Donald Wade played another card and then looked up from the Tonk game he was playing with a group of his Metro bus drivers yesterday.
"As far as I know, nobody's striking," said Wade, who drives the M Street line in Southwest Washington."The cost of living is too damn high. I got six more payments to make on my El Dorado".
His comments drew chuckles and nods of agreement from other bus drivers nearby. Although Wade had personal reasons for not wanting a walkout, Metro leaders and leaders of a dissident group of bus drivers who organized a walkout three weeks ago said they did not expect the threat of another walkout to materialize Friday.
"At this time, the membership feels that Metro is actually working towards bettering the situation," said Walter Tucker, one of the leaders of the dissident bus drivers at Metro's northern division garage.
"I feel that the rank and file operators feel there should not be another work stoppage Friday," he said.
Metro drivers staged a wildcat strike as inadequate protection against crime and abuse. The walkout, which disrupted bus service for thousands of rush-hour commuters, was triggered by the rape of a female Metrobus driver, who had been ordered off her bus at knife-point.
A group of the bus drivers later threatened anotheer protest strike this Friday unless Metro officials moved swiftly to carry out security measures. Now, however, some bus drivers, leaders of the wildcat strike and union officials say they are largely satisfied with Metro's initial response to their demands, though they clearly intend to keep putting pressure on the transit agency for additional security steps.
Another test of drivers' sentiment may occur tonight during a meeting scheduled to discuss the safety issue, according to Tucker. Among the principles security measures carried out by the transit authority so far have been installation of silent emergency alarms abroad all 1,837 buses and increase in the number of police officers assigned to ride the buses.
Drivers at both southeastern and northern divisions, however, appear to be divided in the sentiment about the effectiveness of these security measures.
"If they say they have an alarm that works, I want to see it ," said one southeastern division driver who asked not to be identified. "My alarm rang by mistake yesterday when a bottle I had in my bag hit up against it. Twenty minutes later they called me (on the radio telephone inside the bus). They said they couldn't find me".
George Via, another driver at Metro's southeastern division - the division where last month's walkout started - said he has not seen a change in attitude among passengers either.
"Police come and take the passengers off the bus, but then they turn them loose - free to board another bus," Via said.
Since the wildcat strike last month, Metro officials , bus drivers and union leaders have met repeatedly to examine security problems. In addition to the steps taken so far, officials say they are considering installing plastic shields behind drivers' seats and a new system for flashing lights for help when trouble occurs aboard a bus.
The silent alarms, which were installed in the buses on May 28, have drawn guarded praise from Metro officials. Angus B. MacLean, Metro's security director, said the new alarms have already led to three arrests. But the computerized alarm system, MacLean and other officials said, has been troubled by electronic malfunctioning, some initial confusion and occasional misuse by drivers.
The increase in police assigned abroad Metrobuses has resulted in more than 100 arrests for crimes ranging from assaults to refusal to pay fares, according to Metro and D.C. police officials.