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Police, WMATA Investigating Possible Hit and Run By Metrobus

by ARLnow.com | August 10, 2010 at 3:07 pm | 2,665 views | 47 Comments

Police and WMATA are investigating an apparent hit and run accident that happened in Ballston this afternoon.

The three occupants of the car that was hit and another witness told police that a Metrobus rear-ended a car at the intersection of Fairfax Drive and Glebe Road, then fled the scene by making an illegal right turn from the main travel lanes of Fairfax onto Glebe.

Jeffrey Nichols-Haining, the driver of the car, says the light had just turned green when he saw the bus barreling toward him.

“I did see it [coming] in my rear view mirror… I mumbled [expletive] then got hit,” he said.

“He waved us to go forward, then after we went forward he turned,” said Nichols-Haning’s sister, a passenger in the car. Nichols-Haining said another driver saw the accident happen and tried to help.

“Some guy… turned behind us, caught his bus number and called the cops,” he said. “We filled out a police report, and we have a witness report that was filed.”

A Metro supervisor showed up about an hour after the accident. A Metro spokesperson says the agency is investigating the incident.

Nichols-Haining says he was on his way back home to Morgantown, W.V. after picking up his sister, who had just completed an internship. Although the car appears drivable, he said he couldn’t get his camera to take photos of the damage because the trunk won’t open. He added that he hopes to get the accident behind him and get on with his travel plans.

“I’d like to keep going because I have a camping trip planned… hopefully we’ll be able to resolve this quickly and get on with it.”

Update at 4:25 p.m. — A WMATA spokesperson tells TBD.com that the driver of the Metrobus did not report the incident. The driver has been put on three days of leave and will undergo mandatory drug and alcohol testing, TBD reports.

Update at 8:55 p.m. — The bus was out of service at the time of the crash. The driver was cited by Arlington Police, WTOP reports.

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  • charlie

    no big surprise. most metro bus drivers are working overtime and getting paid double time because the union won’t let them hire new drivers. the bonus pay is amazing. $100k+ a year factoring in overtime.

  • FREDTERP

    This driver should be fired and jailed? FREDTERP

  • Lou

    Great reporting on this. I don’t know if Metro could do anything that would surprise me anymore.

  • http://barlington.blogspot.com/ bArlington

    I have filed complaints with WMATA before about buses running red lights in this specific intersection. Is it because they are so close to Ballston and there is a supervisor standing at Ballston with a checkboard, dinging them if they are late?

  • fatkidspecial

    Metrobus drivers are awful. Good luck reporting a complaint though. I’ve had numerous encounters where a metrobus driver just completely ignored traffic signs/lights/lanes/etc. Only called to complain once after seeing a driver literally force another car into oncoming traffic. Waited on hold for 30 minutes before finally talking to someone who could have cared less.

    ART buses aren’t much better. Saw one just a couple of hours ago on Washington at Pershing run a light that had been red for a good 2 seconds. Fun!

  • J

    Doesn’t this seem doubly ridiculous given that, presumably, there was a bus full of witnesses? Literally?

    • Frenchy B

      My guess is that it was a bus that went out of service at Ballston.

  • Civic Activist

    I live in the adjoining Civic Association and am familiar with decades long problems with WMATA drivers at that intersection. The title of an old Ralph Nader book seems to apply: Unsafe At Any Speed. The driver of the vehicle hit needs to know that the County just installed ‘red light’ cameras at that intersection [to raise revenue] — hence, the accident may have been taped. I am sure the County will not volunteer that information.

  • bikermark

    It took an hour for a supervisor to arrive at the scene of a Metro bus hit & run?
    They’re not doing much to win back the public’s confidence. That’s assuming management even cares enough to try.

    Civic Activist: have you considered that the decades long problems at that intersection may have something to do with a lack of enforcement? And that the red light cameras may-gasp-improve the safety of the intersection? You automatically assume that its a money grab by the County.

  • Let’s Be Free

    How about a little proactive leadership?

    Let’s say an immediately announcement by WMATA’s General Manager and its Board Chairman that any WMATA employee discovered to have hit and run from the scene of an accident will be terminated forthwith and WMATA will seek compensatory damages from the employee to make whole all parties involved. Don’t hold your breath.

