said.

Catoe said he did not know of any information linking the mirrors to the recent accidents.

After the Feb. 14 Metrobus accident in which two Alexandria women were struck and killed by a Metrobus driver turning left from northbound Seventh Street onto Pennsylvania Avenue NW, "there was a lot of discussion from employees" about system safety, Catoe said. The bus supervisors raised the concerns about the mirrors, and even though "we don't know if there is any connection" to the accidents, Catoe asked for changes to be made.

Of Metro's fleet of 1,499 buses, nearly one-third -- 454 -- are Orion V models. Officials said they want to test the mirrors on the 15 buses to see how they work before proceeding.

Catoe has announced short- and long-term measures to improve safety training and recruitment of bus drivers. He has been visiting different bus garages to talk to employees and plans to meet with about 40 bus drivers Saturday to hear specific safety suggestions.

Last week, Metro personnel installed new brackets for mirrors on the driver's side of nine Orion V and six double-length, accordion-style buses to test whether they improve drivers' views. The new brackets allow drivers to adjust the mirrors four inches up or down, something they cannot do in the current configuration, officials said.

All the buses with the newly aligned mirrors are in service and supervisors are in the process of getting feedback from drivers, Ferreira said.

Metrobus driver Victor Kolako, 53, of Southeast Washington has been charged with two counts of negligent homicide in the Valentine's Day accident. At a March 8 hearing in D.C. Superior Court, a detective testified that two witnesses said the driver failed to look left before turning.

The family of one of the women, Martha Stringer Schoenborn, filed a wrongful death lawsuit in federal court this week, seeking $50 million in damages from the transit agency. The lawsuit accuses the driver and Metro of failing to pay full attention to the operation of the bus, failing to keep a proper lookout and failing to yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian lawfully crossing the roadway.

In the Jan. 16 accident, Clara Gonzalez died after she was hit by a Metrobus that turned left onto Park Road from 16th Street NW.

Last Wednesday, the Metrobus operator who rear-ended a car stopped at a red light in the 200 block of Seventh Street NW was arrested and charged with driving under the influence. No one was injured in the accident.

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