Restructuring of Metrobus Management Hurting Service, Some Workers Say

By Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 16, 2009

Metro has spent the past several months reorganizing Metrobus management to improve reliability and efficiency, but some frontline employees say the changes are having the opposite effect. Managers who are supposed to be on the street responding to bus accidents or helping buses get back on schedule say they are often tied up with administrative paperwork instead.

As part of the restructuring, administrative duties previously handled by staff members at the agency's nine bus divisions are supposed to be handled by managers whose main job is to monitor bus operations in the field.

The managers, previously known as street supervisors, are assigned to geographic locations and are responsible for responding to accidents and monitoring bus performance. Under the new structure, each also has to manage 25 bus operators. That means conducting the investigations and writing reports when operators have accidents.

"Everyone thinks this reorg is going fine, but it's not working at all," said one veteran supervisor based at the Bladensburg garage, one of the largest of Metro's nine bus divisions. Accident reports, for example, often have to be filed at the division office, which allows less time in the field, he said. "If you're scheduled to work 3 to 11 [p.m.], you might not get out on the street until 8 or 9 p.m." He spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

The transit agency has long sought to give Metrobus a makeover because the service has taken a back seat to the subway, which carries more professionals and tourists, gets more resources and has higher visibility. Officials developed an ambitious overhaul plan last summer. In January, they began trimming layers of management and restructuring jobs. A board committee is expected to get a briefing on the reorganization today.

Officials say customer complaints and worker injuries have dropped because of improved communication between bus operators and managers. But they acknowledge that Metrobus's on-time performance has remained about the same, hovering at about 74 percent.

"It's not something that takes place right away and you see immediate results," said Metrobus Chief Milo Victoria. "It takes time to change the culture at large organizations."

He acknowledged that additional paperwork means managers have had to juggle their duties. "It's a balancing act," he said, adding that Metro plans to provide them with time-management training. Metro has also been short about 21 managers and recently hired 17, he said.

Managers say paperwork has made it harder to respond to customers. On Tuesday, a bus operator was assaulted in Northeast Washington, and a supervisor responsible for Southeast was sent to handle the incident, said the supervisor who did not want to be identified. When an accident happened in Southeast, a supervisor was pulled from downtown, he said. As a result, no one was available to follow up on a rider complaint about smelling alcohol on a bus driver's breath on the 96 line, the source said.

Metro spokeswoman Candace Smith said that there were two bus accidents reported but that she could not confirm the bus operator assault or the complaint about alcohol. The bus operator apparently did not report the assault to the bus operations center but to Metro Transit Police. Smith said she would follow up.

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