I-Team

Busted: Video shows why bus passengers complain

CREATED Feb 5, 2014 - UPDATED: Feb 5, 2014

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MILWAUKEE - When Charles Perry needed to go to the bathroom on the morning of Jan. 5, 2011, he did not wander far from the driver's seat of his Milwaukee County Transit bus.

Video recorded by cameras on his Route 30 bus showed Perry walk to the rear door and act as if he was reading a pamphlet and gazing out the window. In reality, the bus driver was urinating on the floor.
 
It was the most brazen example of misbehavior by an MCTS driver in the two years of passenger complaints reviewed by the I-TEAM.
 
Through Wisconsin open records law, the I-TEAM obtained complaints filed against MCTS drivers for 2011 and 2012. Those records detail 5,135 reports by passengers and passers-by who felt compelled to complain about bus drivers. Records show 3,455 of those complaints investigated by MCTS and ruled "valid," in many cases because there was video of the incident.
 
MCTS released video of a handful of incidents in response to a subsequent request for additional information. Other details provided in late December included the drivers version of events that lead to the complaint as well as the punishment doled out by management.
 
In the case of Charles Perry, he originally denied urinating on the bus. Perry eventually changed his story and admitted to the offense, though he believed "that nobody saw him," according to complaint records.
 
Perry was issued a three day suspension for this offense and warned subsequent problems could result in termination.
 
LET GO WITH A WARNING
 
In most cases reviewed by the I-TEAM, punishment rarely approached anything more than verbal or written warning.
 
Bus driver Timothy Riordan actually escaped with two warnings for his offense. The first came from the police officers who stopped him for speeding. The second came from MCTS administration, which also let the driver go.
 
It was just before 10 p.m. on Nov. 16, 2012 when South Milwaukee Police observed Riordan's Route 15 bus doing 46 in a 25 on Chicago Ave.
 
Video from cameras on the bus show the flashing lights of a police car as two officers approach the front doors. When asked why the officers pulled him over, Riordan admits he was speeding.
 
After a brief negotiation, Riordan escaped the situation with a warning from a sympathetic officer.
 
"Mr. Riordan is very fortunate that (the officer) was concerned with the impact of a ticket of six points may have on his drivers license," the report read.
 
Discipline records show Riordan was driving much faster than the 46 miles per hour cited by police. A data recorder on Riordan's bus logged his peak speed at 56 miles per hour in a 25.
 
Even with that information, MCTS let Riordan go with a written warning.
 
"No vehicle should be operated at a speed greater than the legal or posted speed limit," the supervisor wrote. "Failure to comply... will result in progressive discipline," it closed. That discipline included suspension or termination. 
 
Of the two dozen cases selected by the I-TEAM for further study, 18 cases resulted in conversations with the driver involved, but no discipline. Written or verbal warnings were given to six drivers. Only one driver, Charles Perry, was issued a suspension.
 
MCTS RESPONSE
 
Once again, MCTS administration declined to answer questions for our report and issued a statement.
 
"We provide more than 40 million rides each year and encourage customers to contact us if any issue arises so we can investigate and address immediately," a spokesperson wrote.
 
With no answers coming from the company that runs county transit, the I-TEAM turned to County Executive Chris Abele.
 
Abele said his office has similar problems getting information out of MCTS.
 
"We haven't had much responsiveness when we reached out and said hey can we sit down with you and maybe go through the process and maybe be able to help," Abele said.  "We haven't been responded to."
 
Since the I-TEAM started looking into problem bus drivers in February, 2013, Abele put the contract for bus service out for bid.
 
The County Executive wants to clean house at MCTS and bring in a new provider, pointing to our investigation as a reason why it's time for new management of county transit.