Abuse, obscenities caught on tape

February 25, 2008 9:27:57 PM PST
The I-Team goes back into Muni's video vault. All of this month, the I-Team has been reporting on the 25 Muni bus drivers with the most public complaints using Muni's own surveillance video to tell the story.

The I-Team had to sue the city to get the videos, and by the time they handed them over, we'd already read through thousands of complaints so we thought we knew what we were about to see, but nothing prepared us for this behind the scenes look at the daily drama of Muni.

Surveillance video:

"Okay sir, mind your own business or I just won't even drive at all," says Muni bus driver Juan Coleman.

When the I-Team met Muni bus driver Juan Coleman a year ago, we wanted to know why he got so many public complaints -- 72 in three years -- making him number four on the list of Muni's most complained about drivers.

Surveillance video:

"Okay, yeah call Muni. I don't care," says Coleman.

"Are you tough on passengers?," asked ABC7's Dan Noyes.

"No, I'm not tough on passengers. I'm just well versed on the operations of the coach," said Coleman.

And after watching hours of surveillance videos from his bus, we have the real answer.

Surveillance video:

"Don't raise your goddamn voice with me. I'm not your child. I'm grown, okay. You understand that? Don't disrespect me," says Coleman.

"Do you swear at passengers?," asks Noyes.

"No," says Coleman.

"Have you ever sworn at a passenger? Cussed at them?," asks Noyes.

"No," says Coleman.

But heard on the tapes, Coleman responds to a woman who missed her stop.

Surveillance video:

"Let me off the bus," says the woman.

"Use the rear door," says Coleman.

"Open the f***ing door, a**hole," says the woman.

"Yeah, your mom was the a**hole," says Coleman.

In another instance, he refuses to let a passenger pay an elderly woman's fare.

Surveillance video:

"What is your number?," asks a passenger.

"You need to go sit down," says Coleman.

"I'm allowed to know your number," says a passenger.

"You're not allowed to do s***," says Coleman.

"We are very committed to customer service. We look at every one of these incidents," says Ken McDonald, Muni's chief operating officer.

McDonald says using abusive language is a serious offense, and drivers can be fired over a single incident.

"If you're abusive to someone, extremely abusive to anyone on a vehicle as you conduct your business, then that is totally unacceptable," says McDonald.

But Coleman is still working as a transit operator at Muni. So is Kenneth Andrews, despite an exchange caught on video where a passenger objects to Andrews' treatment of an elderly woman.

Surveillance video:

"Hey, she's just an old Chinese lady. You didn't have to be rude to her," says a passenger.

"All I said was did you read the front of the bus?," says Andrews.

"Well obviously she didn't," says a passenger.

"Shut the f*** up you clown," says Andrews.

The argument gets heated.

"What are you gonna do about it?," says Andrews.

You gonna come out here?" says a passenger.

"you don't wanna f*** with me." says Andrews.

Then, as Andrews drives off, he threatens the man over the bus' loudspeaker system.

Surveillance video:

"I'll break your f***ing face," says Andrews.

And it's not just verbal abuse and arguments. The I-Team looked through hundreds of hours of surveillance video from Muni buses. We found a stunning display of just about every kind of complaint that people have about the system.

Anthony Jones, the driver with the second most complaints, is caught on tape making passengers wait while he goes to get takeout.

Another driver talks on her cell phone while she drives the bus. She's arranging an appointment at the hairdresser for her mother.

Surveillance video:

"What day you want to go, momma? Momma, what day you want to go?," says the driver.

Muni's McDonald says drivers have to be caught repeatedly using a cell phone while behind the wheel before they can potentially be fired.

"An incident that occurs has to occur three times in a five-month period, then it goes to the next level of a serious offense," says McDonald.

Another common complaint is drivers who shut passengers' hands in the bus doors. Drivers like Gwen Ferdinand, who is number eight on the list of drivers with the most complaints.

"I can't wait. I have to go. Get your hand out the door," says Gwen P. Ferdinand.

In her complaint, the passenger wrote that she was "so frightened, she felt that she was about to be dragged down the street with her hand stuck in the door", but, "luckily, she was able to pull her hand out of there."

Other passengers are not so lucky. An elderly man gets dragged for several feet with his hand stuck in the bus' open door. Then, as passengers struggle to free him, the doors slam shut on him. The driver blames a mechanical problem.

Surveillance video:

"There's something wrong with my bus," says the driver.

"Well Muni was, maybe one of the biggest challenges for me," says former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown.

Brown says two of his biggest problems at Muni were the backlog of public complaints and the difficulty of disciplining problem drivers.

"I clearly underestimated the literal, almost genetic problems associated with a fully functioning municipal railway," says Brown.

We requested interviews with all the drivers featured in this report through the Bus Drivers Union, but the union did not respond.

Union President Irwin Lum says Muni management and the union are dealing with problem drivers.

"We do not condone operators that don't do the right thing, and you know there's processes internally through corrective action, training, leading up to discipline, whatever to deal with these problems," says Lum.

For their part, driving a Muni bus is a hard job, and drivers put up with a lot of abuse from the public, too.

Surveillance video:

"Listen jacka**, if I want to sleep on the goddamn bus all goddamn night, that's what I'm going to f***ing do, you understand?," says a passenger.

Sometimes drivers even get assaulted.

One woman calls out in Spanish from the back door that the driver is leaving her daughter behind. When the driver doesn't respond, she grapples with him, in an apparent attempt to get him to stop.

Surveillance video:

"Back up off me, woman," says the driver.

Sometimes even Muni's problem drivers do the right thing, drivers such as Juan Coleman. In this case, he reacts quickly when two pickpockets target an elderly woman boarding his bus.

Surveillance video:

"Hey look, get out of her bag. Get out of her f***ing bag. What the f*** you think you're doing? I'll have your a** put in jail," says Coleman.

The pickpockets run away.

Surveillance video:

"Check your purse. Check your purse, ma'am," says Coleman.

Which just goes to show, even the drivers who get the most complaints, deserve the occasional compliment.

Surveillance video:

"Don't worry, you safe now, ma'am. You safe now," says Coleman.

Twenty-three of those 25 drivers with the most public complaints are still working at Muni. Only two have left, and they weren't fired. They resigned.

To see raw video of the surveillance video and to read Dan Noyes' blog, click here.