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Panel Urges Changes After Bus-Stop Shootings

October 22, 2003|Stephanie Stassel | Times Staff Writer

MTA bus drivers would have to report each time they refuse to pick up passengers, according to recommendations released Tuesday by a multi-agency task force convened after three Taft High School students were shot last month at a bus stop.

The practice of drivers passing by bus riders who appear to be a safety risk became an issue after the Sept. 9 shooting in Woodland Hills. The driver of a Metro Rapid bus stopped but didn't open the door to about 75 unruly students waiting for the bus at Ventura Boulevard and Winnetka Avenue.

A minute or two after the bus pulled away, shots were fired into the crowd, wounding three students, one of them critically.

An 18-member task force, formed after complaints about the driver's action, determined that if a passenger isn't picked up, the driver should immediately notify MTA's Bus Operations Control Center. Depending on the nature of the situation, MTA would contact the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, which provides law enforcement for the bus agency.

Previously, bus drivers were required to contact the center only if a wheelchair-bound or disabled passenger were left at the curb.

"It no longer presumes a driver at his own discretion can pass by and not do anything about it," said Zev Yaroslavsky, Los Angeles County supervisor and MTA board chairman, who requested that the transit agency create the task force.

"If the response is to not pick up a passenger, there must be a sufficient and compelling reason. Someone needs to take action to mitigate the cause of the situation," he said.

The panel included representatives from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Los Angeles Unified School District, the Sheriff's Department, Los Angeles Police Department and Long Beach Transit.

The group also made these suggestions:

* If the "pass-up" involves students younger than 18 or unruly students, the Sheriff's Department would contact school district police.

* Whenever a bus driver asks an unruly minor to leave the bus, the driver would be required to ask a supervisor or police officer to respond. The school district police force would be notified when a student is ejected from a bus during school pickup or drop-off hours.

* The MTA would create a bus-safety program for schools that would be tested in the San Fernando Valley. Similar to the agency's rail-safety program, it would later be expanded throughout MTA's territory.

* Bus stops at or near schools would be inspected to consider whether any needed to be relocated.

Taft High Principal Sharon Thomas said Tuesday that she has suggested to MTA officials that the bus stop be moved to campus gates near the southwest corner of the Ventura Boulevard and Winnetka Avenue intersection. An assistant principal posted there each afternoon could supervise students waiting for the public bus, she said.

"They told me, right now they're dealing with the [bus mechanics] strike, but once that's over, they will consider it," Thomas said.

Yaroslavsky said, "I expect [the panel's] recommendations to be in place as soon as the buses are back on the road."

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