Metro is planning to spend $5 million next fiscal year to hire more people to combat fatigue in its workforce -- but none of them will be bus drivers or rail operators.
Sleepiness has been a problem for the agency, with some Metrobus drivers working more than 20 hours in a day and 67 caught on camera falling asleep at the wheel in a 19-month period.
Metro started studying the problem in 2011 after The Washington Examiner found some agency workers logging more than 40 hours of overtime for weeks in a row. Now Metro's board of directors is preparing to approve $5 million for hiring more heavy construction equipment operators, power technicians and track mechanics so that Metro can make sure its workers are able to follow normal sleep patterns. Those departments will be part of Metro's "fatigue risk management system."
But other positions -- such as bus drivers and rail operators -- are not yet slated to be part of Metro's fatigue system, and Metro hasn't set a date when they will be, Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said.
"A study of Metrobus operator shifts ... found that the majority of employee shifts were between 8 and 11 3/4 hours and that only 0.4 percent of bus operators' work hours resulted in fatigue that exceeds the criterion established by the Federal Railroad Administration's research model," Stessel said in an email. "What the research showed was that hours of service at [Metro] was not a factor for the vast majority of operators. Fatigue is a complex issue. It involves personal wellness factors, lifestyle, activities outside of work, etc."
But Metro leaders say fatigue is a critical safety issue.
"In terms of the risk of death, injury, other bad things for people who are fatigued, it's really critical. I'm a strong believer that we have to give people an adequate amount of rest," said Metro board member Mort Downey.
The fatigue system for the workers included will encourage employees and contractors to get enough sleep, identify employees who have sleep disorders and improve fatigue awareness campaigns, Metro said last year.
The system also will limit how much overtime Metro workers can take on.
"There definitely will be rules," Downey said. "They could be waived in the event of a catastrophe or emergency, but the basic premise is people will not work beyond what is safe for them to work."
A board committee has approved a draft budget containing the fatigue system; it now goes to the full board for approval.
But even while it weighs new rules for overtime and fatigue, Metro is blowing through this year's overtime cash, spending 72 percent of its overtime budget in the first six months of its fiscal year -- or $12.7 million extra.