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TriMet trying to change its culture for the better

My View • Don't let the actions of one driver hurt agency's valuable service
by: Courtesy of TriMet 
TriMet decided on a two-week suspension for the Line 57 bus driver who told a mother and her crying child that they would have to leave her bus if the child could not be quiet. TriMet records show the driver has a long history of confrontations with riders and more than 200 complaints about her behavior.

The Portland Tribune's article, 'Bus driver rolling despite complaints,' (Nov. 17) concluded that TriMet must change how we deal with drivers who have a high number of complaints.

I completely agree.

The Tribune documented the complaint and discipline history of the driver who was involved with a mother and her crying child on Line 57. This driver had racked up more than 200 complaints in 10 years on the job. We had engaged her in numerous training and counseling opportunities in an effort to improve her performance.

After investigating this latest incident, we imposed a two-week unpaid suspension and placed the driver on a 'last chance' agreement. This means any repeat of this kind of behavior will result in immediate termination. But given her history and track record, I believe we reached this conclusion too late. We should have taken stronger action sooner.

That is why I am calling for fundamental changes in how we handle drivers with a pattern of poor behavior.

A new course

I am charting a new course at TriMet to intervene sooner and move into the disciplinary process more quickly with drivers whose behavior generates frequent complaints.

Since the Line 57 incident, I have increased the number of 'secret shoppers' and trainers who ride on the buses of drivers with numerous complaints.

While I understand the union's duty to represent its members, I am calling on the Amalgamated Transit Union to end unreasonable challenges to what are common sense disciplinary actions. The behavior of the few discredit the great work of the majority. I am putting our union leadership on notice that there will be a new course that ensures timely action and accountability.

330,000 trips a day

Every day we work to earn the public's trust. We serve a lot of people - 500 buses and 100 MAX trains are out during rush hour. We travel more than 525,000 miles a week.

We have 330,000 interactions with our riders each day, and the vast majority of our 1,200 drivers do a superb job in a challenging environment.

Each operator interacts with hundreds of riders a day, some of whom are not happy about paying their fare. Despite the challenges, 98 percent of our drivers average less than 5 complaints so far this year.

The vast majority of our drivers deliver exceptional customer service. But 18 drivers have had more than 25 complaints each so far this year. That is not acceptable. We must intervene and ensure their performance improves.

We welcome comments from the public and our riders who experience our service each day. The information they provide helps us identify trends so we can intervene sooner. Comments can be sent to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or at 503-238-RIDE (7433).

I am committed to improving our effort to manage those few operators with numerous complaints. Yes, we will offer support and training, but if there isn't a positive response, we will move more quickly through progressive discipline steps, up to and including termination.

We must continue to provide the vital service we deliver each day and let our riders know that when there are problems, we will take swift and appropriate action.

In my 16 months on the job, I launched our safety initiative to change the culture of the agency. We are making that change.

We will get this issue right, too.

Neil McFarlane is general manager of TriMet.