Muni drivers can stay employed despite accidents

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.

When a transit vehicle is involved in a collision — whether a major accident with injuries or simply a nicked mirror — San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency safety officials respond to the scene and determine if the incident was avoidable, meaning whether or not the driver was at fault.

In 2010, there were 1,399 collisions, 379 of which were deemed avoidable, according to information provided to The San Francisco Examiner in response to a public records request. Four drivers had three preventable collisions last year, 23 had two and 321 had one.

When a collision is determined to be avoidable, the driver is counseled about the error, trained and given a written warning, according to Paul Rose, a spokesman for the SFMTA, which operates Muni. Depending on how serious the accident was, the driver might be suspended for two days or 10 days, or get fired.

But Rose said operators’ records are cleared after 12 months, meaning some drivers could be responsible for minor accidents every year without more than a written warning. He said past major accidents can be taken into consideration if suspension or dismissal is being considered.

Rose said the figures show most drivers are safe behind the wheel.

“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,” he said.

It is the unsafe drivers who worry Muni rider Sima Kavary, a San Francisco resident who has no car and depends on Muni for transportation most days.

“Some drivers are just crazy — they stop hard, they jerk [the bus],” she said. “There have been some drivers where it’s like, ‘Hmm, you should not be driving a bus.’”

Regular Muni rider Renee Woods, whose partner is a bus driver, said a handful of drivers are responsible for most of the accidents.

“Those are the ones that need to be fired. They give the rest a bad name, because there’s real good drivers out there, too,” Woods said. “Drivers go through a lot, too — I’ve been on a bus and seen people walk right out in front of a bus. People sometimes just don’t look.”

Walter Scott III, the secretary of Transport Workers Union Local 250A, said the Muni accident rate is due in part to the tough conditions under which the operators drive.

“It’s still good considering we carry 700,000 people,” Scott said. “People might say, ‘Well, I drive every day and I don’t get in accidents.’ But you’re not stopping and going, and picking people up and operating a 40-foot vehicle.”

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