Texting may cost San Francisco Muni driver’s job 

After initially escaping with just a three-day suspension, a Muni operator caught texting while driving could now lose her job for the illegal maneuver.

A passenger on Muni’s 24-Divisadero recorded a February cellphone video of the nine-year agency veteran texting on her phone while driving a bus full of passengers.

When the operator discovered she was being taped, passenger Shawn Higgins claims, she got irate, kicked the passenger off the bus, and used profanity to warn him she would never pick him up again.

The passenger complained to Muni, but when the agency questioned the operator, she said she had pulled to the curb and was not driving while texting, spokesman Paul Rose said. Since this was her first incident, management suspended her for three days without pay.

However, after viewing the video footage — which the passenger gave to KTVU and which appears to show the driver texting while driving — the agency could increase its punishment, Rose said. Using the phone while driving is not only illegal, but violates agency regulations and is punishable by termination.

“Based on our original information, which we received from the operator, we were under the impression that she was not driving at the time of this incident,” said Rose. “With these new findings, we’re recommending more appropriate discipline, which could include termination.” Thursday the driver was placed on non-driving status, he said.

Walter Scott, secretary-treasurer for the Transport Workers Union Local 250-A, which represents Muni’s 2,200 transit operators, said the operator has already paid for her infraction. “I don’t see what there’s left to discuss,” Scott said. “She’s done her time, and I’m sure she won’t do this again.”

The driver, whom Muni has not identified, is not the first operator caught using a phone while driving. In June 2008, Bradley Bradley was using his cellphone right before crashing his T-Third train into a parked N-Judah train, injuring 16 people. Bradley’s vehicle was travelling more than five times the posted limit of 3 mph. That accident caused more than $1.2 million in damages, and Muni paid more than $130,000 in injury claims. Muni subsequently fired Bradley, Rose said.

The California Public Utilities Commission recently issued a report criticizing Muni’s operators and highlighting a series of violations including instances of drivers sleeping on the train and stepping off vehicles to grab snacks.

Since January 1, 2009, it has been illegal for California drivers to operate a vehicle while texting. Those breaking the law face fines exceeding $100 for the first offense.

A 2009 study by Virginia Tech found that commercial truck drivers were 23 times more likely to get into accidents when they were texting while driving.



Egregious Muni operator offenses

  • February 2010: A light-rail vehicle was left unsecured while an operator bought snacks.
  • March 2010: After hitting a bicyclist on Market Street, a bus operator refused to stop vehicle and check if biker was OK.
  • April 2010: An operator appeared to be sleeping while the vehicle passed through a tunnel.
  • January 2011: Newspapers were seen in the cab with an operator.


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Will Reisman

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