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MetroAccess firm probes policies after alleged sex assaults

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 16, 2010

The contractor that operates Metro's transit service for the disabled has launched an inquiry of its hiring and training policies after a string of alleged sexual assaults by MetroAccess drivers.

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Former Federal Transit Administration chief counsel Patrick W. Reilly has been appointed to lead the inquiry, which is aimed at determining how the contractor, California-based MV Transportation, can provide "additional protections to passengers," the company said in a statement Wednesday.

On Sept. 5 a Gaithersburg man was charged with sexually assaulting a woman in a MetroAccess vehicle, becoming the fourth contract driver this year accused of assaulting a passenger using Metro's service for the disabled.

Metro Transit Police said Samuel E. Kingston, 59, grabbed a woman's breast Aug. 27 while helping her out of the vehicle at a facility where she volunteers in Silver Spring. The woman, who is in her mid-30s, has cerebral palsy and uses a scooter, police said.

"We're developing a little bit of a history now with MetroAccess drivers," said Metro Transit Police Deputy Chief Jeff P. Delinski on Monday. Police are developing a more detailed hour of training for MetroAccess drivers, in addition to existing sensitivity training, to teach the drivers how to properly and safely interact with customers, Metro officials said.

Delinski said Metro is also looking into installing additional camera systems in MetroAccess vehicles as a preventive measure. Some vehicles already have cameras to capture the behavior of drivers, such as abrupt braking.

"These are very serious offenses," Delinski said. "We will prosecute them with the full extent of the law."

MV Transportation requires background checks for the 1,100 MetroAccess drivers and requests a 10-year history for every applicant, company spokeswoman Nikki Frenney said.

Depending on the local laws, the information supplied may go back only seven years, she said. MV Transportation does not require fingerprinting for employees, but "that could full well be something that comes up" in the inquiry, which the company initiated, she said.

"The recent accusations of drivers abusing passengers has caused great concern not only for the passengers, their caretakers and the community, but for me personally and our dedicated workforce," Kevin Klika, president of MV Transportation, said in the statement. "While we take several measures during the hiring process to ensure drivers have clean backgrounds, there is always room for improvement."

Frenney said company executives were meeting with Metro officials Wednesday to provide details on the scope and focus of the review.

Reilly has a relationship with MV Transportation, having advised the firm on FTA issues and other legal issues related to transit for a number of years.

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