Who's watching METRO bus drivers?

May 26, 2010 1:54:39 AM PDT
Bus drivers caught in the act: running right through red lights. They're 19 tons of danger. Wayne Dolcefino and our 13 Undercover unit is trying to keep another accident from happening.

Dozens of Houstonians have been hurt this year in wrecks involving buses and red lights. There have been four of them. Maybe this will help prevent a fifth.

In a never-before-seen video, you can see the mangled inside of a METRO bus after it crashes into a rail car. Bet you're glad you weren't sitting on the left side of that bus.

"A bus is a machine; it ain't no vehicle," said Billy Temple, a victim of a bus crash. "I keep saying it's a machine, just like a bullet; it is a running bullet."

And in February, that bullet ran a red light. Temple is a former truck driver, but on that day he says he was a passenger in the rail car.

"It was a sudden boom, and another boom," Temple said.

And it wasn't the only time this year a bus ran a red light and caused a wreck. Twenty eight people were hurt in the two wrecks. Imagine if it was a car with your family in it.

One accident wasn't the bus' fault, but you get the idea.

Most of us hate red light cameras. OK, we all them, but they do provide a snapshot of how many 19-ton bus machines are endangering other drivers, and we've got the video.

Since January 1, METRO says it's been given 175 red light tickets from 92 buses and 75 METRO Lift vehicles, the carry the disabled and the sick. And that's just at the intersections that have cameras.

The drivers get the ticket and the punishment.

"They will get three days' suspension -- one to three days' suspension," said Andrew Skabowski with METRO Operations. "Second occurrence, you get a five-day suspension, and on third occurrence, they're terminated; we take it very seriously."

So let's see how often METRO catches its bus drivers in the act, before they crash into a rail car, of course.

"We have a safety culture on METRO that we push down to everybody from operators on up to the president," Skabowski said.

METRO has 10 full time safety officers, so what they do when they see a bus driver run a red light?

"He's going to stop the bus and take him off the bus," METRO Police Assistant Chief Timothy Kelly said.

"How often does that happen?" Dolcefino asked.

"I don't know the numbers," Chief Kelly responded.

We do -- not very often. The 10 safety supervisors issued only 13 citations all year long for bus drivers who run red lights. In four months, they didn't see anyone do it.

Then there are the 25 street supervisors. METRO told us they monitor the performance of buses with safety in mind.

Really?

They only issued 53 safety citations of any kind in the whole year. Not to be picky, but that means two citations apiece for the whole year.

Maybe one supervisor shouldn't spend hours a day picking up mail.

And we saw this memo: "Either supervisors aren't answering the radios, too far out, or coming up with bogus assignments to get out of doing work."

Most of the citations that were handed out are for buses that don't put on their flashers and stop at the railroad crossing on Allen and San Jacinto.

"It's an area we can instill in them: It's a railroad crossing, stop; it's a railroad crossing, stop," Skabowski said.

Guess what's next door? A METRO building and police headquarters.

"There's taking care of places that are convenient for the employees as opposed to the places that they should be out at to make sure that passengers and the public are taken care of," attorney Terry Bryant said.

Four supervisors in one month spent time watching one intersection.

We were only there a few minutes and saw a bus with no flashers, no stop.

"The lack of citations is not indicative of the lack of concern, that we don't care about traffic safety, . red-light runners, specifically," Chief Kelly said.

That's good because the stats don't help.

Of more than 600 red light tickets handed out by METRO cops since January '09, only seven were given to buses.

"It is not our policy to tell an officer who to write a citation to," Chief Kelly said. "It's an officer's discretion."

METRO denies its cops are playing favorites to fellow employees.

"There's no favorites," Kelly said. "They are writing the same level of citation as they would any other motorist."

And since that bus rail wreck, METRO says its buses have been ordered to slow down to 20 mph before light rail crossings and slow down at yellow lights in general.

It only took us one afternoon downtown to show that's not happening.

And that's why Temple isn't convinced.

"A bus driver is going to end up killing someone," he said.


Load Comments