The city bus that crashed into a house and sent three people to the hospital Thursday had recently been reported for mechanical problems, though the extent of the issues is unclear.
Drivers reported problems with the steering and brakes, said Katie Guy, president of Amalgamated Transit Union 1546, which represents employees of the Capital Area Transit System.
Acting CATS CEO Bill Deville, appointed last week, confirmed that bus No. 130 had been reported for maintenance issues but said he was only aware of problems with the horn and wheelchair lift. He also said an operator recently asked not to drive the bus and was given a separate vehicle.
CATS did not provide maintenance or complaint records for the vehicle Thursday.
The bus collided with an SUV and crashed into a home near the intersection of North Boulevard and Acadian Thruway about 10 a.m. Baton Rouge police believe an unspecified mechanical malfunction caused the driver to lose control, said Sgt. Don Coppola Jr., a police spokesman
Three people — everyone aboard — were hospitalized with minor to moderate injuries, Coppola said.
Deville declined to comment on the alleged mechanical problem or the circumstances of the crash, citing the ongoing investigation.
He said CATS has asked State Police to review the crash. Troopers are in charge of regulating commercial vehicles and may be better equipped to offer an assessment of the wreck, Deville said.
Trooper 1st Class Bryan Lee said State Police had not been contacted about an investigation as of Thursday evening.
In an unrelated incident Thursday morning, police received a report of a CATS bus stalled in traffic on Interstate 110 near Government Street, though it had moved before officers arrived. The reported interstate stall and the crash came just four days before the CATS board is scheduled to meet with international and local union representatives, where safety and maintenance are expected to come up.
International ATU representative Antonette Bryant came to Louisiana in July to lobby for increased state funding for local transit, but when she came to Baton Rouge, local union members shared concerns about bus maintenance.
Operators showed photos of buses “falling apart” and problems such as broken equipment for disabled riders and mirrors held on by duct tape, Bryant said. The ATU began a separate safety campaign.
Bryant said Thursday that she hasn’t yet determined if poor leadership or inadequate funding are more to blame for CATS’s maintenance issues. She was troubled by reports that officials didn’t have transit experience — a frequent criticism of outgoing CATS chief executive Bob Mirabito. She also said the transit system may have to address policies such as a lack of necessary equipment.
Last week, hours after Deville was promoted, the union held a community forum where speakers lamented problems with bus maintenance. However, the union has struggled to make their message resonate with a wider audience.
“The responses to our requests have not been overwhelmingly positive,” Bryant said.
Guy, the local union president, said Thursday’s crash may call attention to maintenance issues and prompt a safety review.
CATS board chairman Jim Brandt conceded that the system has had problems, such as breakdowns and leaky air conditioners.
“I think we’ve certainly had our share of maintenance issues,” he said.
But when asked, Brandt said he was not aware of any maintenance concerns that rose to the level of safety concerns. He said the union has not informed him of the specific matters they would like to discuss during the Monday meeting but said he didn’t expect Thursday’s wreck to have a big impact on proceedings.
“We have lots of buses out every day. I don’t think one incident is going to affect the discussion,” he said.
The union has been advocating for increased funding for local transit, and if that comes up at Monday’s meeting, they will find the board shares many of their concerns, Brandt said.
He noted that CATS does have a safety officer, although Guy contended that the position is mostly concerned with training rather than daily operations. Drivers also check their vehicles at the beginning of a shift and can request a new bus if something is wrong, Deville said.
However, Guy said operators have complained about bus No. 130 for at least a week, and yet when it crashed, police pointed to a mechanical failure.
“That didn’t just start today or yesterday,” she said.
Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy. Follow Bryn Stole on Twitter @BrynStole.