Muni driver in hot water after forcing family off bus

A Muni driver could lose his job for forcing a family of three to get off his bus Saturday afternoon, the latest black eye for San Francisco’s public transit operators.

The incident allegedly occurred after a mother with a young child asked a driver on the 24-Divisadero line to open the vehicle’s doors so that her husband, who was waiting outside with the family’s stroller, could board the bus. He hadn’t boarded the bus during the initial boarding.

Passenger Linda Rothfield, who witnessed the event, said the driver apparently opened the doors so that the mother and child could exit. But when the woman’s husband boarded instead, Rothfield said, the driver began screaming at the family, demanding that they exit.

“He was screaming at the family that they were holding the bus hostage, and that it was an offense,” she said. “Everyone who witnessed it was in absolute shock about how he was handling the situation.”

The operator didn’t move the bus until the family left, and after he threatened to call Muni’s dispatch center, the husband and wife exited with their child, Rothfield said.

Just one stop later, the bus experienced mechanical problems while climbing Castro Street near 24th Street, Rothfield said, and the operator ejected her and the remaining passengers.

Rothfield and several other passengers called 311, The City’s customer service hotline, to complain about the driver’s actions.

On Monday, a Muni spokesman said, officials reviewed video footage from the bus, and concluded that the onboard recordings supported the passenger accounts of the operator.

Muni spokesman Paul Rose said the driver, a probationary operator who has been with the agency for just five months, will face appropriate disciplinary measures, including possible termination.

“This is unacceptable behavior,” said Rose. “There is no excuse for something like that.”

Rose said that as of Monday, the operator has been placed on non-driving status.

Walter Scott, secretary-treasurer for the Transport Workers Union Local 250-A, which represents Muni’s transit operators, said he did not know the details of Saturday’s incident. Yet he did note that operators are not supposed to reopen their doors after pulling away from the curb, for safety reasons.

Saturday’s incident continued a string of disturbing reports of Muni operator misbehavior.

In February, an operator was caught texting on her phone while driving a 24-Divisadero bus, the same line as Saturday’s incident. At first, that operator said the bus was pulled over at the time, and she served just a three-day suspension. But footage from a passenger’s cellphone surfaced last week that seemed to show her texting while driving. She now faces possible termination.

On April 1, a Muni operator sped through the downtown train tunnel with an open door and a vehicle full of people.

Behaving badly

February 2010: A light-rail vehicle is apparently left unsecured while an operator buys snacks.

March 2010: After hitting a bicyclist on Market Street, a bus operator allegedly refuses to stop the vehicle and check on the biker.

April 2010: An operator appears to be sleeping while traveling through a tunnel.

February 2011: A Muni operator is allegedly seen texting while driving her bus. When confronted, she allegedly kicks a rider off the bus.

Sources: SFMTA, CPUC

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