In news that will thrill sometime STB troll Sam, Metro is immediately banning use of all portable electronic devices while operating vehicles.  This includes all Sound Transit service operated by Metro, such as certain ST Express routes and Central Link.

All such devices must be turned off and stowed off the person of the operator while the vehicle is in motion, and when the operator reports for work.  The device can be turned on and used during breaks.

Penalties include a minimum suspension and termination.  Now if only they could do something about riders yelling into their mobile phones!

Full text of the notice to operators after the jump.

August 25, 2009

Personal Electronic Devices

Due to an increasing nationwide concern for use of electronic devices by coach and rail operators, we are revising our policy regarding use of electronic devices on coaches.

A “Personal Electronic Device” (PED) is any device having an on/off switch, for example a cell phone, Bluetooth earpiece, pager, mp3 player, or video game, not issued by Metro.

Safety is our number one priority!

Distracted driving is the leading factor in most crashes and near-crashes, according to a landmark research report released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI).  Nearly 80% of crashes and 65% of near-crashes involved some form of driver inattention within three seconds before the event; and the primary cause of driver inattention are distracting activities, such as cell phone use, and drowsiness.  Reducing unnecessary driver distractions and improving safety is a shared responsibility of both the driver and the transit agency.  You could lose your job; and Metro could get sued over significant accidents caused by inattention.

The New Policy

A PED shall not be used while operating a coach.  Use of a PED while operating a coach is a major infraction and will result in termination.

All PED’s shall be turned off and stowed out of sight and off your person while operating a coach.  Failure to properly stow a PED while operating a coach will result in a suspension on the first occurrence, and termination on the second occurrence.

Operators are to have all PED’s properly stowed off their person when signing in for work.

PED’s may be used on a coach only when the coach is safely parked.

Emergency Exception

If regular radio service is unavailable, Transit Operators may use their personal cell phone and/or battery operated radio (capable of receiving AM/FM broadcasts) when responding to major emergencies such as snow storms, earthquakes, or homeland security events.  However, such emergency use is only permitted when the vehicle is stopped.

Personal Emergency Messages

Please instruct your family and friends to call your base or the Transit Control Center (when the base is closed) in the event of a personal emergency.  The Base Dispatcher will contact the Transit Control Center (TCC) or Light Rail Control Center (LRCC).  Depending on the seriousness of the information, the TCC or LCC may call the operator or may dispatch a Service Supervisor to relay the information.  If necessary, the TCC or LCC will arrange to relieve the Operator.


Major infractions for this offense before Sept. 19 will result in a minimum six-day suspension.  On and after Sept. 19, the first major infraction will result in termination. This is a zero tolerance policy!

84 Replies to “Metro Bans Portable Electronic Devices”

      1. And two people having a conversation face-to-face, sitting right behind you, talking at the same decibel level, is different than someone talking on their cell phone? How?

      2. Sam – try it sometime and see. It’s NEVER at the same decibel level. Have you actually observed/heard some cell phone users (non-drivers in this case) having conversations to overcome background noise?

        I actually had an incident yesterday with a woman who *as she was getting on my bus* said the following loudly: “That’s BULLSHIT! I want to talk to your supervisor RIGHT NOW!”

        I asked her to finishe her conversation before boarding, and wound up with a security incident when she not only refused – but turned her anger on me.

        In another incident, a woman talking loudly to a friend was so loud and so profane (used the N-word repeatedly and other of the Seven Words) that I offered her a free transfer if she’d end her conversation. She complied, saying that she didn’t realize she was so loud.

        3 passengers thanked me as they left the bus.

      3. So when you pick up a group of middle school students after school lets out, they are usually quieter than a person talking on their cell phone?

      4. That would be “the bus with the loud woman saying ‘N-word’ this and ‘N-word’ that on board while alternately laughing maniacally.

    1. This stuff is supposed to be public record. There’s a ton of public information that’s not readily accessible by the public. In this age of the internet we should demand more transparency and open access.

      1. Yeah I totally agree. Anything that metro prints and gives out at public meetings or presents to the council should be easily accessible online. Metro should hire a few of the PIOs from WSDOT. WSDOT has done wonders to better communicate with the public and I think it shows.

