Metro is not doing enough to keep buses clean, especially on some of the most heavily used vehicles that serve poorer neighborhoods, according to some Metro workers and union officials.
Specifically, they said, buses running out of the Northern bus garage on 14th Street near Petworth are not being cleaned as often as buses that run in more affluent neighborhoods in upper Northwest. Buses with cloth seats are among the dirtiest.
"People urinate on the bus every day," said Gerry Garnett, the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 assistant business agent. "It's very unsanitary."
Furthermore, Garnett and a Metrobus driver said a manager told them and other Metro workers in a safety meeting last month that buses at the Western garage near Friendship Heights in upper Northwest are cleaned more often than Northern buses because of their "clientele."
Garnett called the comments offensive in a complaint he submitted to Metro's Office of Civil Rights, saying that buses serving minorities aren't kept as clean.
"A paying customer is a paying customer," added one longtime bus operator who heard the comments but did not want her name printed out of fear she would lose her job. "Everyone should be entitled to a clean bus."
Metro spokesman Dan Stessel confirmed the agency is investigating the case and whether the bus maintenance official actually made the comment. Either way, he said, "We do not believe his comment is consistent with the facts."
Each bus is supposed to be tidied up during the day by the bus operators, Stessel said, then a maintenance worker sweeps out each one at night.
All buses are supposed to be thoroughly cleaned once a month by a contractor.
"There's really no difference in any of the bus divisions when it comes to cleaning," Stessel said.
But the Northern bus division has a 92 percent compliance rate on the monthly cleanings, he said, slightly lower than the system average of 95 percent. That means the contractor hired to clean the buses is not getting to all the buses each month. The Western division, meanwhile, has a 100 percent compliance rate.
However, Stessel said that during the most recent audit of bus cleanliness, in which officials spot check some buses to assess their cleanliness, Northern buses scored slightly higher than Western division buses with 7.9 out of 10 compared with 7.8.
The Northern division boasts some of the highest ridership routes, Stessel said. The buses are also busy throughout the day, rather than just during the morning and evening commutes, so the buses are not taken into the garage for midday cleanings.