T riders want drivers to hang up

Andrew Lightman

When he rides the bus, Victor Williams doesn’t want his driver talking on a cell phone.

“More accidents could occur,” said Williams, a Quincy resident. “They pay more attention to the phone than to the road.”

In the last 21/2 years, dozens of MBTA bus drivers and subway operators have been disciplined for using cell phones while on the job.

According to an Associated Press report, at least 44 drivers have been punished for talking on their cell phones since January 2006. About three-quarters of the disciplinary actions involved bus drivers, and one of the suspensions was later rescinded.

Use of a cell phone by drivers is a safety violation prohibited under MBTA employee rules. Drivers are also barred from using hands-free cell phone devices.

Penalties for MBTA drivers, according to records obtained by The Associated Press, ranged from one-day suspensions to, in at least one case, the firing of a subway operator.

Some riders feel the penalties are too harsh.

Somerville resident Albert Kamar, who was taking a bus from Quincy Center to visit a friend in Holbrook, said no driver should be fired for using a cell phone.

“I also have a cell phone,” he said. “I don’t see how that would impair me, to talk on the cell phone while driving.”

Yet others said they would not want to ride on a bus or train if the driver is on the phone.

Cambridge resident Karen Rey said drivers who talk on their cell phones are rude and put busloads of people at risk.

“It’s just dangerous,” she said. “They’re not paying attention to the road.”

The MBTA mainly relies on riders to report potentially dangerous actions by bus and train drivers, including cell phone use.

In the past 14 months, it has received 242 complaints about cell phone use by bus drivers, subway operators, Silver Line drivers and commuter rail operators.

The MBTA also does not allow operators to read books or magazines, listen to a radio, eat, watch portable televisions or listen to iPods or other music players while on the job.

The on-the-job use of cell phones by MBTA drivers made headlines when it was erroneously reported that a train operator in a fatal Green Line crash last month was on her cell phone. Prosecutors later concluded that the driver, who was killed in the crash, was not using her cell phone before or at the time of the accident.

The MBTA has still taken steps to discourage the use of cell phones by drivers, including the creation of an agency “hot line” for relatives and friends of bus and train drivers to use in case of an emergency.

Quincy resident Sean O’Mara said he never wants to see a train or bus driver use a cell phone while on the job.

“In Europe, it’s against the law,” O’Mara said. “It’s a big no-no to be talking on a mobile or cellular phone.”

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Andrew Lightman may be reached at alightman@ledger.com.