      2. Route ridership numbers are the most egregious example of something that isn’t easily accessible.

  1. This is a great step, but when are we going to follow Portland and ban (as is stated) the use of cell phones by passengers? I went to Tokyo last year and they banned them from trains and buses and it’s SO nice and quiet. Granted everyone is texting, but I can take clicking of keys over talking any day.

    I’m also hoping that state Senator Eide takes her initial legislation that passed last year that bans talking on hand held phones while driving and making it a primary offense. Of course, include texting as well. I think of all the states that has this law, we are the only one that makes it a secondary offense.

    1. Whoa… did Portland really ban the use of cell phones by passengers? I know loud talking on a cell-phone can be annoying, but that strikes me as a bit extreme.

      1. I guess I missed the part of the Constitution mentioning cell phones. Care to point it out?

        While you’re at it: guns on airplanes, if you would.

      2. Different argument, but I’m guessing you’re aware of that already.

        Not sure how barring cell phone use is a first amendment issue. The one you mentioned has already been settled as having Constitutional relevance, so won’t go into that here. If you have an argument to make regarding cell phone use on buses (or gun posession on aircraft) for that matter, I imagine you’re free to make it within the boundaries of the STB host’s tolerance for topicality.

      3. The difference here is that traveling by airplane is based on a contract agreement between the passenger and a private carrier… while travel on public transit is exactly that, travel by the passenger in a public space.

        Couldn’t we just put up some signs reminding folks to talk quietly? Or asking them to put their phones away when they board? Do we need to waste time having the drivers policing folks on their phones?

      4. Actually, in my law class, the act of boarding a bus and putting the fare in the fare box was used as an example of an “implied contract”.

        So we all have been in implied contracts with KCMetro.

      5. Let’s get that “implied contract” turned into an explicit contract disallowing cell phone use on the buses and trains.

      6. Probably along the same lines as the current ban on firearms being carried into courthouses. Public building etc. – but recongition for the issue of public saftety overrides Constitutional protections, which are not and never have been considered to be unfettered.

        On an almost relevant note – the issue of firearms on buses must have come up for someone recently, as Metro put out a bulletin on “open carry” laws – letting drivers know that Washington State is an “open carry” state – someone without a concealed pistol permit may in fact carry a firearm (holstered) open on their person onto public transit, and drivers have been advised that individuals have the right to do so.

        Meanwhile, drivers themselves can’t even carry pepper spray – or now even have their cell phones on them to call for help if the radio is unavaialable. Go figure.

      7. @Rob

        Just google “Implied Contract Bus Fare”. The passenger is giving the agency money, and the agency is transporting the passenger.

        Here’s some text I stole from one source:

        Via a contract, two parties make an agreement of some sort. Practically speaking, almost every human contact every single day is subject to some sort of agreement, and therefore some sort of contract, either real or implied. That is, when I get on the bus in the morning, I don’t have
        a signed piece of paper from the driver representing the bus company [sic] promising that I will be taken to the posted destination, but that agreement is clearly implied by the bus pulling up at my stop with the name of my destination on its window.

    2. Why on earth does everything need to be so darn quiet? I love the rules for riding Link in the stations – one goes something like, “Speak to your seatmates in conversational tones.” What if I don’t want to speak to them?

      1. On Link the driver is separated from the passengers, and doesn’t have to navigate through traffic, spot passengers at stops, or deal with on-board issues in the same way.

        Bus travel is qualitatively different from light rail travel for a variety of reasons – as pointed out pretty regularly on STB.

        Having your conversation 3rd car back on the Link isn’t likely to impact the driver at all (although it may disturb other passengers).

  2. One problem I see? The penalty is so severe that district supervisors will look the other way when they see one of their “union brothers” talking on the phone or see a bluetooth in a driver’s ear.

    Other than that, good for Metro! These drivers are unprofessional and dangerous. They are should be fired.

    1. Actually I think that bluetooth use etc. has been a sticking point for district supervisors for awhile – they’ll have no basic problem with enforcing this one, anymore than they have enforcing any other violation. Union brothers or not – they are tasked with supervision, and they will do their job.

