This is a map of the MARTA rail system, which serves metropolitan Atlanta, Ga.

Tough Distraction Policy Takes Effect at MARTA

About 4,500 employees must not engage in distracting activities on the job or face termination by the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, which operates one of the nation’s busiest subway systems.

The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, known as MARTA, today implements one of the strictest distraction avoidance policies in its industry, applying even to employees operating personal vehicles while conducting MARTA business. The transit agency approved the zero-tolerance policy on Dec. 10, 2009, and planned to implement it earlier but chose to delay to Feb. 1. "Given the stringent and comprehensive nature of the policy, it's critical that the approximately 4,500 employees who are covered by it fully understand its provisions and the consequences of noncompliance," the agency said in a release announcing the new effective date.

The new policy considers the use of cell phones and other electronic devices, eating, drinking, reading, reaching for fallen items, and other activities as distractions. After an investigation of a distracted driving incident, MARTA employees to whom the policy applies who are found to have violated the policy will face immediate termination.

Last week, MARTA also announced it is inspecting 100 of the 149 escalators in its stations after discovering a mechanic who worked on many of them had deliberately bypassed a safety system on one escalator. The task could take several weeks to complete, officials said. MARTA also has terminated its contract with its elevator inspection and maintenance company, which employs the mechanic, but has not placed any elevator out of service because that individual did not work on the elevators, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Kristi E. Swartz reported.

MARTA’s rail system transported about 260,000 passengers every weekday during the third quarter of 2009, according to the American Public Transit Association's latest statistics. Safety inspections that last six to eight hours each will be made of the escalators that have been taken out of service, starting with the "priority" escalators in key stations, the system's general manager and CEO told Swartz.

Schindler Elevator Corp., headquartered in Morristown, N.J., and part of Swiss-based Schindler Group, the world's largest supplier of escalators, has been hired to take over MARTA's escalator inspections, and the transit system has hired a company named Vertical Transportation Excellence to investigate all of its elevators and escalators independently, Swartz reported.

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