HART drivers walk out of board meeting about safety

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Drivers with Hillsborough County's public bus system walked out of the first board of directors meeting since a driver was murdered, allegedly by a passenger, last month.

The walkout happened as Colin Mulloy, the head of security for Hillsborough Area Rapid Transit (HART) was about to give a report on plans to improve driver safety.

This report he's talking of today is not reflective of input of us as operators, as representatives, so what are we going to sit down and talk about?" asked Curtis Howard, of Local 1593 of the Amalgamated Transit Union.

Howard said drivers were not represented in discussions regarding driver safety immediately after the murder of driver Thomas Dunn, who had previously warned of safety concerns. 

Board members also learned, even after the fatal attack, the panic buttons placed on all buses have not been tested and there were reports of malfunctions.

The buttons are hidden on all buses, within reach of the driver. They are designed to override radio communications across the entire system to alert dispatchers.

"That should have been checked on day one and I would expect by the end of today you should know if those panic buttons are working," said Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, a member of the board. 

Board Chairman Les Miller, Jr. expressed frustration over the panic buttons and over a report that a passenger threatened to kill a driver last Thursday, but that report didn't reach the executive director or the board.

"That's not going to happen again," said Miller.

He appointed a committee to come back in early July with fast recommendations for steps that can be taken immediately.

Mulloy told the board that steps have been taken recently such as more camera's, better lighting, and more highly-trained security guards. "

Level five is the highest level in the state of Florida in terms of armed security," he said.

Miller said drivers and law enforcement will be part of the new safety committee, chaired by Tampa City Council Member Melanie Williams.