Metrobus operators racked up nearly 2,300 traffic-camera tickets in the past six years, including 339 last year, according to records obtained through a public-information request. And although the annual number of citations has generally decreased since 2010, records show an uptick in 2015 — particularly in speeding violations.
Traffic cameras across the Washington region recorded Metrobus drivers speeding 120 times last year, more than double the 57 times in 2014, according to Metro records.
In a region where automated traffic cameras issue hundreds of thousands of tickets to motorists and generate millions of dollars in revenue, it’s not surprising that vehicles transporting commuters get caught up in the mix. But in interviews, residents, community leaders and government officials say the bad behaviors of those at the forefront of the nation’s sixth-largest bus system are most disturbing and signal yet another of Metro’s safety shortcomings.
“Bus drivers should know not to run red lights and not to speed. It’s simple,” said D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), who chairs the council’s Committee on Transportation and the Environment. “They are driving big vehicles. They are carrying passengers. It is very, very dangerous.”
Other troubling statistics: Stop-sign violations skyrocketed from six in 2014 to 83 last year, coinciding with stepped-up automated enforcement in the District for vehicles rolling through stop signs near school zones. Red-light cameras led to 133 tickets to Metrobus drivers last year, down from 155 in 2014.
The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, which represents most Metrobus drivers, declined to comment for this article. Metro spokeswoman Sherri Ly declined multiple requests to make a Metro official available for an interview to discuss the records. The agency responded to limited questions via email.
Ly said the citations should be put into context.
“Metrobus operators logged more than 50 million miles of driving last year alone,” she wrote. “That’s a rate of one citation for every 150,000 miles in 2015.”
Metro critics and Metrobus riders say the operators’ bad behavior is consistent with the transit agency’s history of safety lapses, from repeated smoke incidents in train tunnels to derailments and unattended equipment on crowded platforms. Critics question Metro’s ability to control bus drivers who disregard traffic laws if it fails even to provide basic safety protections, such as working fire extinguishers and clear escape routes to help riders if there is an emergency evacuation.
“This goes back to a culture problem at Metro,” said Chris Barnes, a vocal critic and member of the agency’s Riders’ Advisory Council. “Those numbers will never be zero, but the culture is not enforcing that these bus drivers need to be more careful than they are. This is not good for riders and is not good for anyone else on the road.”
Running red lights has also been an issue in the subway. There have been at least 47 “red signal violations” since the beginning of 2012, according to the Federal Transit Administration, which took over responsibility for the safety of Metro’s rail system last year and cited the “pervasiveness and seriousness of this problem,” despite years of warnings and efforts to address it. Some blame the problem on train operators being pressured to adhere to strict schedules.
Metro observers say bus drivers, pressed to make up lost time in the worst of Washington’s gridlock, ignore yellow signals or bolt out of the gate when the light turns green to get a jump on the rest of the traffic.
On social media, the complaints about Metrobus drivers vary from operators who block intersections to those who fail to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks to those who close the doors on riders hurrying to board. Even public officials have acknowledged a problem with aggressive driving by bus operators.
“Bus speeding is something that happens too frequently,” D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said in December while presenting her plan to reduce traffic fatalities with street-calming and enforcement initiatives, including lower speed limits and engineering strategies such as narrowing roads. “What I have found, though, is that it is a management issue at Metro,” she said, adding that changes in behavior are seen when supervisors are made aware of problems.
Increased training could account for the overall drop in the number of automated citations issued to drivers in the past six years. Collisions and passenger injuries also are down, according to Metro.
The records obtained by The Washington Post show that the number of citations issued to bus operators by traffic cameras in the Washington region decreased by about half over that period — from 751 in 2010 to 339 last year.
Records provided to The Post three years ago, however, showed a significantly higher number of citations: As many as 1,353 tickets were issued to drivers in 2010, amounting to more than $32,000 in fines. This week, Metro officials said those figures included citations issued to all Metro vehicles, including those with MetroAccess and Metro Transit Police.
Metro said employees are responsible for paying the fines they incur.
Transit agency officials also said their drivers are directed to prioritize safety over staying on schedule. The agency’s DriveCam program, an automated audio and video system, helps Metro keep an eye on drivers by capturing such behavior as speeding. The information is used to identify potentially reckless drivers, whom Metro puts through coaching and training, according to the agency.
In the past year, Metro also has increased training for drivers to comply with several corrective actions ordered by the FTA after the agency found training of bus operators and other personnel lacking. Metro officials say training is more in-depth and refreshers are more frequent.
Still, some ask whether there are real consequences for drivers who break the rules of the road.
“What happens to the drivers who get these tickets? Is there any accountability? Is it a group of a few people doing the same thing over and over?” Cheh said. “Maybe they need retraining — or they need to find some other line of work.”
Traffic citations are recorded in drivers’ personnel records, and drivers are subject to discipline — including termination — when they have committed multiple offenses, according to Metro.
A Post request for the aggregate number of Metrobus operators terminated for driving violations was denied because “such an undertaking would pose an undue strain on WMATA’s finite resources,” the agency said.
Jay Roddy, a daily Metrobus commuter, said he was on the No. 7A one recent evening when the driver ran a red light at a busy intersection in the Shirlington area of Arlington County.
“The driver should have definitely stopped, but he accelerated towards the light,” said Roddy, who immediately reported the “driving unsafely” incident to Metro via Twitter. Metro responded to him, via Twitter, that bus management would be notified.
“I don’t know that they are worse than anyone else on the road. But they need to know better. I would want them to be exemplary,” said Roddy, 30, a researcher at a Washington think tank.
“I’m concerned for the passengers. If [my driver] is going through the red light, conceivably, somebody else is going through a green light.”