Metro Probes Allegation of Bus Driver Talking on Cellphone

By James Hohmann
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 31, 2009

A bus driver who was photographed this week allegedly talking on her cellphone will be identified and terminated if an investigation reveals she violated agency policy, Metro officials said Thursday.

During an interview on WTOP radio, Metro General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. said he learned of a customer complaint about it Wednesday. He was responding to a question about a photograph published Thursday on the blog Unsuck DC Metro.

"We will determine who this operator is," he said. "The action for speaking on your phone or texting on your phone is termination."

An anonymous rider, who gave his name as Brian, wrote to the blog that he was riding the 63 bus from Takoma on Tuesday morning when the driver got off to take a phone call at a stop near the Georgia Avenue-Petworth Metro station.

After more than three minutes, the post said, a passenger yelled at the driver to get back on the bus and keep driving. She returned to her seat and "drove several hundred feet before ending her call," the blog post said.

Metro officials said that they are still trying to identify the driver but that they know the day, time and route.

Transit officials said they thought it would be the first case to fall under a zero-tolerance policy announced three weeks ago. The policy, which took effect July 13, prohibits on-duty operators from talking or texting on mobile devices in non-emergency situations. 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.

Metro announced in a news release Wednesday that it plans to stiffen penalties for employees who break other rules. The agency also revealed that a bus driver was arrested Saturday on felony kidnapping charges after he got into an argument with a passenger on his bus in Prince George's County. The agency added that another driver had recently received a written reprimand for reading while operating a bus and that a train operator videotaped while apparently sleeping was suspended for 12 days without pay.

Since the June 22 Red Line crash that killed nine people and injured 80, passengers have become more safety conscious. That has led to more reports from riders about operators allegedly misbehaving.

"I expect them, if they're in a Metro uniform, to represent the agency in a positive way," Catoe said in his radio interview.

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 Thursday that she is prepared to file grievances or appeals for anyone terminated as a result of the zero-tolerance policy.

She said the union does not approve of operators using cellphones, but she added in a statement that she wants to work with Metro officials as they explore toughening disciplinary rules.

Staff writer Lena H. Sun contributed to this report.

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