- Bruce Elliott
Springs Transit will reduce blind spot cited in fatal accident
Colorado Springs bus drivers will soon have a clearer view of the road.
Reversing its previous position, city-owned Springs Transit has decided to modify dozens of its fare boxes -- machines in the front of the bus, in which passengers deposit money and fare cards -- in order to reduce a blind spot that the local bus drivers union has blamed for an accident that killed a pedestrian last year.
The driver who was involved in the accident, and who was subsequently fired, has also been rehired by Springs Transit, though he now holds a non-driving position.
The two developments mark victories for the bus drivers union, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 19, which fought to reinstate the driver and have the fare boxes modified. (The decision follows a Jan. 15 Independent investigation into the accident and the possible role of the fare box, which can be read online at www.csindy.com.)
"It's a great thing for our members -- our bus drivers -- and for the community, because now I believe our transit system is safer," said Dan Francis, president of the union.
Concern over the fare boxes escalated after a local man, Leonard "Vince" Miller, 56, was hit and killed by a Springs Transit bus on Aug. 22 of last year. The driver of the bus, Harry M. Wallace, said he failed to see Miller because his view was obstructed by the tall fare box on his bus.
Springs Transit blamed Wallace and fired him. However, a safety review board made up of both company and union representatives ruled that Wallace couldn't have prevented the accident.
Union representatives said they'd complained for years that certain tall fare boxes posed a safety hazard when installed on certain buses. A Colorado Springs Police Department accident investigator who looked into the issue agreed, writing in a letter to the union that the fare boxes in question -- which are almost 3 1/2 feet tall -- presented an "unnecessary and unjustifiable risk for the safe operation of the bus."
Four months ago, Springs Transit general manager Larry Tenenholz said that despite the officer's assessment and complaints from the union, he didn't intend to make any changes to the fare boxes because he had found no evidence that they posed a hazard.
The Independent, in looking into the issue, found a 1997 study sponsored by the Federal Transit Administration, which recommended fare boxes be no more than 3 feet tall. Moreover, Seattle's transit agency several years ago decided to lower fare boxes on its buses, citing safety concerns.
Tenenholz did not respond to requests for comment this week. But in a company newsletter announcing the plan to lower the fare boxes, Tenenholz denied that union "pressure" had influenced the decision.
Tenenholz wrote that after the company's safety review board recommended looking into the issue, the company conducted an "extensive investigation" and ultimately decided action was necessary.
"Springs Transit will always do the right thing, with the right information," Tenenholz wrote.
Sherre Ritenour, the city's transit services manager, said she made the final decision to lower the boxes based on a recommendation from Tenenholz. Ritenour, reached by phone at a conference in Denver, said she didn't have access to information about how much the modifications will cost. However, the money is available in Springs Transit's existing capital budget, she said.
She said the changes would affect between 25 and 30 buses where tall fare boxes have been identified as a potential hazard.
Wallace, who went back to work at Springs Transit last month as the result of a mediation agreement between the union and the company, couldn't be reached for comment. Wallace must still defend himself against a charge of careless driving, in a court case set for trial in July. If found guilty, he could receive up to a year in jail.
-- Terje Langeland