Isabel Bysiewicz

Connecticut Transit workers gathered in protest Tuesday morning on the New Haven Green to call attention to bus-safety issues.

The Amalgamated Transit Union and its local Connecticut subsidiaries on Sept. 27 passed a “Resolution to End Fatalities and Injuries Resulting from Poor Transit Bus Design,” appealing to elected officials, transit agencies and bus manufacturers to address safety concerns and violations. Transit workers rallied on Tuesday to show their support for that resolution and to air their grievances.

“We’re asking our respective transit companies to start asking for buses that are manufactured with better workstations for the drivers and better seating and capacity for the riders,” said Mustafa Salahuddin, the president and business agent for Amalgamated Transit Local Union 1336 in Bridgeport.

Specifically, the workers want to call attention to the rise in verbal assaults on operators, unsafe air quality and insufficient seating, which can lead to chronic back pain and other health conditions.

Ralph Buccitti, the president of Local 281, New Haven’s chapter of the Amalgamated Transit Union, said that a disconnect exists between transit management and the state, which buys the buses.

“The issues are the way the buses are designed and the safety of our operators,” Buccitti said. “Design flaws cause incidents … after which management puts the blame on the operator.”

The local unions are demanding better work stations, seats that absorb shock caused by rough roads and better air filters.

Additionally, protesters pointed out that common eye-level mirrors leave dangerously large blind spots, which may cause drivers to not see pedestrians crossing the street. The most recent accident due to blind spots occurred two months ago, according to Jerry Pizunski, the president and business agent of New London’s Local 1209.

Changes to mirrors may cost some money, he explained, but such changes could save lives and prevent injuries. Pizunski wants bus fixes to begin with mirror upgrades, which he sees as the lowest hanging fruit. He also wants to see driver representation on a new Connecticut Transit committee to facilitate communications between agencies, drivers and manufacturers.

Salahuddin pointed to European transportation systems as ideal models. Work stations on the other side of the Atlantic look like mini-offices, and seats are retrofitted to ensure both comfort and accessibility, Salahuddin explained. On the other hand, he said, buses in the United States “are not driver friendly; they’re just vehicles put together for the purpose of transporting people from point A to B.”

Salahuddin said that he believes that all demands are within reach, as the Amalgamated Transit Union, during its over 100-year-long history, has come a long way in the fight for better working conditions. The demands outlined in the resolution, he said, will make conditions safer for riders and drivers. He noted that it puts passengers at risk when drivers are fatigued or in pain.

Artan Martinaj, the business agent for Hartford’s Local 425, said that no single incident sparked the protest. Rather, a combination of incidents and inaction have exacerbated frustrations.

“The buses have a very bad design, and nobody’s doing anything,” Martinaj said. “They’re saying yes and yes, but nothing is being done.”

Local transit unions have already made some visible progress. The Greater Bridgeport Transit Authority has tried to meet some of Local 1336’s demands: The transit service have ordered electric and hybrid buses, according to Salahuddin. He added that fossil fuel–run vehicles are harmful to drivers because the buses’ low-quality air filters fail to capture the toxins released when those fuels are burned.

Founded in 1892, the Amalgamated Transit Union has almost 200,000 members in over 40 states as well as in Canada.

Isabel Bysiewicz | isabel.bysiewicz@yale.edu