PORTLAND -- Just days day after the general manager called for an internal audit of overtime hours and driver fatigue, the TriMet board promised riders it will work with the union to create a safer policy regarding service hours.
This follows an investigative report from KGW’s news partner, The Oregonian, that revealed dozens of bus operators had worked up to 22 hours within a 24-hour time period. It also uncovered 21 cases of exhausted drivers had been reported over the last 42 months.
Board members said the drivers' union has resisted change in the past but they will press the issue for the sake of public safety.
"The best result is always through negotiation and we pledge our cooperation with the union to negotiate common sense hours of service policy," TriMet GM Neil McFarlane said during Wednesday's meeting.
On Monday, McFarlane sent a memo to staff that urged all employees to re-focus on safety.
Now the company is also asking employees to to report any incidents of fatigue they see among co-workers.
In the staff memo McFarlane wrote, "I am asking internal audit to review compliance with our internal procedures for calling in operators for overtime to make sure there are no 'slip-ups' in complying with our current hours of service policies." Read entire memo (.pdf)
The Oregonian investigation found that many bus drivers were swapping shifts for overtime and "straddling service days" to work as many as 22 hours within a 24-hour period. It also uncovered reports of operators nodding off behind the wheel.
Portlander Noah Heller was so disturbed by the revelations that he started an online petition demanding change. By Wednesday he had collected 200 signatures and he showed the petition to board members during their meeting.
“We need action from the state. Hopefully this will be negotiated right away," he told the board. "But safety shouldn't be up for grabs. It shouldn't be negotiable. It's vital that the state take action if this is not agreed upon via [union] contract negotiations right away,” he said.