LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - The cost of riding the bus may be a lot more than you think. The WAVE 3 Troubleshooter department uncovered accidents involving TARC buses cost Louisville taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in court settlements, even though TARC drivers claim they aren't at fault in a large majority of those wrecks.
Troubleshooter Eric Flack uncovered frightening video of some of those accidents. And he found that even when the crashes are caused by other drivers, TARC and taxpayers often pick up the bill.
In January, a pickup truck cut in front of a TARC bus on Dixie Highway. The TARC bus t-boned the pickup, tossing a TARC customer from her seat to the front of the bus. She ended up on her side on the floor of the bus, asking for medical attention.
"I'm going to the hospital," the passenger can be heard saying on TARC on-board video.
Scenes like that one happen more often than you might think.
"We do everything we can to minimize the number of accidents we have," said TARC executive director J. Barry Barker, "but the unfortunate part is they do occur."
And when accidents happen, it costs you big bucks. Records uncovered by the WAVE 3 Troubleshooter department reveal TARC, or Transit Authority of River City, has paid out $1,693,000 dollars in accident claims and settlements in the past three years.
The settlements include $900,000 to a woman hit by a bus in Middletown, $60,000 to a passenger on board a bus that ran into a house after the driver lost control, and $84,500 for a man who suffered knee and back injuries after a TARC bus rear ended his vehicle.
In all, TARC has paid an average of about $500,000 a year in claims and settlements over the past three years. Barker said all of it is taxpayer money.
"Stuff happens and we have a responsibility to make people whole," Barker said.
But the WAVE 3 Troubleshooter department discovered some of the people getting paid might not be innocent victims. Our analysis of 836 TARC accidents from 2009-2011 showed bus drivers claimed the other vehicle hit them 78% percent of the time.
Using open records requests, the WAVE 3 Troubleshooter department got hold of on-board video showing a number of recent bus accidents in which TARC drivers seemed to be in the right. The videos we reviewed included a hit-and-run accident on Broadway last October.
The video shows a purple Pontiac Grand Am cut off a TARC bus, causing a collision. The Pontiac then takes off, driving away from the scene of the accident.
But with so many accident reports pointing the finger at the other driver, why doesn't TARC fight more of these claims in court, especially since TARC won all eight cases it took to trial in the past three years? According to Barker, it comes down to a cost benefit analysis, often leading to the decision that it would cost more to pay attorneys to fight a case than to settle.
Barker said that should not be taken as a sign to taxpayers that TARC is paying off people who don't deserve to get paid off.
"I think you'd have to look at that being an egregious example of running away and laughing to the bank," Barker said. "That's the image you're trying to create, and that's not what's happening here."
But we discovered TARC's legal payouts top those of some neighbors. Data collected by the WAVE 3 Troubleshooter department revealed that in 2011 TARC buses covered eight-million miles and paid out $530,000 in court settlements. Buses in Cincinnati's Metro system covered three-million more miles, but paid out about $20,000 less in claims over the same time period. And the TANK bus system in northern Kentucky covered half as many miles as TARC, but paid out just a fraction of the legal settlements.
Still, Barker said TARC is a good steward of taxpayer money, carefully weighing each lawsuit settlement.
"In some instances, it's been a simple decision; in some instances, it's been an agonizing decision," Barker said. A decision that, more often than not, comes at a price.
Along with the financial responsibility to taxpayers, Barker said TARC has a human responsibility to people injured in TARC accidents. And figuring out who's at fault in those cases isn't always black and white.
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