By Noah Bierman, Globe Staff
MBTA bus and rail operators caught using cellphones and text messaging devices on duty will be immediately suspended for 30 days and recommended for firing under a new policy unveiled today in the wake of last week’s Green Line crash. Operators caught even carrying cellphones will be suspended for 10 days for the first offense and fired for the second.
MBTA General Manager Daniel A. Grabauskas acknowledged today at a press conference that some employees will find it difficult to make personal calls on their breaks.
"A moment's convenience is not worth jeopardizing the safety of our passengers," Grabauskas told reporters at the State Transportation Building.
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority has an emergency line that families can use to reach employees, Grabauskas said, and it will look into installing more payphones for less urgent matters. The MBTA’s previous cellphone policy called for a three-day suspension for the first offense, a 10-day suspension for the second offense, and dismissal for the third offense.
To enforce the cellphone ban, the MBTA will not be searching its employees, but officials hope that the strict penalties will be a deterrent reinforced by an information campaign that will include decals and signs in break rooms and other areas frequented by employees.
A sign at the press conference showed a red circle and a slash through a BlackBerry, iPhone, iPod, cellphone, and another text messaging device. In red letters, the sign said: "Effective Immediately, possession and or use of cellular phones and other electronic devices by an operator is prohibited while the operator is on an authority train, streetcar, or bus. First offense for using a cellphone: 30 day suspension and recommendation for discharge!"
Grabauskas also said today that the MBTA will listen to passenger complaints and will even check cellphone records of employees under suspicion. The general manager pointed to a Channel 7 news report Tuesday night about a pupil who used his cellphone to videotape his school bus driver in Clinton text messaging behind the wheel as an example of the kind of impact passengers can have enforcing the policy.
Reporters asked Grabauskas today about questions raised by Governor Deval Patrick and others about the MBTA’s age requirement, which allow drivers as young as 18 to operate vehicles.
“I’m not compelled by the argument that age is a factor here,” Grabauskas said, pointing out that a deadly rail crash last year in California involved a 46-year-old train engineer with 20 years experience who was caught texting.
Grabauskas also said that he would examine the Green Line’s heavy dependence on manual operators compared with other subway lines in the MBTA and across the nation that have automated systems to prevent rear-end crashes. He said the MBTA will continue to look into adopting similar systems on the Green Line, but cautioned that it may not be possible given the need to run trolleys close together and other factors.
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