Muni safety under scrutiny

August 10, 2009 7:01:09 PM PDT
Muni was on the hot seat during a hearing at San Francisco City Hall Monday after back-to-back collisions involving its fleet.

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One week ago, Chris Ward was heading home from work but he ended up with his Nissan Pathfinder crushed between two historic street cars after one of them rear ended the SUV.

Six people were hurt including Ward's partner.

"It was a very frightening situation, I get a little choked up just thinking about it, the whole thing, crushing, crushing, crushing, when is it going to stop, glass flying, screams of people," Ward said.

Ward was the star witness at a City Hall hearing examining the safety of the transit system.

It came after that August 3, collision and the July 18 crash of two light rail vehicles that injured four dozen people.

Muni's safety director listed changes that are being made.

"We're expanding our random safety performance observations, monitoring for proper spacing for speed adherence and for compliance with all operating and traffic regulations," Jim Dougherty said.

The state public utilities commission oversees Muni and has now assigned three full-time safety engineers.

One union official is pushing for better communication between inspectors and drivers.

"If something is wrong up ahead, tell us about it, don't wait 'til we make a mistake and then comes the discipline part," Rafael Cabrera said.

In terms of discipline, Muni statistics indicate in fiscal year 2005-2006, 36 drivers were disciplined, the next year, 117, then 350, and most recently, 231 were disciplined, and 14 fired.

There are still questions about the drivers in the recent high profile accidents. The one in the light rail vehicle says he blacked out. Witnesses say the street car driver who rammed into the SUV was busy talking to a passenger.

Monday, one man surprised everyone by coming forward to say he was that passenger and that there was no distraction.

"Before he ran into the SUV, I had already sit down about five minutes prior to that and I know he that was not talking to no one," Norman Tanner said.

Whatever happened, Ward says he is not planning to sue the city.

"No, why should I do that, people sue people all the time, how does that help make Muni better," Ward said.

The city attorney's office has received about half a dozen so far for the two recent collisions. Victims have six months to file claims.

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