PORTLAND - Some TriMet passengers are fed up after a recent Oregonian report showed TriMet drivers are allowed to work until they're exhausted behind the wheel.
The Oregonian reported that some drivers have worked as many as 22 hours in a 24-hour period. The paper found at least 21 cases during a 42-month period in which people reported seeing operators fall asleep at the wheel.
"That's really disturbing, not only as a passenger but for pedestrians and other people who have to share the road. It makes it dangerous for everyone," said frequent Northeast Portland rider Noah Heller. Heller decided to do something about it. On Monday he created a petition website demanding change, then hit social media to spread the news.
Under the current contract, TriMet drivers can work a maximum of 17 hours per service day. But the catch is that a service day ends at 1 a.m., with the next service day starting when buses resume running at 3 a.m. So some drivers are swapping shifts, for the overtime, and straddling service days. These drivers are choosing to work up to 22 hours in a 24 hour period.
TriMet has admitted it happens, but it's rare.
"A handful of operators choose to work the overtime," said TriMet spokeswoman Mary Fetsch. When pressed about whether the practice was safe, Fetch said, "We think it's safer if they work fewer hours."
Fetsch said TriMet wants the policy to change, but the union won't budge in negotiations.
"When she says the union is not willing to negotiate, that's not an accurate statement," said Bruce Hansen with the TriMet union. "There's room for discussion on the policies and issues. Safety concerns are a big issue we need to address as well."
Heller said he planned to take the petition to TriMet's Wednesday meeting.