Thursday, October 15, 2009

Doing Things for the Right Reasons

Our local Metro transit system has taken its lumps this year, with several serious accidents (including the terrible train crash earlier this summer in which nine people were killed), pedestrians being run over by buses, a bus operator fired for kidnapping a passenger, suicides who jumped in front of oncoming trains, and the generally spotty service to which we've all become accustomed.

According to this article in yesterday's Washington Post, Metrobus drivers are taking action to improve safety: they are going to operate strictly "by the book," following every safety regulation to a tee. The article quotes a letter written by the head of the local transit workers union to union members in which she says, "Now is the time for us to protect ourselves and our jobs. . . . Don't give Metro any reason to write us up, suspend us, or fire us anymore!!!!"

I'm puzzled by this. Does it mean that adhering to proper procedures to protect bus drivers' jobs is more important than adhering to proper procedures because it keeps everyone safe?

The article goes on to state that, "Operators said they plan to observe posted speed limits" and that "Operators will be following posted speed limits in all jurisdictions."

Again, I find myself puzzled. I could have sworn that speed limits were ... well ... intended to limit speeds to safe levels on streets. Does this mean that bus operators have been encouraged to drive at unsafe speeds? Might this possibly have something to do with this year's dismal safety record?

It gets worse. Reading on in the article, we find that strict adherence to rules means that "...buses won't leave garages if there are safety-related defects, such as horns, turn signals or windshield wipers that don't work;" and that, "In anticipation of the union campaign, mechanics were working overtime early Tuesday to fix broken horns on buses at the Northern garage..."

So, is this what it takes to get Metro and the transit workers' union to take safety seriously? Mechanics are working overtime (at overtime pay rates, no doubt) to fix safety problems because the union has decided to work to the rules? Would we still be riding unsafe buses if the union hadn't been concerned about "giv(ing) Metro any reason to write us up, suspend us, or fire us anymore"? When would these safety problems have been repaired during normal work hours?

In fairness to Metro, I realize that the terrible traffic conditions in this area make it difficult to adhere to published schedules, and I'm sure that the temptation to drive too fast in order to make up schedule timing is always there. But is driving at unsafe speeds a standard policy that is only now being reconsidered?

I'm glad Metro is doing something to improve its safety record. But I'm greatly offended by the apparent cause of the union's sudden focus on safety - protection of jobs - as reflected in its letter to its members. Yes, it's tough to lose ones job, particularly in this economy. But if you're losing your job because you drive unsafely, I have no sympathy. And if you are a Metro system manager who is directing drivers and train operators to operate unsafe vehicles in an unsafe manner, perhaps you need to lose your job, too.

Prices go up, service goes down, and the people dealing with the riding public don't seem to give a rat's rear end about customer service. It would be nice if there were a safe and reliable alternative to Metro, but the only alternatives for many of us are:

1. Drive yourself to work every day, contributing to the traffic gridlock; or,

2. Move to a new residence across the street from where you work.

Neither of which is practical for most of us.

So, Metro bus and train operators: I expect you to operate safe vehicles in a safe manner. Metro system managers: I expect you to place the safety of your operators and riders first.

Is this too much to ask?

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.



bandit said...

Sounds like there is much more there than what has been stated.

Anonymous said...

Hey, this is a transportation system where assistant (!) station managers make more than $90K/year--and that figure is from 5 years ago. Additionally, some time ago a local newspaper reported that 1/3 of all Metro employees were managers-1 manager for every two workers?
A zillion years ago I drove a bus for a successful private bus line in NJ. To supervise the 200 drivers and 50 routes, plus charter operations, we had an operations manager, 5 dispatchers, and a waiting room for the "extra" drivers to await assignments. Of course the maintenance side of the house was more heavily managed, but nothing like 1/3 of all employees.

Eminence Grise

Mike said...

From what I remember about busses in the St. Louis area, the drivers were penalized if they left a stop early. I don't know what the penalty was for being late by xx minutes.

Wv: entabon - Where you get on the autobon.

Jean-Luc Picard said...

It looks like safety to the union relates to jobs and not the safety of the passengers.

KKTSews said...

You can always take your chances with slugging if you don't trust the metro bus drivers to be safe. I'd stick with the bus, myself. Never know what a driver's like when you slug.

Melissa B. said...

I hate to say this about the city that I love, but after I finished reading that article, I said to Mr. Fairway, "Sounds like DC, doesn't it?"