If other jobs had the same laughable level of accountability as Broward County bus drivers, the world would be a much scarier place.
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Imagine an airline pilot who repeatedly skidded off runways – and kept his job. Or an orthopedic surgeon who kept performing procedures on the wrong knee, mixing up left and right three times in a year – yet not losing his medical license.
Imagine a chef who sickened customers by using rancid meat one week, spoiled milk the next – and health inspectors left his restaurant open, saying, "No big deal, there weren"t any rat droppings around."
Welcome to the wacky world of Broward County Transit, as detailed by colleague Brittany Wallman in a recent Sun Sentinel investigation. It"s a place where public safety and customer service have taken a back seat to drivers" seemingly inalienable right to stay behind the wheel, no matter what.
Wallman found a cadre of 59 drivers (among 629 overall) who repeatedly caused accidents in a six-year period. Yet none has permanently lost their job for bad driving.
One driver had repeated accidents during his initial probationary period and stayed on the job (he died earlier this year in a motorcycle accident). Another caused a wreck after he fell out of his seat while trying to retrieve a lunchbox that slid across the dashboard.
Or more accurately, what does it take to stay fired around here, since Wallman found bad drivers sometimes lost their jobs only to get rehired a short time later.
Wallman also discovered that blowing through a red light isn"t considered a serious offense for bus drivers. Under a stunning display of bureaucratic illogic, preventable accidents and red-light violations are separate categories – not to be tallied together – in the lenient disciplinary matrix used by transit managers.
And local officials wonder why so many are leery of riding mass transit in South Florida? Besides being seen as inefficient and unreliable, now we can add dangerous to the mix. People who depend on Broward"s buses, including poor working folks who can"t afford cars, deserve better.
For this sad state of affairs, there"s plenty of blame to go around: bad management, lax oversight, indifferent politicians and a union contract tilted too far toward driver protectionism over public safety.
Case in point: Broward bus drivers only have two years of accident history considered in disciplinary proceedings. Miami-Dade goes back three years. In Palm Beach County, transit managers have greater flexibility in getting rid of problem drivers.
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Nobody wants to see bus drivers treated unfairly. And something might be wrong with the system if drivers don"t get enough break time and are always scrambling to catch up with unrealistic schedules. Perhaps that pressures drivers to speed, run red lights or cover up on-board cameras while they relieve themselves in a bottle (it actually happened).