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Exclusive: Circulator buses on road this week with expired registration, insurance cards

A DC Circulator bus. (WTOP/Brian Drew)

WASHINGTON — A number of DC Circulator buses have been on the roads this week with expired registrations and insurance cards, according to documents provided to WTOP.

The company that operates the Circulator, under a contract with the District Department of Transportation that is administered by Metro, told a union shop steward in an email Thursday that Metro was “in the process of renewing registrations on the buses.”

First Transit’s DC Circulator General Manager Marvin Greene said in the email provided by the union that the out-of-date insurance cards on a number of buses were simply a mix-up due to a delay in the arrival of updated cards and that drivers were expected to keep operating the buses.

A separate Wednesday memo to drivers on First Transit letterhead acknowledged the issues.

“It has come to management[‘s] attention that some insurance cards or even bus tags has [sic] expired. Management would like to inform you that we are replacing all cards and tags on the bus, but until all cards and tags has [sic] been replace [sic] just know we have insurance,” the memo on a bulletin board said.

“In the event that your bus is stop [sic] First Transit will be responsible for any tickets you get due to this [sic] issues,” it promised.

In an interview, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1764 shop steward Flynn “Tiny” Burke said the registrations on “about 15” buses expired at the end of the year, and apparently no action was taken to renew them.

“You sent out a memo telling drivers to break the law, and you would pay the ticket. To me, that’s just crazy,” Burke said, referencing the First Transit memo.

DDOT said it learned of the expired registrations for “approximately 7 DC Circulator buses”  from Metro staff this week.  As of Friday afternoon, the buses had been removed from service, DDOT’s Terry Owens said in an email. Burke suggested there might be twice as many buses without the required registrations.

“WMATA is currently reviewing records to determine if there are any additional vehicles that need to be removed from service,” Owens said.

Under the multilayered setup of the system, Owens said Metro is responsible for the registration of all buses since Metro is the project manager for the contract. Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said Metro’s contract with First Transit clearly states the contractor is responsible.

“DDOT is conducting a full investigation to determine how buses with expired registrations were placed into service,” Owens said.

Under D.C. law, penalties for both drivers and owners of vehicles driven without proper registration can include a fine of up to $1,000 and up to 30 days in jail.

Burke said two drivers who refused to drive buses that were uninsured and unregistered after recognizing the issue in their pre-trip inspections Jan. 1 and Jan. 2 were sent home from work without pay.

“If you’re riding an uninsured bus, and you get in an accident and somebody gets hurt it’s the driver’s fault at that point because he brought the bus out there. So the ticket goes to the driver, the accident goes to the driver, all the insurance issues go to the driver,” Burke said.

“The people involved are asking operator(s) to put their license at risk,” he said in an email to Greene, adding “there should be some … form of discipline for all supervisors involved.”

Burke said even if the company paid the driver’s ticket, the ticket would remain on the driver’s record.

“There’s no reason for us to come into the beginning of a year knowing that the year is going to end, knowing that this is going to expire on the buses. Why didn’t they start that back at Thanksgiving?” Burke said.

While some First Transit managers were changed after WTOP revealed deep safety issues found in audits, and the company fixed a number of safety issues, Burke said the buses are now “going back down hill again”.

Burke said one driver recently had the gas pedal get stuck down, some tires have tread issues, and some of the newer buses have had some issues with the heating systems. The driver who had the gas pedal get stuck was able to pull it free and get the bus back to the garage.

First Transit did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


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