LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – Hundreds of Los Angeles Metro bus drivers have contracted COVID since the outbreak began – and now a David Goldstein investigation has found some healthy drivers who say safety is being compromised because they’re being overworked.
Nearly 35% of all Metro bus drivers are out sick with COVID or other illnesses. And the ones still on the job say they’re being ordered to work six days a week plus overtime, and that could lead to accidents.
Drivers Goldstein spoke with say they’ve been working six days a week for the past few months to cover for other drivers out sick with COVID.
And the long hours behind the wheel – and on the road with other motorists like you and me – are getting to them.
“You’re like half asleep sometimes, you might miss the light or someone may jump in front of the bus and you gotta be reacting fast,” one driver said.
Metro says 800 bus operators are out right now due to COVID and unrelated illnesses.
A notice CBSLA obtained tells bus operators on this day they have over 100 cancellations – asking if they can assist.
But drivers say if they don’t volunteer, they’re ordered to work.
“They tell you you have to come into work tomorrow. They don’t ask they tell you…whether you want to or not,” one said.
And driving a 10-ton bus six days a week and dealing with the rest of your life is tiring.
“Super tiring because you know the schools are out too and I got kids,” said one driver. “It’s like we can’t even be 100% with our family because you’re so tired.”
Robert Berkstresser, a nationally known expert on bus safety, says drivers working six days is allowed according to federal and state laws, but if they’re not accustomed to it it could be dangerous.
“Certainly it could lead to accidents. It could lead to serious accidents,” he said. “And that’s simply because you’re going to have drivers out there that cannot adjust to this schedule and will become mentally fatigued and will make errors on the road.”
And that mental and physical drain could lead them to be more susceptible to COVID, according to Dr. Marc Kerner.
“Fatigue from working extra shifts and sleep disruption, all of those things play into immune response and all of those things put people at much higher risk,” said Kerner.
Metro responded by saying they comply with DMV regulations, which limits drivers to 80 hours in an eight-day period.
They admit some drivers are, as they say, “selected” to work a shift on their day off, but only if there are not enough volunteers, which is the case now.
But some drivers say they’re reaching a breaking point.
“They’re asking for overtime and we can’t give no more,” said one of them.
Our bus safety expert says even though departments like Metro are complying with the law, they may need to go further and look at how it’s affecting the drivers and perhaps have supervisors get behind the wheel or cut back service.