Metro and union officials said late yesterday that they expect full Metrobus service today after a wildcat strike by hundreds of drivers delayed thousands of commuters during morning and evening rush hours.
The walkout began at Metro's smallest District of Columbia garage, the Southeast, which mostly serves Southeast Washington. But by the end of the day, it had spread to drivers at all of the city's four garages and had slowed service for much of Northwest Washington, all of Southeast Washington and parts of Montgomery and Prince George's counties. Only Virginia riders were not affected.
The drivers called the walkout a "protest, not a strike," and said it was triggered by the rape early Wednesday morning of a female bus driver who is assigned to the Southeast garage.
The assault happened only a week after some bus drivers from that garage had met with District of Columbia and Metro officials to complain that police are not doing enough to guarantee driver safety.
The drivers complained bitterly to reporters yesterday about the stark comparison between their plight and the protection given to operators and passengers on the Metro subway, which is heavily patrolled by both Metro's uniformed police and local police forces.
"Look at the subway," said driver Augustus Bosley. "There's no pot smoking, cursing and abuse there. But people can't ride the bus in peace."
"If we try to enforce no smoking," said driver Gwendolyn Reid, "the courts don't back us and the courts don't prosecute." Women drivers, she said get more abuse than men.
An apparent settlement with the protesters was reached twice yesterday, but it came unglued the first time. Union officials, Metro officers and individual drivers themselves said last night that they thought the strike was over, but the final proof will not be available until this morning.
One of the problems was that no official group or committee had the power to speak for the drivers - a classic wildcat labor situation. Officers of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, which represents Metro drivers, tried desperately to get the drivers from the Southeast garage back to work in time for yesterday's evening rush hour.
It looked for a moment as if it would work, but by that time the wildcat fever had spread to other garages and the word came back, to Southeast. "We're going back, and they're going out to support us. It don't make sense," one driver shouted to his comrades during a heated meeting on the sidewalk in front of the Southeast bus barn at Half and M streets SE.
They all agreed, and some of them went to join a convocation of 300 bus drivers in the RFK Stadium parking lot. There, that group and the Rev. Jerry Moore, a Metro board member and chairman of the D.C. City Council's Transportation and Environment Committee, worked out a further agreement as evening rush hour transportation disintegrated.
Late in the day Metro General Manager Theodore Lutz called his second press conference of the day to announce that "we expect to be providing full bus service to the community on all routes tomorrow (Friday)."
George Davis, president of the drivers union local, said in a separate interview. "I kinda think it's over. There might be one or two who got bombed today and who don't make it, but we should be close to 100 percent."
The drivers won promises yesterday from Lutz, Moore and assistant D.C. Police Chief Bernard D. Cooke Jr. that immediate attention will be given to security problems and that police patrols will be strengthened on particularly sensitive routes.
Those promises, signed by Lutz, were announced after morning sessions involving Lutz, Moore Davis, Crooke, D.C. Transportation Director Douglas Schneider, and top Metro transit officials.
Copies of the signed promises were quickly printed at Metro and handed out at the Southeast bus barn. The document said that Metro would:
Review the location of points where buses lay over between trips and change them if that seems wise. The rape occurred while the victimized driver was stopped between runs at an isolated area near Fort Dupont Park.
Complete the installation of "silent alarms" in all buses within two weeks. The silent alarm is a button the driver can push that activates, by radio, an alarm in Metro headquarters. There, a computer can state where the bus should be located, and police units can be dispatched there.
Metro transit police - the 160-member police force controlled by Metro - will increase surveillance and other preventive activities on certain bus routes.
Attempts would be made to improve the understanding of crime on buses by regularly interviewing drivers, by running a special computer analysis of bus-related crime and by improving reporting.
Rodney Richmond, the union local's secretary-treasurer, accompanied the document to the Southeast barn and tried to sell it to about 100 drivers at a sometimes noisy meeting inside. Reporters were barred, but most of the discussion could be heard through open windows.
"I think you've accomplished what you've been looking for," Richmond told the drivers, explaining that they had captured the attention of Lutz and others and had extracted promises. "I think you oughta go back to work . . ."
There was some grumbling, but then Richmond was joined by William Campbell, who appeared to be one of the leaders of the walkout and who had the ear of dozens of drivers.
"This letter is signed by the general manager (Lutz)," Campbell said. "I'm happy with it. We're going to have to support the general manager. If it doesn't work, we can go out again."
Drivers began checking our transfers and trip sheets, and 25 that done so when another driver burst into the room and said, "They're going out at northern." The northern division, at 4615 14th st. NW, is one that provides buses for most of the main northsouth lines through Northwest Washington east of Rock Creek Park.
Richmond had left. Chaos think over. Drivers came in, then left. One, Thomas Jackson, got into a bus and started to drive out onto M Street. A huge crowd of drivers swarned in front of the bus and shouted. "Don't go."
D.C. police arrived in several squad ears and moved the bus drivers across M Street to two service station driveway areas where they had already spent much of the day. Jackson fired up the bus, looked across the street, and turned off the bus.He walked across the street to cheers and was greeted with handslapping and soul handshakes.
"I was ready to go," he told reporters. "But I looked at my comrades standing across the street and decided we had to stand together."
That was the end of the southeastern barn for yesterday.
Metro officials estimated that about half of the northern barn routes were eliminated. Laater in the afternoon, drivers from the huge bus terminal on Bladensburg Road NE began to walk out, as did a few from the western barn in Friendship Heights.
About 300 found their way to the RFK Stadium parking lot. There, Council member Moore addressed them through a bullhorn from the back of a pickup truck. "I know from experience what misery is," Moore said. "I know how you feel. I'm interested in what you have to say. Don't let the problems of reprisals worry you . . ."
Moore talked; the drivers talked."We are at the point of no return." Marvin Brown told the crowd. We are tired of promises that never come to pass. What we want to know is that when we call the police they are going to respond at least once out of 10 times . . ."
Moore told the group he would support three of their proposals. The proposals include membership by a drivers' committee on the bus lay-over-point study, increased publicity on the rules and regulations for bus riders and improved enforcement, and increased patrols on buses by undercover policemen.
Committees will be formed at the various bus divisions next week, then will meet with Moore.
Davis, the union president, said later that "committees are fine, but they are not going to be there without union representation because 300 people do not represent 5,000." That last number refers to all Metro drivers, train operators, mechanics and clerical employes who are represented by the union.
Davis also said he did not think that the present contract negotiations between the union and Metro were part of the dispute. The contract expired April 30 and the unresolved issues have been submitted to binding arbitration. A key issue is Metro's desire to hire part-time drivers, which the union opposes.
The issue of crime on Metrobuses has concerned officials for some time, but Davis joined his union members in charging that Metro had moved slowly to work on the problem. According to Metro statistics, 18 assaults have been reported on buses this year - all of them in the District of Columbia. On 12 occasions, the driver was the victim.