Thursday, June 18, 2009

Transit Bus Video Camera Catches MBTA Driver Using Cell Phone

The bus driver thought he had found a loophole in the MBTA’s new ban on operators using cellphones: He didn’t bring a cellphone to the job, which is now banned, and he didn’t talk on one while driving.

Instead, at a stop on Sagamore Street in Chelsea, the 41-year-old driver put his Route 111 bus in park, borrowed a cellphone from a passenger, and spent nearly five minutes jabbering while other riders sat in the back waiting for him, according to video taken by a camera installed on the bus.

The driver, whose name MTBA officials would not release, was fired Thursday.

“He thought he was being cute by not talking while the bus was moving,” said MBTA General Manager Dan Grabauskas at a news conference today, where he showed the video of the driver chatting. “This was an unauthorized stop.”

This is the second time that the MBTA has punished an employee under its strict new cellphone policy, which took effect on May 18 after a crash on the Green Line that occurred while a trolley operator was writing a text message. The crash left 50 people injured after the trolley ran a red light and destroyed three trolley cars, worth $9.6 million.

The last employee who violated the new policy, a train attendant on the Orange Line, was slapped this week with a 10-day suspension for wearing a wireless device on his ear.

The new rules, believed to be the toughest in the nation for a major transit agency, ban drivers even from keeping electronic devices with them while operating an MBTA vehicle. First-time offenders will get a 10-day suspension. After a second offense, they are subject to dismissal. Any employee caught talking on a cellphone is subject to being fired immediately.

The bus driver caught talking on a cell phone this week had worked for the MBTA for the past four years. The incident occurred at about 6:40 p.m. on Monday. Grabauskas said the driver was working an overtime shift, earning nearly $40 an hour.

He said the MBTA received an e-mail from a neighbor who saw the driver walk on and off the bus while talking on the cellphone.

The video also caught the driver allowing several passengers to board the bus without paying. Grabauskas said about one-third of all MBTA buses now have video cameras.

At a meeting with MBTA officials Thursday, the driver had no comment, Grabauskas said.

“This is about safety,” Grabauskas said. “We do not allow the use of electronic devices at all …. That’s why he’s no longer working at the T.”