No Portable Electronics for Boston Transit Drivers

Prompted by a May 8 trolley crash, a 90-day regulation bars possession of a device while on duty.

A 90-day emergency regulation is in effect that bars Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority operators from possessing or using any portable electronic device while on the job. MBTA is the public transit agency of metropolitan Boston, operating buses, subways and light rail trains, vans, boats, and streetcars. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick requested the regulation on May 16 after a May 8 trolley crash between two stations sent more than 40 people to hospitals for treatment. The Department of Public Utilities issued the emergency rule and began the 90-day period during which it will hold a public hearing. DPU could make the regulation permanent after the 90 days has elapsed.

The crash involved one trolley running into the back of a second one; the 24-year-old conductor of the first trolley was texting his girlfriend when the collision occurred, MBTA General Manager Grabauskas told The Boston Globe.

Grabauskas already had announced a "zero tolerance" policy that calls for the immediate suspension and recommends dismissal of bus, train, and subway operators caught using a cell phone, iPod, or pager while on duty. Under those new rules, drivers are prohibited from having such a device in their pocket or in a bag while on the job.

DPU is responsible for oversight of the safety and security practices of the MBTA under state law and through a delegation of authority under federal law, but MBTA itself is responsible for enforcing the emergency order.

"We believe it is very important to ban the use or possession of electronic devices by bus and train operators in order to ensure public safety," said DPU Chairman Paul Hibbard. "The most recent incident shows again how dangerous it is to use a personal electronic device while operating any vehicle, so we are putting our full support behind the MBTA's new policy."

For several years, MBTA has banned cell phone use by drivers while on the job. Its penalties were a three-day suspension after one offense, a 10-day suspension after two, and dismissal for the third offense.

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