CTA bus crashes’ 2- year toll: 5 dead, 1,000 in­jured, tax­pay­ers out $ 16 mil­lion

Chicago Sun-Times - - SUN TIMES - BY ROBERT HERGUTH Staff Re­porter

Five peo­ple killed. More than 1,000 in­jured. A cost to Chicago tax­pay­ers of about $ 16 mil­lion.

That’s some of the toll ex­acted by crashes in­volv­ing CTA buses the past two years, ac­cord­ing to in­ter­views and records ex­am­ined by the Chicago Sun- Times.

Al­to­gether, CTA buses were in­volved in more than 500 crashes in 2015 and 2016, with in­juries re­ported by about 550 bus riders, 250 bus driv­ers, 200 other driv­ers, 55 pedes­tri­ans and 20 bi­cy­clists.

Be­yond the hu­man toll, there’s a fi­nan­cial cost. The $ 16 mil­lion in­cluded set­tle­ments, judg­ments and other le­gal expenses. In all, more than 380 law­suits were filed against the CTA in 2015 and 2016 as a re­sult of bus crashes, though suits “filed in 2015 could in­clude ac­ci­dents from 2014, as there is a one- year statute of lim­i­ta­tions and would also in­clude re- fil­ings,” ac­cord­ing to the pub­lic tran­sit agency.

As part of one pend­ing wrong­ful- death law­suit that’s likely to re­sult in a hefty pay­out by the CTA, the agency re­cently ad­mit­ted fault in a 2015 ac­ci­dent in which, ac­cord­ing to records and in­ter­views, a bus blew a red light down­town, strik­ing and killing a pedes­trian, Aimee Coath, a 51- year- old Floss­moor mother.

If ac­ci­dents in­volve deaths, a hospi­tal trip, prop­erty dam­age of at least $ 25,000 or even a tow, the CTA is re­quired to re­port that to the Fed­eral Tran­sit Ad­min­is­tra­tion, a fed­eral agency that reg­u­lates pub­lic buses and trains.

Among the bus- re­lated in­juries the CTA re­ported to the fed­eral agency:

On Jan. 21, 2015, a bus head­ing east on 79th at Bishop hit a 12- year- old boy who’d darted into the street be­tween two parked cars while “chas­ing a dog,” records show. “The right front cor­ner of the bus made con­tact with the pedes­trian who then landed on a parked ve­hi­cle,” the re­port said.

Days later, a ve­hi­cle “trav­el­ing at a high rate of speed” went out of con­trol at 82nd and King Drive “and made con­tact with the bus’ left front bumper,” ac­cord­ing to an ac­ci­dent sum­mary. “As a re­sult, 7 CTA pas­sen­gers and the op­er­a­tor were trans­ported to var­i­ous hospitals.”

In Septem­ber 2015, a bus turn­ing at Archer and Da­men struck a pedes­trian in a mo­tor­ized wheel­chair.

Last July, a bus was “at­tempt­ing to make a left turn” at Hal­sted and Wave­land when it “made con­tact with” four pedes­tri­ans, send­ing all of them to hospitals with “mul­ti­ple in­juries” and also re­sult­ing in a trip to the hospi­tal for the driver.

Bi­cy­cles were in­volved in 14 of the CTA bus crashes last year and six in 2015, in­clud­ing one in which a CTA bus at Sheridan and Mon­trose “rear- ended a stand­ing bi­cy­clist.” In an­other in­stance, a cy­clist “fell from the side­walk and into the back of the mov­ing bus” in the 3200 block of West Di­vi­sion, ac­cord­ing to the CTA.

CTA records don’t pro­vide much de­tail about the sever­ity or types of in­juries. Nor do they men­tion whether the re­ported in­juries turned out to be over­stated, per­haps in hope of get­ting a fi­nan­cial set­tle­ment.

“There have been in­stances where in­di­vid­u­als have claimed in­jury when they were, in fact, not hurt or not hurt to the ex­tent that they are claim­ing or as a re­sult of an ac­ci­dent,” CTA spokesman Steve May­berry says. “Be­yond


that, de­ter­mi­na­tions as to the na­ture of any in­juries would be made by med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als on a case- by- case ba­sis and ul­ti­mately the courts.”

Though bus driv­ers are of­ten among those in­jured, some­times they go to a hospi­tal only out of pre­cau­tion, the Amal­ga­mated Tran­sit Union 241’ s Car­los J. Acevedo says.

Most of the ac­ci­dents were rou­tine — for in­stance, a rear- end col­li­sion or a ve­hi­cle clip­ping a stopped bus while try­ing to il­le­gally turn in front of it.

In a few in­stances, though, buses were in­volved in crashes with a school bus, a snow­plow, an am­bu­lance, a squad car.

