Metro Plans to Stiffen Penalties Against Transit Operators Who Break Rules

By James Hohmann
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 30, 2009

A rash of suspected improper behavior by Metro transit operators, including the arrest of a bus driver on felony kidnapping charges, prompted the agency to announce Wednesday that it plans to stiffen penalties for employees who break rules.

In the most recent incident, a bus driver was arrested Saturday after getting into an argument with a passenger and refusing to let her off the bus for about half an hour, Metro said.

The agency also said that another driver had recently received a written reprimand for reading while operating a bus and that a train operator videotaped while apparently sleeping was suspended for 12 days without pay.

On July 13, Metro implemented a zero-tolerance policy banning operators from using mobile devices to call or text in nonemergency situations. Violations of rules against reading and sleeping call for progressively higher penalties. Metro General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. said in a statement Wednesday that the agency wants to revisit all rules related to employee behavior and disciplinary procedures.

The driver charged with kidnapping after Saturday's incident was placed on paid administrative leave pending an internal investigation, officials said, and the agency will not discipline him until the inquiry is complete. "If it's gross negligence on the part of the driver, they'll be terminated in instances like this," Metro spokeswoman Angela Gates said.

About 2:30 p.m. Saturday, near Suitland Road and Regency Parkway, an argument broke out between driver Michael E. Robinson, 41, and an unnamed female passenger, authorities said. The passenger took a picture of the bus number with the intent to report Robinson, Gates said. When the woman requested a stop to get off the bus, Gates said, Robinson refused to open the doors until she handed over her camera, police said.

When she refused, Gates said, Robinson pulled over and called Metro Transit Police to report that he was holding a disorderly passenger. It is standard procedure for drivers to pull over and wait for police after they report an out-of-control passenger onboard, Gates said.

After officers arrived and took statements, they decided that Robinson had inappropriately detained the passenger and arrested him. He was charged in Prince George's County District Court with a felony that carries up to 30 years in prison.

Robinson, reached at his Capitol Heights home, declined to comment. He was hired as a bus driver in 2007, Gates said. The incident happened on the Oxon Hill-Suitland line's D14 route.

Other Metro bus drivers have recently been involved in altercations. A driver was fatally shot in March by an off-duty D.C. police officer whom he reportedly tried to rob at gunpoint. Also in March, a driver accused of punching an off-duty police officer dressed as McGruff the Crime Dog was fired.

Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.

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