    In the abject (NTSB says “anemic”) safety culture that is Metro there are thousands of bus collisions each year; these accidents are dismissed as a cost of doing business by an incompetent workforce, an uncaring management and a desultory Board, including none other than the longest serving Board member, our very own Chris Zimmerman. Remember when you vote in November that the head starts stinking from the top.

    • Just the Facts

      Blaming the Metro Board for a bus driver’s hit-and-run accident is like blaming Xerox’s Board of Directors when your copier craps out.

      What madness will hatred of the County Board lead us to next?

      • Skeptical

        Actually, there is some rationality to blaming Xerox’s Board of Directors when your copier craps out — or at least it is rational to do so if copiers have been crapping out right and left, repairs have been faulty, support is lacking and so on.

        When oil started squirting into the Gulf we were all pretty quick to wonder what the hell was wrong with the executive leadership of BP, weren’t we?

        Metro appears rudderless. I don’t see any passionate advocacy for a dedicated regional funding supply, which is the only way a system carrying this kind of load can be expected to work; I don’t see any serious sanction on the irresponsibility that leads to damage and fatalities (drivers with poor safety habits and poor anger management get suspended but then reinstated, etc.).

        At some point, if a company makes a lousy product or offers an unreliable or unsafe service, you have to ask what is happening at the top.

        • Just the Facts

          Actually, there isn’t. A board of directors establishes policy, approves budgets and selects the chief executive of an organization, among other duties. In other words, it broadly oversees the direction of the company. It’s the chief executive who is the head of operations for an organization.

          Operational problems should be addressed by the managerial team, which is headed by the chief executive. In WMATA’s case that is interim general manager Richard Sarles.

          If the chief executive fails to address systemic problems–such as, in the case of Metro, widespread safety issues–he/she can be replaced by the board of directors. But to claim that the board is responsible for the actions of an individual employee (or, worse yet, that ONE board member is somehow responsible) ignores reality and shows a complete lack of understanding of how large organizations work.

          But, as I’ve stated before, the rabidly angry minority in Arlington never lets the facts get in the way of mudslinging…

          • Skeptical

            I’m not ignoring the executive role, but if you were a director of a company that is in the mess Metro is in, would you or would you not raise your voice about the evident problems and their solutions? Having attended meetings highlightinglocal transportation policy where Mr. Zimmerman was profiling — and noticeably silent on where and how to focus concern about the state of the system — I do not feel well served by Arlington’s voice on the Metro board.

            Does that make him the fall guy for everything that goes wrong? No, but it’s fair to ask for some needed hellraising from directors of a foundering operation, most of all from a guy who often sounds off when silence would be golden. Incidentally, I would not characterize myself as “rabidly angry” (I think that’s a code word for Arlington Republicans, isn’t it?). Or can one criticize office holders in Arlington without being dismissed as “rabidly angry”? Are we ever going to get past this Sharks and Jets mentality?

          • Just the Facts

            @Skeptical: I’m not a Shark or a Jet, I just call BS when I see it. If you look at the comment that started this thread, Let’s Be Free concluded by effectively calling for Zimmerman’s head, a call precipitated by the awful actions of a Metrobus driver.

            I agree that WMATA has a horrible track record on safety and generally falls way short of the service expected of a big city transit agency. In fact, having lived here for most of the past 33 years, I think Metro is a huge disappointment. For THAT I blame the Board and all WMATA upper management. I don’t blame them for a driver’s hit-and-run accident.

      • charlie

        This is part of what is wrong with our country right now. No one takes responsibility and everyone says “Oh don’t blame him, you’ll hurt his feelings.”
        Someone MUST take responsibility and someone MUST be blamed for why it went wrong.
        While this may have been an “accident” it is the result of the WMATA Board being completely ineffective and useful. They have hired General Manager after General Manger who were incompetent and horrible at their jobs. THE BOARD hired these GMs who then either inherited staff or brought on staff that was not effective.
        IT STARTS AT THE TOP. and trickles down. IN the case of the WMATA Board, it is ineffective and useless and won’t lead and do the right thing and that trickles down thru the ranks and everyone knows that the people at the top DO NOT CARE.
        Obama MUST take over METRO and FIRE EVERYONE and replace the Board with respected transportation experts who will focus on running an transportation system, and not a bunch of political hacks who just care about their fiefdoms.
        And since everyone seems to want to defend Zimmerman (okay, two of you) he has absolutely NO academic training or background in transportation and his experience is all trial and error on the job training. That does not make him qualified.

