A group of dissident Metro bus drivers has threatened to stage a wildcat strike Sunday at midnight unless the D.C. police department agrees to reestablish a 12-man Metrobus security team that was disbanded about two weeks ago.
Leaders of the group, who charged that the action, had resulted in a surge of unlawful incidents, met yesterday with a representative of D.C. Police Chief Burtell Jefferson to press their demands.
"If the police would put the special force back into effect, not just for a few days but until Metro can get new security officers trained and working, that would be enough to call off the strike," said Melvin L. Brown, chairman of the Concerned Bus Operators committee, which is not affiliated with the bus drivers' union.
Brown said the group was also concerned that Metro had not effectively waged a public relations campaign to let bus riders know they could be charged and prosecuted for offenses.
The Concerned Bus Operators committee staged a wildcat strike May 18 to protest what members described as inadequate protection against crime and abuse. The rape of a female bus driver triggered that walkout, which disrupted bus service for tens of thousands of rush-hour commuters.
Yesterday's threat of a walkout caught Metro officials, D.C. police, transit union officials and even rank-and-file bus operators by surprise.
Metro spokesman Cody Pfanstiehl said, "union officials have assured us that there would be no strike - we have to deal directly through the union. D.C. transportation director Douglas Schneider told us that the mayor has given his assurance that there would be no less protection on the buses.
"We always have contingency plans available, but we are not assuming that there is going to be a strike anyway," Pfanstiehl said.
D.C. Assistant Police Chief Bernard Crooke had disbanded the special police force, created more than a month ago to augment Metro's security police force. He said earlier there was not enough crime on buses to warrant a special detail "all the time."
At the meeting with Jefferson's representative, the group of bus drivers delivered a letter which claimed "there are dangerous transfer points which we feel should be protected by the Metropolitan (D.C.) Police. A few of these are: 14th and H streets NE; 7th Street and Florida Avenue NW; 14th and U streets NW, and the Washington Navy Yard. At these points, fare evasions, pickpockets and robberies have occurred."
"There have been threats on operators, and some of them have been abused since the force was disbanded," Brown said. "We have been waiting these weeks since the force was disbanded to see if the new system would work. Well, we don't feel that it is."
A spokesman for Jefferson said the chief would not comment until he had a chance to study the situation.
"We have shifted the responsibility (for Metrobus protection) to each district commander, and each one is responsible for using manpower in that district on the problem," the spokesman said.
"I think that the majority of the operators feel that, while we still need protection, they are satisfied that the efforts made so far have been good," said George Davis, president of the transit union, in disavowing any union, connection with the dissident leadership.