      I’m more concerned about inconsistencies in supervision, and some parts of the new policy that ban SAFE behavior – like having your cell phone on you when signing in at the window. Driving while talking on your cell phone (or listening to iPod, etc.) has ALWAYS been banned.

      1. Not really, Jeff…

        The only reason I don’t feel sorry for drivers on this one is because some of your fellow drivers are the ones who screwed this up for you.

        I’ve been fine with the few who used Bluetooth devices. Especially those with families, particularly driving during “off-peak” hours. As if getting messages from dispatch is really going to work out!

        The problems were caused by the few flagrant violators, like the ones who want to talk on their handheld while speeding on the highway in traffic or driving in the snow. I’ve e-mailed a complaint or two on those.

      2. Sorry Mckymse,

        a) not asking you to “feel sorry for drivers” and b) not sure how drivers violating an EXISTING ban have “screwed things up”. If anything – those who didn’t enforce the existing ban (supervisors) are the ones who screwed up.

        Another down side here – there’s been an increased emphasis on Twitter lately. Drivers can no longer use twitter (effecively) to note position/conditions during crises. And again – I can no longer have access to my camera phone should I be assaulted and want to photograph my assailant. NONE of this has anything to do with unsafe operation of a coach, and everything to do with overreaaction to a situation that everyone agrees IS unsafe.

        Firing me for having a cell phone in my pocket while I’m signing in – or when I’m NOT in operation of a coach doesn’t make ANYONE safer.

  3. Now if the school bus company would do this. I wanted so badly to get a picture of this woman texting while driving a school bus with elementary-aged children on Lake City Way last spring, unfortunately the Metro I was on pulled away before I could get the picture.

  4. I like the policy. I just hope it’s effective. I was only wondering out loud that it might not be. Sort of like how this school district has a no cell phone policy for their bus drivers, but they seem to ignore it.

    But thank you for pointing that out, Martin. I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer. I will try to be more positive in the future.

    Wait, let me start now …

    Here’s a kitten peeking over a fence. ___,,,_^..^_,,,___

  5. Pagers are banned?! And here I was thinking no one still owned a pager… I guess they figured better to ban them than to have a sudden rush by bus drivers to buy pagers. Haha

  6. Maybe if the busses were equipped with a signal jamming device, we would be freed from ALL the phone disturbances.
    WTF would the world do without these electronic leashes?
    How did earlier people exist without the perpetual ‘connectedness’?

    1. Hey, we fought and won 2 world wars with steam fired ships, morse code and manual typewriters and carbon paper.
      Seriously – this is a good first step – it would be nice to eliminate phone use on the buses or trains too.
      I had a KCMetro driver on the #11 get real nasty with me 2 weeks ago when I asked her to hang up her phone while driving – reported her to the complaint line on my cell phone as soon as I got off the bus.

      1. Did she ever hang up the phone after you asked her to, and she got nasty to you? What exactly did she say to you? Next time capture it on video and post it to Youtube. That would teach her.

      2. If you see a driver making a personal call on the bus – you *should* report them. Cell phone use while driving not only violates the EXISTING ban on such use, it’s damn well unsafe, and universally accepted as being so.

        This new policy is more in response to a) Metro’s own lax enforcement of the existing policy and b) some very real accidents involving loss of life nationwide where drivers/rail operators were using cell phones instead of concentrating on the job at hand.

        As a driver, I’m actually glad to see a focus on the issue. I’m a bit more concerned about the more draconian aspects of the new policy, the “surprise implementation” without union involvement, and what may lead to a lot of unnecessary/unwarranted disciplinary actions in an overzealous response to enforce a new policy.

      3. Europeans also colonialized a whole lot of the world without buses and light rail, and the Constitution was ratified without ORCA cards – let’s get rid of them all! Heck, the Aztecs ruled central Mexico without wheels…

      4. Lloyd,

        Hey, we fought and won 2 world wars with steam fired ships

        As a Navy vet – hate to tell you this, but ships are still “steam-fired”. A few of ’em use nuclear power to fire the steam instead of burning diesel fuel, but the means of propulsion remains essentially the same.

        Luckily (or sadly) we no longer deal with “steam fired” locomotives.

        Somehow, methinks that the folks who remember the plumes of the Iron Horse miss ’em a bit.

