Report 2001-101 Summary - August 2001

Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority:

It Can Increase Its Efforts to Ensure the Safe Operation of Its Buses

HIGHLIGHTS

Our review of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority's (MTA) management and monitoring of its bus operators revealed that:

  • MTA lacks an effective system to prevent all violations of driving time restrictions.

  • It does not adequately track the time its bus drivers work for other employers.

  • Numerous errors in its accident database make analysis difficult if not impossible.

  • MTA does not take full advantage of information on traffic citations to consistently discipline its bus drivers.

RESULTS IN BRIEF

Created by state law in 1993, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) serves as the main transportation designer, builder, and operator for one of the country's largest, most populous counties. With a fleet of 2,500 buses, the MTA transports more than 1 million passengers each day. The safety of these passengers and the public at large rests in part on the MTA's success in restricting the driving hours of its almost 4,000 bus drivers. However, the MTA does not have an effective system to identify all bus drivers who exceed driving or on-duty1 hour restrictions aimed at reducing driver fatigue.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that drowsy drivers cause 100,000 traffic accidents each year, in which 1,500 people are killed and 71,000 are injured. During the 1980s, the National Transportation Safety Board (board) investigated several accidents that involved operator fatigue. Following the completion of these accident investigations, the board recommended in 1989 that the federal Department of Transportation review and upgrade hours of service regulations to assure that they are consistent and that they incorporate the results of the latest research on fatigue and sleep issues. Fatigue has remained a significant factor in transportation accidents since the board made its recommendations.

Because driver fatigue is a clear safety risk, both federal and state regulations restrict bus drivers' time behind the wheel. These regulations state that drivers must not drive more than 10 hours or drive after being on duty for 15 hours, and both of these restrictions require a prior off-duty period of at least 8 hours. State regulations also prohibit drivers from driving after being on duty for 80 hours during a consecutive 8-day period. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's regulatory guidance indicates that motor carriers are liable for on-duty violations when they lack management systems that effectively prevent such violations. However, because it cannot track its drivers' actual driving time, and division staff do not calculate an estimate of this time for drivers daily, the MTA is unable to prevent violations before they occur. Moreover, the MTA does not accurately track or consistently monitor its bus drivers' on-duty hours, and cannot ensure that its drivers are obeying the on-duty time restrictions.

Recognizing the limitations of its time-keeping and scheduling system, the MTA has budgeted $8.2 million to improve the system's capabilities. An important new feature will be individual bus driver badges and electronic badge scanning that will allow computers to accurately record drivers' actual on-duty hours. However, the planned upgrades are not designed to generate reports to make managers aware of and able to prevent all types of bus driver on-duty violations, such as being behind the wheel more than 10 hours.

The MTA is further hampered in preventing driving and on-duty violations by its lack of information on the number of hours its bus drivers work for other employers (secondary employment). Although state regulations require bus drivers who work for more than one employer within a 24-hour period to disclose the number of hours for each employer on a driver log, only one of the four divisions we visited had a procedure in place to collect these logs. The MTA requires all bus drivers to seek prior approval before assuming secondary employment, and its division managers recently began using disclosure letters to elicit this secondary employment information. However, not all bus drivers who have other employers submit the disclosure letters. Moreover, the MTA does not have a database for its division managers to effectively track secondary employment once it is disclosed. Although the MTA is taking positive steps to collect complete data on its drivers' secondary employment, it needs a more consistent approach to identify bus drivers working for multiple employers who exceed driving and on-duty restrictions.

When a bus driver does cause or contribute to an accident, the MTA should be able to evaluate driver fatigue as a factor by noting how long the driver was working at the time of the accident. However, the MTA's accident database, the Vehicle Accident Monitoring System (VAMS), contains numerous errors, making analysis of accident statistics difficult, if not impossible. Bus drivers sometimes incorrectly document the time between when they start work and when the accident happens, and the MTA's data entry staff often make errors when they enter accident report data into the VAMS. As a result, the database is not useful to MTA for identifying accident causes relating to driver fatigue.

Finally, the MTA bus division managers often remain unaware of bus drivers who receive frequent traffic citations. Managers rely on the bus drivers to disclose their citations, despite the fact that the MTA headquarters receives every driver's public driving record, including citations, from the Department of Motor Vehicles (Motor Vehicles). Under a labor agreement with the United Transportation Union, the MTA may issue demerits to its bus drivers for their failure to report citations. However, managers have not reliably used this discipline process because bus drivers do not always disclose their citations and because managers do not receive sufficient summary detail of citation information.

RECOMMENDATIONS

To ensure that its drivers do not exceed on-duty restrictions, the MTA should finish upgrading its time-keeping and scheduling system. Also, it should continue exploring options to further improve the system to warn division managers when their bus drivers are in danger of exceeding 10 hours driving time or of driving after being on duty for more than 15 hours.

To ensure that it makes a reasonable effort to obtain secondary employment information, the MTA should enforce its newly established procedures by requiring all divisions to provide, and all bus drivers to complete, secondary employment disclosure letters. Moreover, it should require that these letters be updated periodically throughout the year. In addition, the MTA should develop a database for its division managers to track secondary employment.

To improve the accuracy of its accident information, the MTA should better train bus drivers to complete accident reports and data entry staff to enter report information into the VAMS.

To improve its process for monitoring citations and equitably disciplining its bus drivers, the MTA should make sure that its division managers receive summary level reports of Motor Vehicle's citation data.

AGENCY COMMENTS

The MTA agrees with our recommendations. However, it disagrees with much of our analysis that establishes the basis for the recommendations. The MTA's response contains numerous incorrect and misleading statements. Our comments addressing MTA's response begin on page 37.


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