        • Lucy’s Mom

          Charlie, let’s play your idea out.

          Who do you have in mind to take over the board? Who are the qualified, illuminated transportation professionals who would leave cushy private sector positions or safe bureaucratic desks to jump into this public relations fire? How much should they be paid for this privilege? What level of accountability would they have to Metro customers? Or would the buck stop at Obama?

          I don’t see Dan Tangherlini leaving the fed for the post. I don’t see what will motivate Secretary LaHood’s best people to jump ship just as the federal government gets back into the public transportation business, in order to deal with Metrobus drivers running red lights.

          Also, who will be responsible for the long term regional planning at Metro if we hire the most likely available transportation professionals (such as VDOT veterans and past-administration DOT bureaucrats) to oversee the system? I don’t want out-of-state retirees and Bob McDonnell’s cronies making decisions on cutting our service. And I don’t want people who aren’t in tune with the local Arlington decision-makers on where and how we site transportation infrastructure, development and other Metro choices that really affect people who live and work here. The state interferes enough in our local decisions.

          • charlie

            Lucy has a smart mom!!

            I really don’t know much about Transportation Planning as much as I do about running a business. I guess the question to your questions — when the Federal Government took over School Systems — who did they put in place? Or when they take over a local police force? Seems that those mechanisms are in place. I think many people both working and retired would jump at the opportunity to run METRO (I really think the poor GM selections are based on people not wanting to work for the Board, not a reflection of the system) as the METRO is probably one of a few great opportunities to really make an impact (BART seems pretty stable).

            I couldn’t speculate for Tangherlini or people who work for Lahood. But it would be an amazing opportunity for the right person.

            As for long term regional planning at METRO? Who is responsible for it now? Rail to Dulles is only occurring because MWAA took it over. Long Term Planning could be undertaken by some of the great urban visionaries out t here. I shutter to think of VDOT or DOT people taking over — most of them are “roads people” and wouldn’t know a subway if it hit them. Nor the McDonnell people. Yikes.

            But you ask about regional planning and then you say all that is important is Arlington issues. Well regional planning isn’t just about Arlington. Why don’t we even have plans to run a METRO line from Dunn Loring to Bethesda? Or Old Town to Anacostia? Why isn’t the Silver line staying on I-66 and running into the City that way instead of further clogging Rosslyn? Our subway long term planning has been poor and any change would be for the better. I think.

            I don’t know how a federal takeover works. I think it would be a great way to bust the unions, break up the political fiefdoms and get METRO moving again. I think your points are good and would like to hear what others say.

          • charlie

            here are some numbers you can play with this afternoon. (budgets are in millions)
            station riders miles busrids Op Bud cap bud
            DC 86 920,000 106 407,800 $13,579 $740
            Atlanta 38 242,700 48 225,900 $399 $389
            Boston 51 478,000 38 377,000 $1,622 $700
            Chicago 144 638,000 107 1007400 $1,285 $1,230
            NY 468 7512000 229 2435000 $13,400 $28,000
            Philly 53 314,000 14 524,900 $1,132 $418
            SF 43 343,000 104 517,900 $582 $7,775

            one thing i think is interesting is a “fault” of METRO that we often don’t realize. there are NOT enough stations. (look at Chicago and New York for stations per mile). much closer much more useful.

          • Lucy’s Mom

            Charlie, to clarify – I did say that regional planning matters a lot in Metro’s long term approach to investment and service decisions. People who can see the big picture and understand more than just transportation ops are critical for making good choices that benefit the entire region. You and I may disagree on what those choices should be, I think we do agree that big picture, strategic planning is a critical component of Metro management.

            I also think Metro has a separate, additional obligation in each local jurisdiction (like Arlington) where it owns property, maintains Metro stations and bus depots, etc, to work with the leaders & residents of that community on how the property is managed, maintained and, occasionally, developed.

