Fair? Muni Drivers Can Keep Jobs Despite Accidents

Muni Accident
Photo by Flickr user Jamison

Some Muni drivers can stay employed despite accidents, and if they aren’t at fault in another accident within 12 months, their records can be wiped clean, SFExaminer.com‘s Katie Worth reports. What’s your take on this?

More than 16 percent of Muni drivers were at fault in at least one accident last year, and a handful of them were in three avoidable collisions in 2010 alone.

But of the 348 drivers who were in preventable collisions in 2010, only seven might be fired.

Those who remain employed have to make sure to avoid being at fault in another accident within 12 months, after which their records will be cleared.

SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose told SFExaminer.com that “Ninety-nine percent have either zero or only one preventable collision, and that’s saying that the vast majority of our operators are exceptional at what they do.” You can read details about how SFMTA deals with operators involved in accidents over at SFExaminer.com.

To be fair, driving a bus is no easy task. The Journal of Occupational Health Psychology calls bus driving “a classic example of a high-stress occupation.” Bus drivers are at risk for health problems due to their working conditions, reports Slate.com. Last month, a woman was arrested after she attacked a New York City bus driver for, as she claimed, “driving too slow,” Slate.com reports. According to a Cornell University study, “over twenty epidemiological studies of city bus drivers reveal excess rates of mortality and morbidity for heart disease and gastrointestinal and musculoskeletal disorders.”

Do you think SFMTA’s treatment of drivers in accidents is fair?

11 comments

  • JC

    A couple of thoughts. The Cornell study is interesting but I wonder how much they control for the sedentary nature of the job. Or maybe that’s the point, it’s a tough combo of stress & sedentary.

    To the point of the post, I’m wondering what they mean by “clearing” someone’s record. Does that mean it’s only cleared for sake of not being fired if you have a 2nd accident or cleared like “it never happened.” Because I am indifferent about the first, but would be disappointed if it’s the second. I would also expect that there would be some sort of “lifetime” accident cap where your record would be reviewed if you hit, say, 5 collisions.

  • Jon

    You have no idea. I did not drive for Muni but I drove in San Francisco for another agency. Three times drivers deliberately rammed my bus with their cars and then said things to the effect of, “It’s time somebody teaches you a lesson.” I’ve had people jump out of their cars and try to attack me for “blocking traffic” when I was pulled to the curb loading passengers. I had a cab driver try to take a right from the far left lane and turn right into the side of my bus. I’ve had drivers swerve in front of me and stop suddenly then jump out of their cars and demand an ambulance because they had whiplash. I could go on and on and on. Trying to drive something that is 40 to 60 feet long, 9 feet wide and weighs 15 or 20 tons is like trying to drive your house through heavy traffic. I’m certain that the great majority of chargeable Muni accident involve broken mirrors or scraped paint jobs. I’m also certain that almost all of them take place at extremely low speeds as drivers try to inch their way through insane situations.
    By the way, why did you pick that picture of a Muni accident? Did you feel that the driver of the streetcar could have swerved the streetcar off the tracks to avoid an accident? Maybe he or she could have stopped their 30 ton railcar suddenly to avoid hitting the car that was going the wrong way? Even if that were possible it would have resulted in dozens of injured passengers.

    • eugenia

      Jon:
      I picked that picture because it was a picture of a Muni accident, which is the topic of the post. Simple as that. We covered that specific accident in 2009:
      http://www.munidiaries.com/2009/08/03/f-line-muni-street-cars-vehicle-crash-on-market/

      I wasn’t on scene at this particular accident so I don’t feel it’s up to me or most of us anyway to say what should have happened in the accident or who was at fault.

      You are right that driving a bus is an extremely stressful job, which the Slate.com study points out (included in my post above).

    • Alex

      Jon, look carefully. That SUV was /not/ going the wrong way. That’s a double ended PCC in front of the SUV, and a Peter Witt car (sans emergency brakes) behind it. Double ended means that it’s got driver controls at both ends of the car. Notice the brake lights on the PCC that are on, the headlight that is /off/, and the trolley pole that is up (if it were down, the rope would be off to the side). The MTA rules specify a minimum following distance of 1000′ between trams. One thousand feet should be plenty of space to stop.

  • Jon

    I will admit to being touchy on this subject.

    • Ryan

      I will side with Jon. As a former driver for another agency, we had many categories of accidents and incidents. Something as minor as knocking a side mirror off on the bus stop sign would get reported, usually not a termination offense unless you made a habit of it. 95% of the incidents were to this degree, 0-3mph love-taps and what-not. We also had to deal with other drivers who cannot understand that a 40ft coach isn’t as nimble as a Porsche… we used to say, “Give them an inch and they’ll take a foot”.

      • Alex

        BTW, have you looked at some of the MUNI accidents? Grossly overweight (400+ lbs) driver with uncontrolled diabetes blacks out and rams his train into another at West Portal. Forty-odd people were injured. I believe that driver is no longer with the MTA, but who on earth lets someone like /that/ drive a 50 ton train in the first place? Uncontrolled diabetes! No way the FAA would let that guy even fly a tiny Cessna. How about Mister Bradley Bradley who was so busy talking on his phone that he rammed his streetcars into another train near the ballpark? Let’s not forget that at MUNI, it wasn’t so long ago that a failed drug test was not be grounds for dismissal (and may not have been grounds for being put on non-driving status).

        In the case of love taps, consider what’s in the area surrounding the kissed item. For a while there was a serious problem keeping the trolley poles hooked up, and a number of people suffered serious injury. A guy that owns a local Volvo shop (I wanna say Popular Mechanix) suffered permanent brain damage as a result of being hit in the head with an errant pole — the driver kept driving on the battery backup with the poles swinging instead of stopping to hook it up again (or at least secure the poles). Or look at the munidiaries post where a 14 bus ran into a stop. There were PEOPLE at the bus stop. Or, personal experience… at West Portal a 48 driver who wanted to get as close to the curb as possible damn near clipped my head with his mirror. That would not have been a gentle love tap, and the bus has no place on the sidewalk.

        I don’t think that the MTA differentiates between types of accidents much beyond avoidable or unavoidable. Especially with the increased push to get the onboard video cameras working, I doubt that automobile drivers pulling stunts (to collect insurance money or otherwise) would get labeled as ‘avoidable’. With that in mind, why is it appropriate at all to use a bus or train to give something a love tap or a scratch /purposefully/? The impression I get is that the /avoidable/ accidents are the ones in question, not the unavoidable accidents.

  • Margaret Cabral

    The bus drivers should not have to worry about flunking a drug test or kissing too many busses they should be allowed a few mistakes. They are human A few mistakes won’t kill anybody
    The bus drivers need their jobs, must overlook their mistales. no one perfect only human.

    The worst that should happen is get part time and hire some new drivers full time.

  • Margaret Cabral

    The bus drivers should be given a brake
    and not fired for mistakes

    New drivers should be added
    so their is are new drivers
    around

  • Margaret Cabral

    It would be nice to see some new bus drivers
    but we should not fire the old ones for minor
    mistakes like kissing other buses and failing
    a drug test

  • Margaret Cabral

    When are you going to start hiring again

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