BOSTON, Mass. /Masschusetts Newswire/ -– Governor Deval Patrick today called upon the Department of Public Utilities to use its authority for oversight of transportation safety to adopt a ban on cell phone and other personal electronic devices for drivers of trains, subways and buses operated by the MBTA. A DPU order would give additional force to the ban on such devices for drivers while on the job issued by MBTA General Manager Dan Grabauskas last week.

Governor Deval Patrick“It just makes sense to keep personal cell phones out of the cabs of buses, subways and trains,” said Governor Patrick. “Riders of public transit cannot risk a repeat of the Green Line crash that appears to have occurred because the driver was sending a text message. We must use every authority possible to ensure the safety of the riding public.”

The crash took place May 8, between the Government Center and Park Street stations, when an outbound Green Line trolley ran a red light and crashed into the trolley ahead of it, which was stopped due to traffic. The driver of the trolley reportedly admitted he was sending a text message at the time, and did not see the stopped train in front of him in time to bring his two-car trolley to a halt. More than 40 people were sent to hospitals for injuries.
In September, the engineer of a commuter train in Los Angeles was text-messaging when his train ran a red light and collided head-on with a freight train. That wreck killed 25 people, including the engineer, and injured more than 130.
“Our mission is to keep public safety and customer service priority number one,” said Transportation Secretary James Aloisi, Jr. “This common sense action will ensure the safety of T riders throughout our system.”

On Wednesday, General Manager Dan Grabauskas announced a “zero tolerance” policy, under which bus, train and subway operators caught using a cell phone, iPod or paging device while on duty will be immediately suspended, with a recommendation for dismissal. Under the new rules, drivers are prohibited from having such a device in their pocket or in a bag while on the job. For several years, the MBTA has banned cell phone use by drivers while on the job, with penalties escalating from a three-day suspension after one offense, to a 10-day suspension after two, and dismissal for the third offense; engineers on commuter-rail trains operated by a private contractor were already prohibited from having a cell phone or other device on their person.

MBTA General Manager Grabauskas said, “I applaud Governor Patrick’s call for swift action. An order by the Department of Public Utilities will eliminate any doubt raised by the Boston Carmen’s ill-advised grievance that the new cell phone ban will be implemented as issued. It is an appropriately strong action that makes clear we are serious about keeping our customers and employees as safe as possible.”

Governor Patrick today is asking the state’s Department of Public Utilities to take all measures within its power in support of the MBTA’s ban on cell phone use by transit operators on an emergency basis, in consideration of the major public health and safety risks associated with the use of electronic devices by bus and train operators in the Commonwealth. The Governor has asked that the DPU take action immediately in order to ensure that the ban applies to all operators of the MBTA’s trains and buses and is implemented in full force and effect as soon as possible.

The Department of Public Utilities 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. The DPU exercises this authority through regulations governing the practices and procedures that must be followed by the T to ensure public safety and address any known safety hazards. The DPU also conducts a periodic review of the MBTA’s safety and security plan, and requires changes to the T’s plan in light of known safety issues.