Bus driv­ers de­mand changes

Safety, clean­li­ness, health top list

New Haven Register (New Haven, CT) - - FRONT PAGE - By Mary E. O'Leary

“The state isn’t go­ing to progress un­less we have a first-class trans­porta­tion sys­tem.” — An­stress Far­well, head of the New Haven Ur­ban De­sign League

NEW HAVEN — Bus driv­ers gath­ered on the Green Tues­day to ask for up­grades on ve­hi­cles to cor­rect blind spots, pro­tect driv­ers from abuse and make back prob­lems less likely.

The main com­plaint con­cerned a lack of driver in­put when it comes to choos­ing fea­tures on new buses or fix­ing older fleets, given that they are the ones with the di­rect ex­pe­ri­ence to un­der­stand what is needed.

Par­tic­u­lar praise was given to Euro­pean com­pa­nies and the way they de­sign buses.

Sev­eral unions, rep­re­sent­ing dif­fer­ent parts of the state, were rep­re­sented at the event, which An­stress Far­well, head of the New Haven Ur­ban De­sign League, helped or­ga­nize to take place on the Green.

Far­well said trans­porta­tion de­vel­op­ment is es­sen­tial to ev­ery part of New Haven and the state’s econ­omy.

“The state isn’t go­ing to progress un­less we have a first-class trans­porta­tion sys­tem,” Far­well said.

She said that won’t hap­pen if Con­necti­cut doesn’t have driv­ers who are safe and a pub­lic that is con­fi­dent it is safe to board a bus.

Ralph Buc­citti, pres­i­dent-busi­ness agent for Lo­cal 281 of the Amal­ga­mated Tran­sit Union, said in New Haven there have been two to three as­saults on driv­ers.

He said the abuse they face used to be just “cussing,” but that es­ca­lated to spit­ting and now there is con­cern about phys­i­cal abuse when they en­counter a

rider who may just be hav­ing a bad day.

“We are try­ing to do pre­ventable main­te­nance, so to speak,” Buc­citti said. “We are try­ing to stop that from hap­pen­ing be­cause we see the grow­ing trend.”

Tues­day’s event was part of a union-wide ef­fort across the U.S. and Canada to im­prove de­sign to pre­vent bus ac­ci­dents and driver in­juries.

“The brand new buses that are man­u­fac­tured now, they are bet­ter and they are get­ting bet­ter. But what we are ask­ing for is a bet­ter work sta­tion so we can be com­fort­able and we can be safe and the pub­lic can be safe,” said Mustafa Salahuddin, pres­i­dent-busi­ness agent for Lo­cal 1336 Bridge­port.

To min­i­mize back prob­lems, he said the buses need to be retro­fit­ted with air seats that will ab­sorb the move­ment when the ve­hi­cles travel over rough ground. Also, the way the steer­ing wheels are de­signed, driv­ers end up with ro­ta­tor cuff in­juries.

“We are not here to bash any of the tran­sit com­pa­nies, we are here to tell them to meet us in help­ing them ask for bet­ter work sta­tions for our driv­ers and ask for bet­ter, cleaner air buses for the rid­ers,” Salahuddin said.

He said they like the Euro­pean de­sign.

“Their in­fras­truc­ture, when it comes to trans­porta­tion com­pa­nies, are sec­ond to none. We are ask­ing that we do the same,” the Bridge­port union leader said.

Jerry Pizun­ski, pres­i­dent-busi­ness agent of Lo­cal 1209 in New Lon­don, said he has been com­plain­ing for six years about the left-side mir­rors that have blind spots.

“There’s the mir­ror, here’s the A pil­lar and that’s the space be­tween the mir­ror and the A pil­lar,” said Pizun­ski, pres­i­dent of ATU Lo­cal 1209 in New Lon­don, as he held up a di­a­gram. “If there are peo­ple walk­ing be­hind ... you can’t see them.”

Pizun­ski wants a pro­cure­ment com­mit­tee that would work with the tran­sit district managers, who in turn would ad­vise per­son­nel at the state De­part­ment of Trans­porta­tion who make the choices on new buses.

“Put a few driv­ers and a few rid­ers on a com­mit­tee so they can say what works for us. We op­er­ate those buses. We drive them ev­ery day, so who knows bet­ter?” Pizun­ski asked.

He said they could start with the lit­tle things — such as the mir­rors — and ad­vance to other as­pects.

