Complaints about TriMet operators using phones behind the wheel plunge 85%

Complaints about TriMet operators using phones behind the wheel plunge 85%

Riding Portland's urban highways-38

TriMet requires its drivers to keep electronic
devices off and out of sight while working.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

TriMet’s total ban on the use of electronic devices while driving seems to be working, though some of the transit agency’s operators still seem to flout the rule.

The Oregonian’s Joseph Rose opened his notebook Thursday to share a wealth of reporting about TriMet operators’ use of electronic devices, including the results of a public record request showing that the number of complaints received by TriMet about drivers and cell phones fell from 530, in the two years to 2009, to 80, in the two years to 2013.

In 2010, as one of his first orders on the job, General Manager Neil McFarlane began requiring operators to keep their cell phones off and out of site while on duty. Matters came to a head when one passenger captured a video that seemed to show a driver with a history of past incidents reading a Kindle while behind the wheel of a bus on Interstate 5.

TriMet has reminded drivers of this policy in the regular safety trainings that the agency launched in response to a fatal 2010 bus collision in Old Town. It repeated the rules in a memo circulated to operators last month and publicized to the media Thursday.

“In 2012, we disciplined two operators for using personal electronic devices while driving,” TriMet spokeswoman Roberta Altstadt wrote in the news release. “In the first seven months of this year, four operators have been disciplined for using a device behind the wheel.”

Earlier this month, Twitter user Pamela Chapel caught and shared a photo of a TriMet driver she said was texting behind the wheel.

As Rose reports, TriMet’s new 3000 and 3100-series buses (including the one caught by Chapel’s photo) come equipped with cameras and audio microphones pointed at the operator, something the agency has done over the objections of its workers’ union.

“We don’t want them going on fishing expeditions,” union President Bruce Hansen told The Oregonian. “We don’t want them to go looking through whole days of video to find something that the drivers are doing wrong.”

Only “a few” operators are responsible for problems with electronic devices, Hansen said, and it wouldn’t be accurate to paint all operators with that brush.

Last month, a Spanish train operator talking on the phone with railway staff was involved in a high-speed crash that killed 79 people. TriMet cited the example in its Aug. 13 memo to its own staff and in today’s news release.

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