- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
A couple of Charles County commuters aired complaints over the region’s newest commuter bus route during a meeting with the county’s General Assembly delegation late last month, citing mechanical and safety issues with the buses as well as drivers who routinely arrive at their stops late or leave them early.
Buses along Route 906 — which Dillon’s Bus Service started in November and runs from Regency Furniture Stadium in Waldorf and stops in Accokeek before heading to downtown Washington, D.C. — regularly suffer from water leaks that drip onto seats and lead to moldy smells, Ken Gordon of Waldorf said at the meeting on the College of Southern Maryland’s La Plata campus.
Gordon suspects the leaking is a result of condensation from the buses’ air conditioning. He said he worries that mold could lead to some commuters having respiratory issues. He also noted that the buses’ windshield wipers do not always work during rainstorms and that the smell of exhaust can be heavy during evening routes.
Once, he said, smoke from the exhaust was so visibly bad that his bus was pulled over by police on Indian Head Highway. Rather than hold up the commuters by issuing a citation, the officer instead told the bus driver not to “bring this bus down here tomorrow,” Gordon said.
Ron Dillon Jr., regional vice president of Dillon’s Bus Service, said he was aware of the situation and that repairs were ordered to the bus.
But the primary issue for commuters along the route has been getting on one of its buses in a timely manner, commuter Regina Scott said. As more people have found out about 906, its buses have become more crowded. It is to the point where a late bus creates a long line of waiting commuters and inevitably results in some getting left behind, Scott said. She said her phone calls and emails to the Maryland Transit Administration and Dillon’s have gone largely unanswered.
Del. John F. Wood Jr. (D-St. Mary’s, Charles) said he has received complaints weekly for the past six months from Charlotte Hall commuters regarding Dillon’s buses with broken air conditioning or inconsistent arrival and departure times.
“I complained to the state about it, but it was like talking to the wall over there,” Wood said, adding that the complaints have increased steadily ever since some of the region’s commuter bus contracts passed from Keller Bus Service to Dillon’s.
“Don’t get me wrong, Keller wasn’t perfect, but they’re a hell of a lot better than Dillon’s,” Wood said.
The MTA has 19 contracted D.C. commuter bus routes, eight of which serve the tri-county area. Dillon’s holds contracts for four of those routes. Keller runs three of the routes, while Martz/Gold Line operates one.
Gordon said punctuality is not an issue with all of the route’s bus drivers — he tries to leave work in time to catch one particular driver whom Gordon described as punctual and courteous. When the route first started up, “for the first month or two it was great,” Gordon said.
He first started noticing problems in January, the same month Dillon’s then-parent company, Coach America, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
Dillon said in March there were “no anticipated issues or service problems associated” with the bankruptcy. But Dillon acknowledged last week that “unfortunately, [the bankruptcy] had a huge impact on service.”
Dillon said that Coach America “really clamped down on what we could spend on maintenance and repair, and really on staffing” during the bankruptcy.
But Dillon’s was purchased by Coach USA recently and given permission to hire new mechanics, Dillon said. Coach USA also brought in two additional mechanics to help catch up on delayed repairs and spent $5.5 million on 11 new buses for Dillon’s four Southern Maryland routes, Dillon said.
“It took six months to get to this condition and unfortunately it’s going to take a little time to address these issues,” Dillon said, adding that customers could expect to see “significant improvement” to bus conditions in the near future.
MTA spokesman Terry Owens said in an email that the bankruptcy “accounts for many if not all of the service issues that customers have reported. We have tracked the complaints and worked diligently to hold our contractors accountable,” Owens said.
Bus meeting set
Maryland Transit Administration is organizing a town hall meeting 6-8:30 p.m. Sept. 18 at Regency Furniture Stadium, 11765 St. Linus Drive, Waldorf. Staff from MTA and Dillon’s and Keller bus companies will be present at the meeting.