            On this issue, my point was that VDOT has a *terrible* track record of working with Arlington on property and roads within our boundaries (Route 50 and Washington Boulevards, I’m looking at you.) Sadly, that’s true of most agencies, which operate behind the times and refuse to be flexible to accommodate local approaches to transportation, development and community benefits/conditions. That’s certainly true for Arlington, and IMHO, having people from my locality in positions of authority is helpful to mitigate those conflicts.

  • Let’s Be Free

    OK, a fish starts stinking from the head — nothing like a little malaprop to get some attention.

  • A

    I saw a metrobus run a red light on Lee Hwy, I called the police non-emergency number who gave me the number of the correct person to contact at WMATA. My call was answered immediately by someone who seemed genuinely concerned. Don’t know if anything was done about it but at least they SEEMED to care.

  • William

    A question to our educated readership: Is there any comparable corporate entity with a safety work record like that of Metro? What would have happened to such a corporation that killed as many pedestrians and maintenance workers, and encountered the never-ending weekly violations like Metro does? Does anyone know of ANY comparison? Thanks.

    • Thes

      Here’s some:

      For a single organization engaged in a complicated and dangerous mission with a limited budget? Construction of the Hoover Dam took five years, and killed 96 people, operating in a desert, with half the number of employees of WMATA.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hoover_Dam

      Or perhaps you meant in transportation policy? Raising the speed limits above 55mph from 1995-2005 resulted in the deaths of over 12,000 people, nationwide.

      http://drive55.org/content/blogcategory/3/7/

      Oh, right, you said *corporate* entity. How about the Bopal chemical spill that resulted in, depending on how you count, 3,000 to 16,000 deaths from a single incident. The company responsible is still in business.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bopal_disaster

      Metro seems pretty safe by comparison.

      • BoredHouseWife

        The second example is a perfect example of how statistics are just lies.

        http://articles.sfgate.com/1998-11-02/news/17735730_1_speed-limits-mph-limit-death-rate

        As for the Bhopal thing, that was in India, and we know what corporations do over there. They get away with everything under the sun.

      • TGEoA

        I was waiting for Zimmerman’s waterboy to make an appearance.

        • charlie

          Zimmie’s waterboy responded with usual rhetoric and examples that are completely unrelated to the question. Typical to not an answer a question with brilliant but useless comments.
          How about the public safety record of Transit Agencies. How about average salaries? How about salaries based on ridership.
          If Zimmie and his waterboy are such bright political operatives they certainly could provide us with how METRO has only killed so many people while BART has done twice as many. Or that METRO brings in $XXX million in Fares but has $$XXX million in salaries while BART has half the salaries. Or how many riders in Portland Oregon (the chosen city) are on buses and how many drivers.
          Now that would be useful.

          • Thes

            I answered the question that was asked. Sorry that the facts disappointed you again so that you had to resort (again) to personal attacks. However, I’m sympathetic to you that usually that’s all you have available. It’s tough when facts are your enemy!

      • charlie

        I think Hoover Dam was a public project, not a “comparable corporate entity”
        I think “transportation policy on the speed limit” is public policy and not a “comparable corporate entity”
        oh Bhopal, yeah that was bad. Missed Chernobyl.
        So the BART SF subway had a fatality in 2008 and it was the first one since 2001 and there hasn’t been one since. now THAT is a good record of safety.

        • James C

          FYI – in 2009, BART had one passenger fatality, in November. It also had a tunnel derailment affecting 75 passengers in February, and a two-train collision injuring 13 in December. BART doesn’t operate a bus line, but AC Transit, the partner bus system, had plenty of incidents – as you’d expect in a major metropolitan area.

          BART is a great system. Unfortunately, accidents will happen on public transportation. (Interestingly, according to its website, BART runs its trains every 15 minutes on weekdays, 20 minutes on weekends. I would have thought their rush hour service would be more like DC or NYC.)

          Also found this on a San Francisco blog recapping BART’s latest budget discussions:

          “Over the long-term, however, BART’s capital outlook is sobering. Staff said the agency faces a projected $6.8 billion shortfall of capital funding needs over the next 25 years, a stat that is consistent with other transit operators around the region.”

          BART gets a much greater percentage of dedicated funding than Metro, and they’re looking at a near-term capital funding deficit similar to what Metro is facing now.

