NBC 4 New York
The MTA is cracking down on bus drivers who use their cell phones behind the wheel and commit other violations, like running red lights, in an effort to curb an increase in accidents involving city buses. Andrew Siff reports.
The MTA is cracking down on bus drivers who use their cell phones behind the wheel and commit other violations, like running red lights, in an effort to curb an increase in accidents involving city buses.
MTA buses were involved in nearly 3,400 accidents between January and July, up about 10 percent compared with the same time period last year, the agency says.
Authorities believe the increase is related to more younger, inexperienced drivers joining the agency, and the latest crackdown was instituted to drive home the point that carelessness won't be tolerated on the job.
"We're looking to focus on these bus operators who account for about 11 percent of the bus population but also account for about 18 percent of the collisions," MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz told NBC 4 New York.
The MTA sent out surveillance teams of dispatchers posing as passengers to monitor drivers over the last several weeks. In that time, 371 drivers were cited for more than 400 violations, Oritz said.
Dozens of those cited were caught using their phones behind the wheel or running red lights, Ortiz said, and they were immediately pulled off the road for those infractions. Most of the violations stemmed from failure to signal before turning.
Some drivers and union representatives argued the MTA crackdown goes too far. One driver, Tony Romaine, said he was taken out of service after a dispatcher saw him take his hand off the wheel to wave at another driver, and he lost six hours' pay.
"He says, 'I'm taking you out of service because you did an unsafe maneuver -- you waved at the other operator,'" he told NBC 4 New York.
MTA regulations require drivers to keep both hands on the wheel at all times unless the bus is completely stopped at a traffic light.
JP Patafio of the Transport Workers Union said union officials end up fighting many of the suspensions inside MTA arbitration rooms and that many drivers need a refresher course.
"The training is not enough, and a lot of it comes down to the schedules," he said. "You're driving 10 miles, 20 miles, 30 miles before you get a break."
He emphasized that the union agrees with the MTA's campaign against distracted driving but "you can't go on a fishing expedition," he said.
Andrew Siff contributed to this report.