Washington Metro: No Texting for Operators

WASHINGTON — Following a string of embarrassments, including a YouTube video that showed a subway operator texting, Washington Metro has adopted a zero tolerance policy on operator use of cell phones, texting devices.

Metrobus and Metrorail operators caught using a cell phone, texting or using a PDA while operating a vehicle will be fired under the new policy announced by Metro General Manager John Catoe. The new policy will take effect on Monday, July 13.

“There is no excuse for anyone who is operating a Metrobus or Metrorail train to be using a cell phone or texting other than for an emergency situation, regardless of whether there are passengers on board,” Catoe said. “We’ve seen the tragic consequences of what happened in Boston and Los Angeles when a transit operator was texting instead of paying attention to the operation of a vehicle. We will not see a repeat here,” he said, referring to recent fatal crashes in those cities. “One strike and you’re out. It’s plain, simple and strong,” Catoe said.

Metro officials will spend the next few days finalizing the language for its official policy and notifying employees that the “three strikes” disciplinary policy that had been in place “is a thing of the past,” the system said in a news release. The older policy was a progressive disciplinary procedure that gave employees three strikes before termination. The first offense resulted in a five-day suspension without pay; the second a 10-day suspension without pay; the third offense resulted in termination.

“We thought the penalty under the previous policy would be effective. It wasn’t,” WTOP quoted Catoe as saying. “Now we have strengthened the policy.”

The new policy will allow train and bus operators to use personal cell phones during a Metro-defined emergency situation.

Yesterday, a trolley driver in Boston was indicted on charges of gross negligence for texting while operating his trolley when it rear-ended another train. That incident took place in May. In October 2008, a Metrolink train operator in the Los Angeles area was texting when his train crashed into another, killing 25.

The preliminary investigation into last month’s Metrorail train accident at the Fort Totten Metrorail station indicates that Metrorail train operator Jeanice McMillan, who died in the collision, was not using her cell phone while at the controls of her train. After the crash, investigators discovered McMillan’s cell phone in her knapsack.

The employee caught on the YouTube video has been disciplined, according to published reports.