  • dmcgruffd

    Ya’ll ask me, criticising bus drivers for taking necessary risks to deliver their passengers us downright unAmerican!

    If History class and recent events taught this poor soul anything, it’s that Might Is Right and a busfull of hardworking riders sure does outrank a car full of two!

    • Kara

      Look above. The bus was out of service. So there was only one person on the bus (unless there was some unofficial passenger).

      Guess which vehicle is ‘outranked’ by your logic?

      • WibbleFfang

        Clearly, the biggest one. Duh.

    • M. Nichols-Haining

      It was a car full of three and the bus was empty. But are you really saying it’s wrong to criticize a bus driver who smacks into a car and then high-tails it away from the scene?

      That being said, I don’t think this one driver represents all of them. My current criticism is aimed at the claims department and administrators at Metro, who know my three children were in the car (including a minor) and haven’t returned my calls or made any attempt to contact me.

  • Brian

    As a resident of Ballston, I also have seen many metrobuses running red lights here. They just don’t care about safety and if you contact WMATA with the bus number, they simply don’t care either. Even if the driver were cited, the union would most likely get them out anyways.
    This is why Metro has zero credibility.

  • http://yahoo.com rawdiamond64

    AND?

  • Darwin

    I thought hit and runs were a felony? Strike another loss for Metro, at least no one was killed this time.

  • Matt B

    The bus driver should be charged with a felony hit and run. Three days suspension is a slap on the wrist.

  • BrownFlipFlops

    Once ATU Local 689 gets involved, the driver will get the following:

    * A short suspension
    * Some unenthusiastic, indifferent, and ineffective “retraining.”
    * Reinstatement with time-and-a-half for the suspension, which will have been done, no doubt, with some administrative error.

    Metro is not going to change. It’s not fixable.

  • Operator

    Ok…I read all these comments and I’m a metrobus operator half the comments on don’t have a thing to do with the guy who hit the folks from WV. I work with him at the same garage nice guy…but I’m not here to take up for him cuz…yea he screwed up, he screwed up BIG. I’ll admit we have alot of useless operators that work for metro half of which don’t even come to work but that’s besides the point here…he violated all company policies. Ok yea people who use 689 are the ones who screw up this is very true unfortunate…but true. Our salaries are not the topic here…The GM is a nobody he’s just there kinda like the vice president no real purpose just there. The board makes all the decisions most of them leave me scratching my head…my father retired with 33years and laughs at how retarded the people in charge are. We only make money by putting in all the OT we can because we want to provide a better life for our kids and grandkids but we aren’t fortunate to make 80k+ just by doing 8hours. Most do our jobs properly and to the best our ability. Y’all seem to have forgotten about the operator who saved a child from gettin hit by a car or the rest who avoid potentially horrible accidents everyday or the operators that go the extra mile and take you back to your because you missed it…huh? What theses select few but the minute one us does something we’re all bad or metro has zero credibility. How about the American way! Oh “I” walk into a bus because “I” wasn’t lookin cuz “I” had head phones in my ears! Take some personal responsibility this is the real world…No ones gonna hold your hand. Ok fares make up about 10% of our money the rest is suppose to come from the counties but if they ain’t paying how we gonna get the money to fix up the system I’m 25 and the buses we drive are probably older then me. Lastly Charlie…what do our salaries have to do with ANY of this how would you like if you were paid by how many toilets you cleaned at work? Don’t think so….So Charlie my boy open A$$ and insert head I hear breakfast is just around the corner and it taste better the second time around! Let he who has operated a bus cast the first comment!

  • Operator

    Oh forgot everytime I pull into the pentagon I operators in training…so I dunno where you heard the union want let us hire anymore operators in…and if we don’t do the OT well let’s see how well some of the customers get around…if there’s nobody to drive the route how do people get to work? Honestly we have a class of new operators right now. Oh but that’s right when your on the outside looking in you can’t be wrong!

    • TGEoA

      I hope you speak better than you type.

  • Operator

    Well…not quite sure what that has to do with this story. Hope you lose your virginity and get a life…oh that’s right I’m so so sorry you have nothing better to do with your time. I’ll be sure to make headlines when I hop the curb and run you over but I doubt lifeless thing(because I’m sure either way your stomach hangs over your genitals)gets hit by a metrobus!” will make headlines.

