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

Posted by Michael Andersen (News Editor) on August 29th, 2013 at 3:20 pm

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 sight 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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  • dwainedibbly August 29, 2013 at 5:32 pm

    Ever see that Russian bus driver, "The Punisher", on YouTube? Trimet should hire him to take out car drivers who are texting. (Yeah, off-topic, but I wanted to mention 'The Punisher' because those dashcam videos are great.)

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  • kittens August 29, 2013 at 8:14 pm

    What a great "statistic" but how do we not know if the number of complaints went down due to other riders being engrossed in their own devices? Or maybe the method of reporting complaints changed. Or perhaps everyone is so used to seeing people using devices that they have accepted them as part of driving. Many folks think it perfectly OK to text while stopped at a light.

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    • Chris I August 30, 2013 at 6:32 am

      Do you really think those scenarios account for a majority of the 85% drop? 85% is huge. I think we can safely conclude that the use of electronic devices by drivers has dropped significantly.

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  • CaptainKarma August 30, 2013 at 2:46 pm

    I have nevr seen trimet drivers doing this. I was on a greyhound however, the driver was on the phone, arguing with his significant other, eating and drinking, and in fact spilled his orange soda all over, all at 70 mph. A lady challenged his use of the phone and the driver threatened her to go sit in back or get off the bus.

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  • dan August 30, 2013 at 3:15 pm

    From the article:
    "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.

    But what about the ability of video cameras to clear the driver if a passenger incorrectly accuses them of device use? If Hansen's assertion that most drivers don't use devices is correct, why the concern?

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  • TOM August 30, 2013 at 3:53 pm

    >>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

    site=sight ? editor needs editor ?

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