The Amal­ga­mated Tran­sit Union for seven lo­cals in Con­necti­cut, in a state­ment, said most buses have “un­safe, wide win­dow pil­lar de­signs and haz­ardous eye-level mir­rors, which cre­ate large blind spots that lead to tragedy when driv­ers don’t see pedes­tri­ans cross­ing in front of them.”

They also want pro­tec­tive bar­ri­ers that can be quickly raised and low­ered to guard the driver, when needed. The work­ers are seek­ing er­gonomic seat­ing and bet­ter fil­ter­ing of bus com­part­ment air .

There are mul­ti­ple tran­sit com­pa­nies in the state that run the buses. CT­tran­sit is the state De­part­ment of Trans­porta­tion-owned bus ser­vice that op­er­ates in New Haven, Hart­ford and Stam­ford.

Greater Bridge­port Tran­sit, which serves that area, was praised by its work­ers. Salahuddin said Greater Bridge­port has lis­tened to the work­ers.

To cor­rect com­plaints about fumes, they or­dered hy­brid buses and they just changed the fleet so 78 per­cent of the buses are new, and they se­cured a grant that will al­low them to get six elec­tric buses.

Veron­ica Chavers, the Lo­cal 443 pres­i­dent in Stam­ford, said the new fare boxes are also caus­ing trou­ble by ex­tend­ing the time it takes to board, which is up­set­ting rid­ers.

Dou­glas Hol­comb, the gen­eral man­ager for Greater Bridge­port, said man­age­ment and the union work well on safety.

“We dis­agree with the union on many many things, but safety is not one of them,” Hol­comb said.

In Bridge­port he said they are do­ing pi­lot work on driver bar­ri­ers, which have been in­stalled on 70 per­cent of their fleet.

They also mod­i­fied the mir­rors and added a 12cam­era se­cu­rity sys­tem, as well as im­ple­mented a new clean­ing pro­gram.

Adding the bar­ri­ers to the buses costs some $4,700 per bus, Hol­comb said of his 57-bus fleet.

David Lee, gen­eral man­ager for CT Tran­sit, which has 485 buses, also showed up to lis­ten to the work­ers at the press con­fer­ence with Hol­comb.

He said that morn­ing he had in­vited the union “to work with us and show us what they think ought to be the so­lu­tion,” on the bar­ri­ers. “We are open to that dis­cus­sion.” Lee said it is an open-ended in­vi­ta­tion.

Lee said Bridge­port has opted for one par­tic­u­lar de­sign. He said a Ger­man­designed prod­uct that was of­fered as the per­fect so­lu­tion, is not avail­able in the U.S. and he was not sure it could be retro­fit­ted to district buses

“I’m open to this dis­cus­sion. Tell us what looks like the op­ti­mum so­lu­tion from your point of view. We want to lis­ten. We are will­ing to do a test,” Lee said.

The man­ager said they have also moved mir­rors on buses. Sev­eral work­ers told him the mir­rors have to be smaller. They are too high, they said, block­ing their vi­sion.

Pizun­ski asked Lee whether he knew if there was a blind spot on the new buses.

“I don’t know,” Lee said. “I’m ask­ing you.”

“What do you mean you don’t know? You are buy­ing them,” Pizun­ski said.

“There is a blind spot on ev­ery ve­hi­cle I have ever seen,” Lee said.

Lee was asked whether he was open to a pro­cure­ment com­mit­tee that would have driv­ers and rid­ers on it. “Yes, but, and the but is that all of the buses that CT Tran­sit op­er­ates are pro­cured by the state DOT and there is a multi-year pro­cure­ment . ... If the ar­gu­ment is that there are ways to mod­ify that (new) bus to make it safer, let’s talk about it,” Lee said.

Buc­citti said fea­tures and de­signs are de­cided by peo­ple who have not driven a bus. He com­plained about a vent­ing sys­tem that can only be closed by a driver climb­ing on the seat to bring it down. He also called the fare boxes “a dis­as­ter.”

In the end, both sides looked to set a date to meet.

Mary O'Leary / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Jerry Pizun­ski, pres­i­dent of New Lon­don tran­sit lo­cal, left, and Mustafa Salahuddin of the Bridge­port lo­cal, talk about im­prove­ments needed on pub­lic buses.

Mary O'Leary / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

David Lee, right, gen­eral man­ager of CT Tran­sit, which has 485 buses, dis­cussed some of the com­plaints from driv­ers.

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