For the second consecutive month, detected use of illegal drugs among Southern California Rapid Transit District bus drivers has increased, despite district officials' hopes for a steady decline.
According to figures released Thursday, 16 of 306 drivers tested in October for drug use tested positive for marijuana, other illegal drugs or alcohol. That represented a 1.04% increase over September, when 18 of 431 drivers tested positive.
The RTD also reported an increase from 9 in September to 11 in October in the number of drivers who tested positive for use of prescription drugs. The district will make a separate determination of whether those drivers were taking those drugs under a doctor's orders.
The overall figures show a 2.6% climb over the 6.26% who tested positive for illegal or prescription drug or alcohol use in September. The increase was nearly twice the 4.5% rate recorded in August, when district officials predicted that they had corraled a drug problem that gained notoriety after a number of drug-related bus accidents.
Nevertheless, the percentages over the last three months compare favorably with preceding periods. The monthly rate of drivers testing positive for drugs had averaged 11% in the first 10 months of a screening program begun in September, 1985. Two months after that program began, 21% of the tested drivers were found to have drugs or alcohol in their systems.
Despite the second straight monthly increase in district drug detection, both RTD General Manager John A. Dyer and drivers union chief Earl Clark predicted that when a toughened testing policy goes into effect next month, drug use will drop. Dyer said that district employees began receiving copies on Thursday of a tougher drug policy, approved on Aug. 29 and scheduled to go into effect next month.
Under the new policy, district employees exhibiting what their supervisors deem is strange behavior, chronic absenteeism or tardiness will be tested for drug use. Included are drivers involved in accidents resulting in injuries or in damage of at least $1,000.
Dyer said that despite the increase in drug detection, accident-related drug use has dropped dramatically since July, when 31% of the 32 drivers involved in accidents tested positive for drug use. In September, three of 32 tested positive and last month, one of 25 drivers tested positive, district figures showed.
12 Used Marijuana
Twelve of the 16 drivers found last month to have illegal drugs or alcohol in their systems used marijuana, two had used cocaine and two had used alcohol, the report showed. Four of the drivers either were fired or resigned as a result of on-duty positive tests for illegal drugs or alcohol, Dyer said. Drivers are not automatically fired or subject to termination if they test positive for marijuana use.
In another development, RTD directors expressed surprise at a new district report showing that some drivers accumulated hundreds of hours of overtime last year. One unnamed driver amassed between 1,700 and 1,900 overtime hours for an average of between 32 and 36.5 hours of overtime a week over a 52-week period.
District records showed that driver, a 16-year veteran, had nearly a spotless record. His first bus accident occurred shortly after he was hired in 1970 and his only other one was last Feb. 13. RTD board member Leonard Panish said that regardless of the records, such overtime is "excessive" and he and other directors agreed that the overtime provisions should be tightened.