Bus drivers demand changes
Safety, cleanliness, health top list
“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.
Jerry Pizunski, president of New London transit local, left, and Mustafa Salahuddin of the Bridgeport local, talk about improvements needed on public buses.
David Lee, right, general manager of CT Transit, which has 485 buses, discussed some of the complaints from drivers.