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Did a major transit authority put their bus drivers at risk?

A great deal can happen over the course 48 hours. In that amount of time, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority kept a fleet of hybrid buses manufactured by NABI after being notified by a maintenance superintendent that buses’ engines ran the risk of stalling, putting drivers and passengers at risk.

In late July, mechanics began installing new master switches to replace the old ones. One problem. According to union mechanics, a wire in the switch cuts power on the bus if a wire becomes loose or breaks.

On September 25, a NABI bus crashed after stalling and losing power. The following night, the superintendent emailed system personnel, expressing his concerns over master switches cutting off without warning. He also announced that future installation of the switches would cease and those already in place would undergo inspections.

While a subsequent investigation revealed that the alleged master switch “defect” did not play a role in the initial bus accident, a second stall and crash on September 28 would force the WMATA to park 105 NABI hybrid diesel-electric buses. The aftermath of both crashes resulted in minor injuries to two passengers and a workers’ compensation claim filed by one of the drivers.

ATU Local 689, the union representing drivers and mechanics, accused Metro of keeping buses in service when they knew of the potential dangers caused by the wiring defect. They also allege that WMATA did not providing proper directions on the new switches and failed to alert drivers of the potential for buses stalling.

WMATA denies both allegations. They claim that instructions were posted online. Regarding the accidents, they deemed the first to be an “incident” and the second one a “potential trend” that they quickly responded to.

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