      5. Thanks Jeff – as the son of a WWII Navy vet I am well aware that some ships are still “steam operated” (the nukes) – and no, I am not saying the old ways were necessarily better, but… my bus ride was certainly quieter before the mid-1990s.

      6. Sorry Lloyd – didn’t intend to insult your intelligence, just a fallback to my own Navy days. All ships still run on steam, it’s just the heat source that varies.

        And I still think that steam-powered rail would be pretty neato if it came back. Can you imagine seeing those steam plumes trailing across the landscape the way that contrails do now, with that CHUFF-CHUG-CHUG-CHUFF as those babies travelled through downtown around Alaskan way?

        The railfan in me shudders with nostalgic glee.

  7. A correction to the original post – use of PED’s while in operation has ALWAYS been banned (although sporadically enforced at best). What is new is the ban on even having a cell phone turned on (anywhere) or on the person of the driver. The new policy even bans the driver from having a PED on their person *while signing in for work* – when drivers are actually off the clock and nowhere near a bus.

  8. I think the “signing in” requirement avoids the “I forgot” excuse. If you board the bus with the phone in your bag, you have to consciously put it back on your person to be in violation. It makes the penalties easier to swallow.

    1. Martin,

      Not likely.

      Many drivers sign in a half an hour – or more – before their shift starts. This means that they’re not on the clock: not being paid for their time. Many drivers commute from long distances away and spend some “warm up time” at the base prior to inspecting and boarding their bus. This time may include watching TV in the lounge, grabbing a cup of coffee, using the internet or (heaven forbid) making some personal calls.

      I don’t buy the excuse in policy that if enforced as read would have a driver fired because their cell phone in their pocket rings while they’re at the window signing in. As one recent article about a driver in Massachusetts (still on suspension for using her cell phone in a LEGALLY AUTHORIZED manner while driving as her radio was out) said: “at some point, you have to trust the people you employ”.

      1. Another note as most folks may be unaware – drivers receive only 10 minutes pay per day to inspect and ready their bus for their route. As a result, many – if not most – drivers, sign in much earlier than their “report time” (which according to all run cards is 10 minutes earlier than their “pullout time”).

        Bus drivers contribute (i.e. ‘donate’) thousands of hours of time to the County every day, just to make sure that they are driving a bus that is safe, functional, and ready to go for passengers.

  9. I agree that actually disciplining people who show up with the phone in their pocket would be stupid.

    I think the idea is that if you have the phone in your pocket when going about your business, you’re reminded to think about it and put in your bag. If you then use the phone for something, you ought to remember to put it back in your bag.

    I know that when I turn off my phone, I forget to turn it on again when I’m not taking it out for anything. I imagine a similar principle would apply.

  10. Obviously our drivers should be concentrating on their job and not on a PED. But I am really not understanding what the big deal is about passengers use of phones. I mean, really, if you don’t like the conversation, ignore it. I know it’s irritating, but put on your head phones or just go into your own world. I don’t think it would be right for us to ask people to stop using their phones. People do have conversations on the bus face to face at all levels. I would contend that street people, people that have come to America from any number of Asian countries (still speaking their native language) and a lot of old people are speaking just as loud as the majority of people who are speaking on phones. Also, I don’t think that we want to discourage any one from using public transit for any reason.

    1. Joe, I think it’s just a bias or prejudice some people have against others talking on cell phones in public places. They may claim it’s a noise issue, or a safety issue, like on buses, but the fact is most face-to-face conversations are louder than cell phone conversations. There are some people – even cell phone owners themselves – who believe it is rude to talk on a cell phone in a public place, even if your conversation is at lower decibel level than an in-person conversation. It’s illogical.

      1. I mean, don’t get me wrong, i think it can be rude. But at the same time, I’m not big on rules and suppressing freedom. Those sorts of things, concern me. I think we all just need to learn to live with one another as we are.

  11. but put on your head phones or just go into your own world

    You realize of course that this is not an option for drivers, right? This entire issue is built around distraction for the DRIVERS. Passengers don’t have the responsibility of piloting a 60 ton vehicle down the road in rush hour traffic.

