TriMet reminds operators to put safety first, stow personal electronic devices

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When we see a photo tweeted that appears to show a TriMet bus operator texting, it’s a major concern for us. At TriMet we take providing safe transit service very seriously. It’s our core value. Using a phone or other personal electronic device while driving violates Oregon law and TriMet policy, and it is dangerous.

We take disciplinary action if an operator is found to have violated the law and our policy. In 2012, we disciplined two operators for using personal electronic devices while driving. In the first seven months of this year, four operators have been disciplined for using a device behind the wheel.

New Operations memo reinforces restriction on using electronic device

With the recent devastating rail collision in Spain,where the rail operator was on his phone at the time of the incident, TriMet Executive Director of Operations Shelly Lomax, in a memo that went out to all 1,250 bus and rail operators, reinforced the concerns of distracted driving and stressed those operators must put rider safety first.

“Personal electronic devices, in particular cellular phones, have become a common part of everyday life, and are key distractions that every professional operator must not use when operating a motor vehicle,” Lomax wrote. “While the majority of operators regularly comply, from time to time we still receive reports of individuals violating the policy. Please, always place safety first and keep all personal cellular phones and personal electronic devices turned off and stowed while operating district vehicles.”

Not in the driver’s seat

Operators are allowed to have cell phones and other electronic devices with them during their working day that they can use before or after their shifts or while on a break. However, they must not use them when in the driver’s seat of the bus or in the operating cab of a train whether in motion or not. During Bus and Rail Operator training classes as well as in memos, training bulletins and through other messaging sources, employees are instructed that electronic devices must be turned off and stowed at all times when operating a TriMet vehicle.

Investigating a report of a distracted operator

To insure the safety of our riders, TriMet treats customer reports of distracted driving with the utmost importance and seriousness. If the report is received during the operator’s shift, a supervisor is deployed, whenever possible, to meet the operator on the route and discuss the allegation. Whether the complaint is immediate or comes in after the operator’s shift, transportation managers are notified and they follow up with the operator to investigate and issue the appropriate response.

When complaints come with pictures or other evidence of an operator clearly violating the law and our policy, TriMet takes disciplinary action up to and including suspension or termination. Other complaints may be vague or no clear evidence of a personal device in use or in plain view exists. For instance, a customer may complain an operator is texting or reading because he or she keeps looking down, but the operator may actually be referring to a reroute or route description.  In many cases, it becomes a “he said, she said” situation.

Distracted driving statistics

While the number of complaints about distracted driving by operators is low, we know even one complaint is too many. In 2012, we received 37 complaints claiming operators were using electronic devices while operating a vehicle. All the complaints involved bus operators. Two could be verified and resulted in discipline.

  • Texting: 20
  • Talking on a cell phone: 13
  • Listening to a musical device: 2
  • Presence of a Bluetooth or ear bud: 1
  • Using a camera: 1

Through July 2013, we’ve received 25 complaints: One concerning a MAX operator and 24 concerning bus operators. Four of the complaints were verified and resulted in discipline.

  • Texting: 10
  • Talking on a cell phone: 9
  • Presence of a Bluetooth or ear bud: 5
  • Listening to a musical device: 1

Safety is our core value

TriMet’s bus and rail operators provide more than 320,000 trips every day. TriMet is committed to delivering safe, dependable service, and follows up on all concerns of unsafe operations.