In March 2016, a preg­nant CTA bus driver was sent “into la­bor” and taken to a hospi­tal af­ter her bus was hit by an­other ve­hi­cle while riders were get­ting on at Chicago and Laramie, records show. She gave birth to a healthy boy, ac­cord­ing to a CTA spokesman.

All five fa­tal­i­ties in the past two years oc­curred in 2015, in­clud­ing one in which a “pedes­trian run­ning on the side of the bus lost his bal­ance and fell to the ground, mak­ing con­tact with the rear wheels of the bus” at North and Luna, records show.

The CTA says “it’s some­times dif­fi­cult to de­ter­mine” who was at fault. “There is no doubt, how­ever, that many col­li­sions in­volve other ve­hi­cles strik­ing CTA buses, of­ten­times when buses are stopped at des­ig­nated bus stops. For ex­am­ple, over the course of the two years at is­sue, CTA buses were stand­ing about 178 times.”

Acevedo, whose union rep­re­sents the CTA’s 4,000- plus full- and part- time bus driv­ers, says, “Every­body’s in a rush type of men­tal­ity in this city. It takes mo­torists and peo­ple walk­ing with head­phones — all of us — com­mit­ted to make it safe.”

Through records and in­ter­views, the Sun- Times found that, in the two- year pe­riod ex­am­ined:

Most of the CTA bus ac­ci­dents hap­pened on the South Side.

More than 40 of them re­sulted in the hos­pi­tal­iza­tion of five or more peo­ple.

Just over 40 bus driv­ers were fired “in whole or in part” be­cause of a col­li­sion dur­ing that two- year pe­riod.

The driver of the bus that killed Coath re­mains with the CTA, though is no longer driv­ing a route, of­fi­cials say. They won’t an­swer ques­tions about him but say, “CTA has ad­mit­ted fault in the mat­ter.”

Fol­low­ing that ac­ci­dent, CTA Pres­i­dent Dor­val Carter Jr. “im­ple­mented mul­ti­ple changes,” in­clud­ing in­creas­ing the num­ber of days of train­ing for driv­ers, as well as “line- ride in­spec­tions in which man­agers ride along on in- ser­vice routes to en­sure proper ad­her­ence to pro­ce­dures/ poli­cies,” ac­cord­ing to a spokesman.

One con­cern is that many vet­eran driv­ers have the se­nior­ity to pick sleepier routes, leav­ing busy Loop routes, with big­ger buses, of­ten staffed with less- ex­pe­ri­enced driv­ers, as was the case in the Coath ac­ci­dent.

Acevedo says his union has pushed for fi­nan­cial “in­cen­tives” to en­cour­age vet­eran driv­ers to take the wheel of the longer, ac­cor­dion- style “ar­tic­u­lated” buses and to take the more- dif­fi­cult routes. Those are among the safe­tyre­lated is­sues be­ing dis­cussed in cur­rent con­tract ne­go­ti­a­tions.

Acevedo says the union also wants to ease up on broad “split shifts” that he says can cause driver fa­tigue and “un­re­al­is­tic” timeta­bles that driv­ers “stress out” to com­plete.

Carter says of crashes: “My goal is zero.”

Still, with more than 500 crashes in two years, CTA of­fi­cials say the agency “has a very strong safety record.

“There are more than 6 mil­lion bus trips each year, trav­el­ing 50 mil­lion miles. The 510 col­li­sions over 2015 and 2016 hap­pened over the course of about 100 mil­lion miles of bus ser­vice, rep­re­sent­ing roughly one col­li­sion per [ 200,000] miles trav­eled. That’s the equiv­a­lent of one col­li­sion in 71 cross­coun­try trips across the United States.”

CTA of­fi­cials say the agency is “in line with our peers na­tion­ally,” point­ing to the South­east­ern Penn­syl­va­nia Trans­porta­tion Author­ity, the tran­sit agency for the Philadel­phia area. Through the first 11 months of 2016, SEPTA re­ported 235 col­li­sions, com­pared to the CTA’s 251. SEPTA had about 39 mil­lion miles of “bus rev­enue ser­vice” for the year, com­pared to the CTA’s ap­prox­i­mately 52 mil­lion miles.

The main tran­sit agency in the Los An­ge­les area logged more miles than the CTA but had far fewer bus col­li­sions, records show — about 100 over the same pe­riod.


The fam­ily of Aimee Coath ( left) has filed a wrong­ful- death law­suit against the CTA af­ter she was hit by a bus and killed on June 2, 2015, at Michi­gan Av­enue and Lake Street.


The af­ter­math of a crash last July 6 in­volv­ing a sport- util­ity ve­hi­cle and a CTA bus on Pu­laski Road in North Lawn­dale.

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