The MBTA Gets Tough On Drivers By Updating Cell Phone Policy

Operators will be terminated if they have their phones on them while on duty.

Photo via Newton Fire Dept.

Photo via Newton Fire Dept.

To ensure rider safety, MBTA officials implemented a rule change that beefs up their policies and protocols when dealing with T drivers caught carrying cell phones while on the clock.

Effective immediately, any bus or train operator who brings a phone or other electronic device on board when they’re operating a vehicle will be automatically terminated, regardless of that driver’s prior safety record with the transit agency. This means employees can’t have phones in their pockets or purses, even if they’re not in use.

MBTA officials told Boston that the new special order is believed to be the toughest policy of its kind for any major transit agency in the U.S. “As the nation’s fifth busiest public transit system, the MBTA moves millions of people around Greater Boston every week.  Their safety is, and always will be, our top priority,” said MBTA General Manager Beverly Scott. “I’m very proud of our employees’ dedication to providing excellent public service, but it’s also important to reinforce our commitment to safety through the implementation of clear and strict regulations. It’s absolutely essential that we do everything we can to help ensure that each customer’s trip is a safe one.”

In a three-page letter sent out to MBTA employees, transit officials said the agency has taken a proactive approach to addressing safety measures that eliminate any and all items that can cause a distraction for drivers operating the trains and buses. But even with current policies in place, there have still been “lapses in judgment” which are “clearly unacceptable.”

The new rule builds on the T’s current regulations, which prohibit electronic devices or phones from being used while on duty, and can lead to a 10-day suspension just for possessing a device. To date, under the current policy that went into effect in June of 2009, 30 T employees have been disciplined for violating the phone rules, 15 of whom were discharged from their jobs with the transit agency.

The new special order also extends beyond a driver bringing a cell phone along for a shift, and bans all items including headphones, iPods, MP3 players, and other objects that could become a distraction. “Each authority operator must give their complete attention to his or her duty in order to ensure safe travel for our customers and employees. Even a moment of inattention can produce tragic, life-changing results that affect all parties involved,” officials said in the letter.

The policy change was announced just one month after an MBTA bus driver, who allegedly had her phone in her hand while operating a vehicle, crashed through a guardrail while traveling on an overpass in Newton. Eight people, including the driver, were injured in that accident.

The MBTA will be putting additional steps in place to prohibit phones from making it onto buses and trains by requiring operators to sign their initials on the paper used to check in for each shift, indicating that they don’t have a device with them. Employees are welcome to leave their personal belongings at the bus depots and stations when they arrive to work, T officials said. “All employees have the responsibility to perform their duties safely and consistent with respective MBTA rules, directives, policies, and procedures. It is of the utmost importance that MBTA employees project an image of alertness, professionalism, and engagement in their work at all times,” the letter said.