After Accidents, Metrobus Drivers Launch Strict Safety Push

By Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 14, 2009

After a series of Metrobus incidents this year, bus operators began a safety push Tuesday to go strictly by the book, an effort they warn might also mean running behind schedule.

Operators said they plan to observe posted speed limits, activate handicap lifts at every bus stop and not pass buses at stops.

It will take longer to complete routes and will add to delays, especially along congested corridors, they said.

Along busy 16th Street NW during Tuesday's morning rush, 11 buses were backed up along two to three blocks -- between Allison and Decatur streets -- about 8:45 a.m., operators said. The S1, S2, S4 and S9 buses operate along 16th Street. Under Metro rules, buses are not supposed to pass other buses at a stop.

In a letter circulated to bus operators over the weekend, Jackie Lynn Jeter, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, urged employees to perform all duties strictly according to standard operating procedure. "Now is the time for us to protect ourselves and our jobs. . . . Don't give Metro any reason to write us up, suspend us, or fire us anymore!!!!"

The campaign began Tuesday at two of nine bus garages and is expected to spread to all divisions this week. Metro has about 2,600 bus operators, 1,500 buses and 350 routes.

In a statement, Jeter said Metrobus managers often "impose performance demands that conflict" with specific elements of Metro's standard operating procedure, especially speed. She said operators are sometimes instructed to exceed the speed limit or face penalty.

A Metro spokesman said the agency was aware of the by-the-book campaign and welcomed it.

Bus commuters waiting for rides during Tuesday evening's rush praised the safety effort and said any additional waits were minimal.

"I'd rather they go by the book and that people are safer, even if it's a minor increase in commute time," said Jason Kelleher, who has been riding the S2 bus for nine years.

Dickens Odhiambo, who commutes from Burtonsville to his job in Georgetown, said, "There are so many buses . . . that waiting behind for another bus isn't a hassle."

The biggest impact will probably be on routes in the District, where buses run more frequently, especially during rush periods. Passengers on the 50s line along 14th Street NW and the 30s line that runs from Southeast Washington to Georgetown will probably be affected, too.

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