SAN ANTONIO – A months-long investigation by the KSAT 12 Defenders found that a majority of VIA Metropolitan Transit drivers fired or forced to resign in recent years were dismissed for non-driving related offenses.
Personnel records from October 1, 2015, through late October 2017 show that 75 VIA drivers were discharged or resigned in lieu of termination.
Twenty-seven of those drivers, or 36 percent, were ultimately let go for driving violations, while 48, or 64 percent, were ultimately pushed out for non-driving related infractions, such as exceeding the number of prescribed sick days or job abandonment.
See breakdown of VIA drivers fired or forced to resign from Oct. 2015-2017 below.
**If you're having trouble viewing the infographic click here.
Driver Teodora Ancira was allowed to continue driving before being terminated in April 2016, despite an on-duty VIA driving record that included the following:
- Caused minor damage after the bus's bicycle rack hit a pole in December 2012
- Damaged a bus after hitting a pole in January 2013
- Rear-ended a vehicle in April 2013
- Caused contact with a man trying to remove a bicycle from the rack on the front of a bus in July 2013
- Ran a red light in December 2013
- Accelerated before all passengers were seated, causing an elderly man to fall down in May 2015
- Got the bus stuck while trying to turn around on Loop 1604, blocking traffic and causing a grass fire while spinning the wheels in October 2015; the fire damaged the bus's tire and body before a passenger put it out
Records show Ancira was placed on disciplinary probation multiple times, was required to take multiple driver accident refresher courses and served a three-day suspension following the grass fire incident.
However, she continued driving and was not terminated until getting caught speeding six months after the grass fire incident, while still on driving probation.
It appears, however, that VIA has a zero-tolerance policy for driving violations related to active railroad crossings.
Two drivers were dismissed in recent years after getting caught going over crossings while arms were lowered and lights were flashing.
Driver Zelda Price was terminated in October 2016 after a passenger filed a complaint accusing Price of going around stopped traffic and through an active railroad crossing on Ceralvo Street, in violation of federal law.
Footage of the incident shows Price throw his hands up before committing the infraction, even though his passengers included an infant.
"We are responsible for everybody behind us," said Juan Amaya, president of Amalgamated Transit Union 694, which represents more than half of VIA's hourly employees.
Amaya himself is a long time driver for VIA.
"I'm not going to say they are too lenient. I believe the screening of the people coming in to work now is a lot more lenient than it used to be."
Amaya said drivers are now permitted to miss days while training, something he claims was unheard of when he was first hired by the transit authority.
He referred our questions about hiring standards to VIA officials after speculating that the company increased its service before increasing manpower.
VIA officials for months have declined repeated requests from the Defenders to address its discipline policies on camera.
Officials instead released the following statement:
VIA employs over 1,200 operators who are trained to provide a safe and comfortable environment for our customers and the traveling public. VIA operators provide nearly 40 million passenger trips each year. The overwhelming majority are completed without incident.
VIA operators complete comprehensive training and are required to comply with rules and procedures that are best practices in our industry, regulated by law, and satisfy the conditions of their continued employment. Any violation or concern about an operator’s performance is investigated fully. Discipline can include counseling and retraining, up to and including termination, based upon specific infractions and an operator’s performance history.
A Defenders investigation on Thursday revealed that five drivers were dismissed last year after they were caught diverting revenue.
Two probationary drivers were terminated last year after being accused of walking out on a bar tab while in uniform; VIA officials confirm both drivers were later reinstated and are currently continuing their training.