Jul 1, 2002
Eighteen times in the last eleven months, a wheel has fallen off a city transit bus as it took passengers around the city of Baltimore. Eighteen times the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) has failed to solve the problem.
It is sheer chance that no rider or bus driver was badly hurt, although plenty were frightened as 200-pound wheels rolled off down the street. Nonetheless, the acting administrator refused to even look at the problem until the tenth time a wheel came off. Even though she then interfered with an attempted investigation, she was not relieved of her job and placed on a leave of absence until the 17th incident. Higher management suggested she was trying to protect a maintenance supervisor, who is her husband.
Whether or not this was her motive, the fact remains that bus maintenance is low on the list of state priorities. There are not enough mechanics to check all the bus wheels. Even when they started a crash program to check the wheels, it was expected to take a month.
In other words, most of the buses did not have changes yet on their wheels, even while other maintenance was ignored. In addition, mechanics didn’t have manuals for their equipment and were told NOT to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations on lubrication.
The MTA finally hired a new chief, Robert Smith, from the Chicago Transit Authority, in June. But chiefs come and go. The real problem is whether the state will fund public transportation and, in particular, hire enough mechanics and equipment to do the job needed.
The head of the Department of Transportation, John Porcari, told legislators in Annapolis, "We have not done the job we should within the MTA to spot the issues early and give them upper-level management attention. I need to apologize for the less-than-satisfactory service we provided. As far as I'm concerned, the buck stops here."
So he says, but if the buck really stopped at his desk, there would have been no problem. Or, at least, today, he would be ready to hire hundreds of mechanics. The bucks obviously don’t stop at his desk – and they certainly don’t get to public transportation.