- Associated Press - Monday, June 16, 2014

BOSTON (AP) - Bus or train operators found to be carrying a cellphone or other electronic device while on the job would face dismissal even if the device was not being used, officials of the Boston-area public transit system said Monday in announcing a new and more stringent policy.

The directive replaces a previous policy that called for a 10-day suspension for any driver in possession of a cellphone, and an automatic discharge if the device was being used. Under the new policy, operators caught carrying a device would be suspended for 30 days with a recommendation that they be fired, regardless of their work history or any previous violations.

“It’s absolutely essential that we do everything we can to help ensure that each customer’s trip is a safe one,” said Beverly Scott, general manager of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, the nation’s fifth busiest transit system.

MBTA officials said they believe the new policy would be the toughest in the nation and was designed to eliminate any items that could distract an operator.

Police said a bus driver involved in a crash in Newton last month that injured several people had a cellphone in her hand at the time of the accident. The bus slammed into a guardrail, leaving the vehicle’s front wheel dangling above the Massachusetts Turnpike.

The driver, Shanna Shaw, was suspended from her job and pleaded not guilty to a charge she misled investigators. Police said she first told police she lost control of the bus because of a sneezing fit caused by allergies.

The original policy was instituted in 2009 after a trolley driver was found to have been texting his girlfriend just before a crash near the underground Government Center station that injured more than 60 passengers. The driver, Aiden Quinn, was fired and later sentenced to probation after pleading guilty to negligent operation.

The new order prohibits cellphones belonging to drivers from being anywhere on the bus or train or in the possession of anyone else on the vehicle.

Bus drivers would be required to confirm on sign-in sheets that they are not carrying an electronic device, and a similar sign-in system was being developed for operators of light rail and heavy rail vehicles, officials said.

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