    The entire reason for this policy is distraction of DRIVERS. If one recognizes that yes, drivers do need to be able to concentrate on the very vital task at hand, then passenger use of phones is no less an issue than driver use.

    1. If you are a person that is easily distracted by others (what they are doing or saying) then maybe you should not be a driver. That is the very same reason that I do not try to study in public places, I am easily distracted. Wouldn’t you agree? I would also say that personally using a device is completely different in terms of distraction level than others using devices around you.

      1. I take it then that you are all in favor of allowing driver to talk on their own cell phones while driving?

        Please identify the type of superhuman being that cannot be ‘distracted’ by people talking/misbehaving on the vehicle that they are driving through traffic?

      2. Well then we have to ban all talking on the bus since it might bother the driver. In theory Metro already bans misbehaving on the bus, but we all know how effective enforcement is.

        I seriously doubt Metro will ever ban use of PEDs by passengers. However there are already rules covering use of offensive language, talking loudly, or playing music without headphones.

      3. Christopher,

        I think you are denying the basic reality that it is possible to have a conversation on board a bus (even a cell phone conversation) without that conversation rising to the level of “distracting”. We have all been aboard buses where folks have been conversiong (in-person or on the phone) at a level far superceding what one would consider ‘discreet’ and well into the realm of full-blown annoying-to-the-point-of-where-I’d-like-to-choke-this-person-to-death-for-being-such-an-insensitive-idiot.


      4. You were the one arguing passengers should be banned from using cell phones while on the bus not me. I was simply saying that if we do that we should require absolute silence from all passengers while riding the bus.

        There are already rules covering someone playing music or talking loudly. Lets enforce rules against the misbehavior not ban cell phone use for the vast majority of passengers who don’t cause a problem.

      5. As I stated above, my position is “Obviously our drivers should be concentrating on their job and not on a PED.” I honestly don’t think that it is too much to ask people to make responsible decisions when choosing a career path.

      6. Joe G.,

        I honestly don’t think that it is too much to ask people to make responsible decisions when choosing a career path.

        Honestly, neither do I, nor have I implied otherwise.


  12. why do anti-union, anti-worker [deleted, ad-hominem] like SAM even post here? this is a site for people who like transit, shouldn’t you be on some pro-management, pro-car messageboard? you seem to come here only to start silly arguments, i doubt anyone would miss you if you left.

    1. Sometimes he brings up valid arguments.

      Also, many of us pro-transit people are so sure we’re right we refuse to see any part in the other side’s story.

      I, for one, would love to keep him around. Every once and a while he’ll bring up a good point, and the rest of the time it’s a nice laugh.

  13. First, I love this. I am very libertarian most of the time. However this is an act of an employer setting rules for employees. I’ve been on the bus with the dirver yalking on his/her cell phone. they are either not pay attention to the road or they stop the bus until there conversation if done. this has caused delays by several minutes. I know that everyone here who uses mass transit knows that a couple of minutes can mean the difference of you making the connection you need or not.

    Second, as bad as cell phone usage is by passenger it is nothing in comparison to radios, cds, i-pods and mp3s. According to a friend who is a retired bus driver you are supposed to use headphones and keep them at volume levels only the user can hear. If you politely ask someone to turn down there music you get your head bit off. Monday morning on the 194 I asked a guy using a cellphone radio to listen to KUBE to please use headphones. He threatened me with physical violence. He insulted my my calling me the n-word, which is really strange because I am a very pale shade of white. I do not know if you can ban passenger cellphones, but I think that asking people to use there indoor voices, like our mothers taught us, is not un reasonable.

    Third, if a passenger is doing something that distracts the driver then the passenger should knock it off or get off the bus. If you are putting others at risk than you should stop it. Common Sense.

  14. The argument that cell phone talking is always louder than in-person conversations is BS. I use my phone every single day on the bus. I find it a great time to get things done. Usually the person I’m speaking with on the phone can’t hear what I’m saying because someone behind me is screaming something profane to his friend across the aisle. Are there a lot of loud disrespectful cell phone talkers? Of course. Are there also disrespectful people who carry on conversations in person? Damn right.

    If you’re all so insistant on banning cell phones for passengers you might as well ban all talking.

