Muni driver with most complaints exposed

SAN FRANCISCO

The I-Team wants to acknowledge up front that driving a Muni bus is tough. The passengers can be difficult, but some drivers seem to handle the stress better than others.

Surveillance video:

"What is wrong with you? What's wrong with you?" says Cynthia Thompson.

There's something about Muni bus driver Cynthia Thompson that seems to bring out the worst in her passengers.

Surveillance video:

"Are you blowing your horn?" asks a passenger.

"Yes, I'm blowing my horn," says Thompson.

"Can you quit it?" asks a passenger.

"No. I'm not quitting it," says Thompson.

But she can give as good as she gets.

Surveillance video:

"Shut up," says Thompson.

"You shut up" says a passenger.

"No, I'm not. You shut up," says Thompson.

Perhaps that's why she's gotten 139 public complaints in three years, more than any of the 2,000 other bus drivers at Muni, making her number one.

Surveillance video:

"Your momma's a b***h, by the way," says Thompson.

One man gets so mad at Thompson's insult he runs back on the bus to confront her, but she pushes him out the door and calls police.

"It's surly, rude," says Brian Vouglas, a Muni passenger.

Vouglas is a regular on Thompson's route. He says her rude behavior causes a lot of confrontations.

"Unfortunately, I see this happening on a daily basis," says Vouglas.

And he's not alone. Thompson's file is full of similar complaints.

One passenger writes that Thompson "gave him the finger and tried to run him over."

Another saw her "physically push an elderly Asian woman who did not speak English and looked confused."

Another calls her "the most abusive driver I have ever experienced. You would have thought we were in a prison, and she was the warden in a Third World country."

We wanted to find out what it's like on Thompson's bus, so the I-Team caught a ride.

I-Team video:

"Close the back door. Close it. Close the damn door," says a mother.

We were only onboard for about 10 minutes when a young girl's foot got trapped under the back door.

I-Team video:

"Open it," says the mother.

"You need to calm down lady," says Thompson.

"I need to check her foot, can you please open the back door?" says the mother.

The girl wasn't injured but Thompson put the bus out of service and called Muni supervisors to the scene. She knows the drill well. It's not the first time a passenger on her bus has gotten their foot stuck. In February 2007, a woman calls out from the back of the bus.

Surveillance video:

"My foot is stuck in the back door. Can you close it?"

Thompson's response?

"You're going to have to try to work your foot up out of there ma'am."

"Amazing."

She sounds annoyed.

"Ma'am, there's nothing I can do about your foot until I get back there. That's your foot that's stuck," says Thompson.

But the woman's foot is wedged in tight, so Thompson calls for help. Seventeen minutes later, the woman's foot is finally freed.

Muni Executive Director Nat Ford refused to be interviewed for our story but his spokesman says the back doors on many Muni buses open and close automatically.

"On most of our buses, the operators have no control over the back doors," says Muni spokesman Judson True.

And he says Thompson followed the proper procedure in both cases by clearing the bus and calling for backup.

We still wanted to ask Thompson why she gets so many complaints, so we sent our producer out to find her. When she recognized him, she put the bus out of service, leaving all the passengers to wait for the next bus in 90-degree heat.

"Cynthia, what's going on here? I'm Dan Noyes from Channel 7. You are the top driver in terms of complaints, why is that?" asks Dan Noyes.

"No comment," says Thompson.

Thompson didn't want to talk. We asked the bus driver's union for comment too, but they didn't return our calls.

"We take any of these complaints from our customers very seriously," says True.

True says drivers with a high number of complaints do get disciplined.

"In some cases we do end up dismissing operators based on a series of incidents. We've increased the number of operator dismissals last year by 31 percent over 2006," says True.

Eighteen drivers were dismissed in 2006 compared to 28 in 2007. But Muni won't tell us what disciplinary action it has taken against Thompson because, they say, it's a private personnel matter.

Thompson didn't seem too worried when a passenger "told her that he'll complain...she said she didn't care and Muni won't do anything."

Vouglas, who rides Thompson's route nearly every day, says whatever Muni's doing, it's not enough.

"Minor hand slap, suspension for two days, back on the line. That's no way to reprimand an individual, especially if you have a rap sheet as thick as the Bible," says Thompson.

While we were researching this story, we noticed that the bus drivers who get the most complaints were split pretty evenly along gender lines. In the top 10, six were men and four were women.

I-Team Blog
http://iteamblog.abc7news.com/2008/05/1-muni-driver-f.html">#1 Muni Driver for Complaints

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