We’re not sure exactly what sparked this bulletin — other than recent crashes around the country involving transit drivers using cell phones — but Muni sent a reminder to its drivers this morning that they are not only not allowed to use a cell phone while operating a transit vehicle, they cannot even display one. The bulletin (PDF) is signed by new Chief Safety Officer James Dougherty and Chief Operating Officer Ken McDonald. The rules state:
1. Transit operators are not permitted to display or use a cellular phone, PDA, hand-held or hands-free devices, while operating a transit vehicle.
2. Transit operators are not permitted to read, write or send emails or text messages while operating a transit vehicle.
3. Cell phones, PDA’s or any personal electronic vehicle must be turned off while operating a transit vehicle.
4. If an employee must make an emergency call (911), the transit vehicle must be stopped in a safe location and you must exit the compartment before making the call.
The notice goes on to warn drivers that they face disciplinary action, including termination, if caught using a cell phone.
"The reissued bulletin reflects the importance that we place on our operators and all of our employees to follow the safest procedures possible," said MTA spokesperson Judson True. "We simply cannot tolerate cell phone use by our operators."
True said anyone who spots an operator using a cell phone should call 311 immediately, and their operators will call central control and "get an inspector to the scene as quickly as possible and deal with it." He said seven operators who work on the rail side — cable cars, streetcars and LRVs — have been suspended in the past six months for using cell phones. And he was waiting to get numbers on bus drivers, who carry the majority of Muni passengers.
Considering how many times riders have spotted Muni drivers on their cell phones, let’s hope this reminder reflects a reinvigorated effort to enforce the policy. We already know California drivers are flouting the state’s hand held cell phone law, and while the CHP is issuing some citations, it’s generally not being enforced.
Muni operators carry a much greater responsibility, shuttling hundreds of thousands of passengers daily across the city on streets already filled with myriad distractions.