Fact Check: Operator & Rider Safety

The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) is distributing information that calls into question TriMet’s commitment to safety and security in the wake of the deadly May 26 attack on a MAX train. An open letter to TriMet riders and the community at large stated that TriMet refused to bargain in good faith "regarding the appropriate response to operator and rider safety aboard public transit." Additionally, the letter accused TriMet executives of rejecting the ATU’s proposals "without even cursory consideration."

We set the record straight.

Claim

TriMet rejected the ATU’s safety and security proposals without consideration.

Fact

False. TriMet’s core value is safety — safety for our riders and safety for our employees. The horrific attack on May 26 has been heartbreaking for the agency and for the entire community. On June 2, 2017, just one week after the attack, the ATU wrote an open letter to TriMet riders and the community at large. It claimed that TriMet has refused to bargain in good faith "regarding the appropriate response to operator and rider safety aboard public transit." Additionally, the letter accused TriMet executives of rejecting the ATU’s proposals "without even cursory consideration." TriMet actually agreed to study the proposals and to respond at a later date.

The ATU proposal demanded a response just eight days after it was submitted. In our official response to the union we said it is "an unreasonable demand in light of the significance of the proposal and against the backdrop of the emotionally charged tragedy that occurred on May 26." TriMet agreed to study the proposals and to “respond at a later date.”

As for how TriMet should respond, the ATU "disagrees that more police presence" is the appropriate solution to protecting operators or riders. Instead, the ATU called on TriMet to add additional in-house fare inspectors and to reinstate the rider advocate program.

Years ago, TriMet experimented with a rider advocate concept in hopes of reducing disputes on buses and the MAX system. A number of issues arose with the qualification of the advocates themselves and the intervention methods used. As a result, TriMet suspended the program.

Although the ATU’s proposal requests that added fare inspectors are employed "in-house," it includes a provision to use private security personnel to fill positions "if there are no sufficient internal applicants."

Claim

TriMet engaged in a "reactionary plan to increase private security and police."

Fact

False. TriMet took swift action to address public fears in the days following the May 26 attack, directing Transit Police officers and TriMet field staff to maximize presence and time spent on the system interacting with riders. However, the ATU’s claim that there is a trend of "militarized public transit security" is a gross mischaracterization.

TriMet’s Transit Police Division includes 68 officers and command staff. These officers are under the command and control of the Portland Police Bureau. They take an oath and are required by law to be armed. The number of Transit Police officers did not change after May 26, but TriMet did increase the police presence, bringing in Transit Police and other law enforcement agency officers on overtime shifts to help restore a feeling of safety.

TriMet also added 20 contract security personnel temporarily, bringing the number of G4S security officers patrolling trains, buses and transit district properties to 35. These security personnel do not carry guns, nor do TriMet field staff who enforce TriMet Code.

The budget for 2018 includes funding for 15 additional personnel to help provide a presence on the system. Their role is yet to be determined.

Claim

"There were at least 54 serious assaults on TriMet bus drivers in 2016."

Fact

False. TriMet provided nearly 99 million rides in 2016. During that time operators reported 19 assaults. By definition in Oregon, a person can be charged with assault when he or she is suspected of "intentionally, knowingly or recklessly" causing physical injury to another person. Some 17 intimidation offenses involving operators were recorded in 2016.

TriMet leadership’s view on violence against employees has been consistent: Even one attack is one too many. In 2016, General Manager Neil MacFarlane directed the agency’s Executive Director of Safety and Security to form a team of Operators, Dispatchers, Assistant Transportation Managers and Security personnel to target aggressive behavior against employees. The team has updated standard operating procedures for bus operators to re-inforce the role of fare informers rather than fare enforcers in an effort to reduce confrontation over fares, as most attacks include dispute over fare. The team also has recommended de-escalation training for operators, identified physical barriers that are currently being tested by operators, recommended seeking legislation to change the current level of assault offenses from misdemeanor to felony as well as reviewing support resources for employees who have been assaulted.

Policies are under constant review but what is not up for negotiation is the foundational belief that safety and security of TriMet’s employees and riders is paramount.

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