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To improve CTA safety, put veteran bus drivers on toughest routes

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration lists green as the color of safety. But green — when it means an untested rookie — is not the safe choice for the bus drivers who must navigate the CTA’s most challenging routes.

Five people were killed and more than 1,000 injured in CTA bus crashes in 2015 and 2016, according to a report by Robert Herguth in Sunday’s Sun-Times. According to the CTA, that’s a good safety record compared with similar large public transit systems. But it could be better if more experienced drivers were assigned to routes that might be too much for newer drivers.

EDITORIAL

As it works now, veteran drivers – the ones who best know how to navigate tricky turns or anticipate erratic moves by other vehicles on city streets — can use their seniority to select quieter, lower-stress routes. That’s a way to reward years of service, but it can leave the more difficult routes to less-experienced drivers, who may not be as adept at avoiding accidents.

To make the buses safer, the CTA has increased the number of days of training and has instituted “long-ride” inspections in which managers accompany drivers to make sure drivers are adhering to the correct procedures and policies. Those are part of “multiple changes” the agency says it has implemented.

But it could do more. Carlos J. Acevedo, a representative of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 241, which represents CTA bus drivers, says his union would like to see financial incentives in a new contract now being negotiated that would encourage experienced drivers to operate the more-difficult-to-drive articulated buses and select the more challenging routes. Acevedo says it also would help to cut back on split shifts that can leave drivers more tired and on unrealistic timetables that can stress them out.

We’d like to see the financial incentives work, or see a tougher negotiating stance by CTA managers to force the change. One way or another, the most seasoned drivers should be negotiating those tight and dangerous turns on crowded Loop streets and elsewhere.

Besides the deaths and injuries in 2015 and 2016, taxpayers had to cough up $16 million in settlements, judgments and other legal expenses.  The CTA shouldn’t hesitate to do anything it can to improve safety.