NBC 5 Investigates discovered that five bus drivers for Dallas Area Rapid Transit were still behind the wheel after collectively amassing nearly 1,000 complaints in just a two-year period. All five bus drivers were still driving for DART when NBC 5 first starting asking questions nine months ago, but now DART says it has fired two of the drivers and suspended a third.
The transit agency argues the true number of complaints is actually lower than it appears because the agency does not count every complaint it receives against a driver’s record.
Matt Murphy filed a complaint after he said a DART driver nearly ran him off the road before giving him the middle finger.
“I was contacted by a supervisor who told me, this is the first time this happened, this is a good driver, but the situation would be dealt with,” said Murphy.
NBC 5 Investigates discovered the bus driver in Murphy’s case actually racked up more than 150 complaints in a little more than two years, including 66 complaints for being “discourteous.”
In one report, a passenger complained that the driver hit his breaks so hard a “1-year-old baby flew out of his seat and hit his head.”
“Ninety-nine percent of the trips we provide, there is no problem,” said Timothy W. Newby, vice president of transportation for DART.
DART said customer complaints are actually down 18 percent over the last two years.
“We have fired individuals for complaint activity and we will continue to do that,” said Newby.
But NBC 5 Investigates searched through hundreds of records that show DART has given some drivers a lot of leeway before taking action.
In one case, NBC 5 Investigates counted more than 200 complaints in a driver’s file. However, DART considers that driver to have only 30 complaints.
It turns out DART does not count complaints filed by customers who don’t want to leave their name and they only count complaints where they are certain the driver was responsible for the situation.
Kyra Berry said she has complained about rude drivers and safety concerns at DART about 75 times in the last three years.
One complaint involved a driver NBC 5 Investigates discovered had more than 200 complaints in about two years, including “falling asleep behind the wheel,” “talking on his cell phone for the entire trip” and “speeding through a school zone knocking over the traffic cones placed in front of the school for children’s safety.”
Records show again and again the driver was “counseled” by supervisors.
“I’ve worked in the restaurant industry a long time and you get three write-ups, basically, and that’s it, you lose your job,” Murphy said.
The bus driver Murphy complained about was counseled more than 100 times for complaints, including “unsafe driving” and “unacceptable conduct” according to DART records.
When asked by NBC 5 Investigates if it were reasonable to expect to still have a job after being “talked to” 100 times by management regarding performance issues, Newby responded: “I would say if your boss isn't sitting you down a hundred times a year and visiting with you about things that were relevant to your job, that's unfortunate.”
The union that represents bus drivers said the “counseling” sessions the records describe aren’t always happening.
“In some cases, I’m being told by the operators that they’re not being made aware of the complaints at the time the complaints are being filed, said Transit Union President, Kenneth Day.
The union said drivers sometimes aren’t notified until they already have numerous complaints. The union wonders if that’s why stacks of complaints may grow before DART management takes more serious action.
“I think the proper way of addressing complaints would be each and every complaint to be investigated when it happens,” said Day. “What I’m hearing from the operators, that’s not happening.”
“Every time we have a complaint we are bringing in that particular employee to speak with them about that issue,” said Newby.
But when complaints pile up, some passengers wonder how many is too many before DART should take action.
“You know it really doesn’t give you that warm feeling that these bus drivers are actually being reprimanded like they should,” said Berry.