    Also, drivers shouldn’t be allowed to call out stops because that breaks the silence

    You know what? The beeping of the farebox/ORCA is pretty irritating too. Guess we’ll just have to get rid of that.

    The argument that talking on the phone is as distracting as listening to someone else’s conversation is insane. If you’re on the phone you have to actually focus on what is happening. You have to retain the information and respond with something to say. If you’re listening to someone’s conversation you’re not actively taking part. There’s nothing forcing you to pay attention. Even if you can’t take your focus off of someone’s fascinating conversation, from your perspective there’s absolutely no difference between someone who is on the phone and someone who is talking to the person next to them.

    1. My point is to use indoor voices. Not only when using your cellphones but when having a conversation as well. I find it very annoying when people sitting right next to each other are yelling like there block away from each other. Common courtesy, common respect common sense.

  15. While I agree with some of this new rule, it does really piss me off. Texting and talking on your cell phone while driving should be grounds for immediate dismissal. Listening to your MP3 player with only one earbud should not be. Two yes, but not one. I have been doing it for years and it does not distract me one bit. As a matter of fact it helps me cope with the daily grind and helps me from being distracted from loud passenger cell phone use and rowdy kids. I do my job safely and responsibly and this is just going to make a hard job all the more harder.

  16. Texting and talking on your cell phone while driving should be grounds for immediate dismissal.

    It always has been. What is new with this policy is the requirement that drivers can now be fired simply for having a PED on their person – even when signing in for work (off the clock).

    Using a cell phone or other personal electronic device while driving has always been a disciplinary offense. That part is nothing new.

    Using an iPod or other earphone type device (other than bluetooth) is illegal even for drivers of passenger cars.

    1. It is very interesting that since this new policy has been implemented and I am not able to listen to anything while driving, I find my mind wandering more often than when I had something to listen to. Probably not the norm for most, but it is how I roll!

  17. It’s one thing to set a new policy. It’s quite another to enforce it. Unless metro is going to inspect the pockets of every driver who signs into work, I don’t see the point of this new rule. I don’t carry a bag onto the bus so the only place I can store my PED is my pocket.

    1. Fritz,

      Here’s hoping that nobody calls you on your phone while you’re signing in. Or no supervisor spots you pulling it out of your pocket to make or answer a call.

      If you don’t carry a bag onto the bus, then I suppose you’ll be locking your phone in the on-board lock-box (providing your bus has one with a functioning lock), or keeping it in your car.

      People WILL be fired over this unfortunately.

  18. And Fritz – if you don’t carry a bag on the bus, where do you store the items that it’s mandatory for all drivers to have with them (the book, accident kit, lost and found tags, etc.)? You carry all that stuff on loose with you?

  19. OK, I agree with no use of cell phone while driving but for the rest I don’t. Think about being on report all day long. That would suck!
    I think that passengers shouldn’t be able to use their cell’s either because of safty purposes then. That distract’s me more!
    Metro and Sound Transit should be more concern about protecting us. I have had gun shooting, stabbing, and a lot of sexual assaults towards me. You think they come running to help! NO! For the sexual assaults, I deal with that myself but for the mini riot on my bus or the man that got stabbed or the two kids that pulled a gun on each other and one got shot, NO HELP! I used my own cell to call the police because they were not calling me back after hitting the ea botton. So I will have my phone on me but out of site and not turned off. I will not talk on it during driving time but I refuse to not have it on me!

    1. I’ve had several instances where my radio looks like it’s working but when I actually hit a button to call the Control center, it isn’t. I wish they would put something into the software so you KNOW you are connected to the system. Of course, if you call the control center and ask for a radio check during rush hour, you risk getting chewed out. ( Mind you, this was an RTT – low priority call – Folks in the control center, if you’re that busy, don’t answer my RTT. I don’t ask for a radio check unless the radio is acting unusual and I’m suspicious that it’s not actually connected )

      FYI: The policy allows for emergency use of cell phones – just make sure the bus is parked, your parking brake is on, and your four-ways are on. The key part of the policy is termination for using a PED while “operating” a coach. I can’t imagine Metro trying to fire you if you are using your cell phone to call the police if the Radio isn’t working. Even if some moron did try to fire you for this, the case would be pretty strong in arbitration.

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