D.C. Area Transit Agency Adopts Zero-Tolerance Policy on Texting by Operators

By James Hohmann
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 10, 2009

Metro has toughened its policy against texting by train or bus operators, following the release of a video showing a train operator apparently doing so while his train speeds down the tracks.

Any operator caught sending a text message or using a cellphone will be dismissed right away, Metro officials said yesterday.

Metro General Manager John B. Catoe said: "The policy [against texting] will remain. What will change are the consequences. There will be no second chance. . . . One strike, you will be out."

The transit agency has always prohibited the use of mobile devices to send messages during the operation of Metro vehicles. The previous policy called for a five-day suspension without pay for the first offense, a 10-day suspension for the second and termination after the third. Now, immediate termination will result from a violation.

In response to Metro's announcement, the Maryland Transit Administration also said yesterday that it will immediately implement a zero-tolerance policy for operators caught using mobile communications devices. In the past, "there may have been citations, suspensions or counseling," said MTA spokeswoman Jawauna Greene. "What we're saying now is, 'If you're caught doing this, it means termination.' We're really putting teeth behind this."

Jackie L. Jeter, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, which represents most of Metro's front-line employees, including train and bus operators, said that she does not object to the zero-tolerance policy but that she wants "to see [it] in black and white."

"We don't believe that's the behavior operators should exhibit," she said.

Jeter stressed the importance of allowing operators to use their personal phones when Metro's radio systems fail. She said operators need to be able to communicate with controllers and dispatchers in Metro's downtown operations center.

The union later called for discussions with Metro about improving communication systems for operators out on the line.

Metro has not gone as far as the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority in Boston, which bans operators from taking personal cellphones with them when working on a transit line. An operator in Boston was indicted Wednesday after a trolley he was driving crashed into another while he allegedly was texting.

In announcing Metro's policy change, officials cited the Metrolink crash in Southern California that killed 25 last September. Investigators have said the driver, who died in the California crash, had sent a text message before the collision.

The new Metro policy takes effect Monday, after 2,400 bus operators and 450 train operators have been notified.

Another video has emerged that seems to show a Metro operator asleep while running a train June 18.

Catoe said that his staff is investigating.

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