  • BoredHouseWife

    I have lived in Arlington for over 30 years. Based on my recollection, Metro was never this bad. Granted the system is 30 years older, and I do not think it has been kept up to date like it should have been. There are more people, and thus it gets more usage, further straining its aging system. More people means more demand which means they are less selective with hiring.

    • James C

      Greater Greater Washington talked about this – that without enough resources, any system has to calculate a trade-off between updating its existing infrastructure vs. expanding service and reach. That’s not an excuse, but it is the condition Metro was operating under for years, and especially in the 1990s. And the region prioritized expansion, as part of the solution to traffic gridlock.

      According to this article, the maintenance budget for Metro’s existing system is $7.6 Billion:

      http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post.cgi?id=3133

      It’s not a small point that the system is 30 years older, if the amount of dollars needed to keep infrastructure at best operating conditions is not provided. It’s no surprise that the breakdowns have come after 30 years, in tandem with peak ridership far exceeding anyone’s projections for the level of use.

      It’s awful that anyone has to decide between fixing the escalators and providing Sunday bus service. Metro needs dedicated funding at a level enjoyed mostly by national highways, not transit systems.

      It’s not the only thing that needs fixing, but many of the equipment breakdowns and infrastructure (aka Capital Spending needs) can’t be financed at $760 million per year for the next decade with the existing farebox revenues, and state and federal commitments. Yet, as early as this year, Jim Graham wanted to raid the capital budget to plug the gaps in operating budget.

      http://voices.washingtonpost.com/getthere/2010/01/graham_metro_options_go_beyond.html

      He was opposed in this by the other Metro members (including Zimmerman, FWIW.) But the system needs a huge infusion of cash, dedicated ongoing funding and a realistic plan for implementation. People are willing to complain about service (including me) but who is clamoring for the money needed to fix the problems?

      • charlie

        I think one of things that bothers me about METRO is how money is spent. It seems that it would be valuable for METRO to get BACK TO THE BASICS. For example, we have this fun “pilot” projects of putting bike racks on all the buses and the call-ahead-where-is-the-bus-system. The bike racks seem to be working well and benefit people — but would that money be better used benefiting a larger precentage of users? And the “when’s the next bus” was a huge waste of money. I think these types of project distract METRO from doing its primary role — moving people. I’m sure some of this was paid for by the “federal govt.” and people would argue it was otherwise “free” money. But in order to leverage federal dollars there has to be local money to match.
        Metro also seems to avoid the obvious — advertising in stations — because a number of purists have reasons to object. Well if it raises needed cash, why not?
        METRO is killing itself with fare increases, urban gang riots, and horrible service and quickly becoming the 2nd choice of commuters. We do NOT need more cars on the road going to work.

        • James C

          I’m not sure how much of the Metro budget is discretionary – and I’m even less sure the bike racks are what broke the bank. Though I disagree with you about the relative value of that program and NextBus technology, I respected your point of view, until the last paragraph.

          Metro is not directly responsible for the behavior of the teenagers at L’Enfant Plaza, and Metro transports successfully the vast majority of its passengers without major incidents. Metro remains the first choice of hundreds of thousands of new and existing commuters every day.

          I am not saying it is a perfect system, or that there is no reason to strive for higher performance and public discussions about where Metro’s priorities should lie – so you and I can each share our opinions on the relative merits of various programs, including fighting for increased advertising sales and adequate public funding rather than farebox increases.

          Although you do not prefer this outcome, as our regional economic engine grows, many new and existing residents will choose to drive even if Metro is 100% perfect. We are going to get more cars on the road regardless. It may comfort you to know that, even without achieving absolute perfection, many future residents will still choose Metro over driving.

          Whatever they choose, there’s no denying that Metro is still a much, much safer option than our highways, on any measure. There’s no denying its critical role to our government workforce and the private sector economy. There’s no denying it needs a huge infusion of cash dedicated to the non-discretionary infrastructure and maintenance needs well-documented by Metro and the Washington Post. Tie it to quantifiable performance measures as you like, but let’s try to find common ground on the fundamentals, at least.

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