Tired at the wheel: Concerned riders take on TriMet overtime issue

Tired at the wheel: Concerned riders take on TriMet overtime issue »Play Video
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PORTLAND, Ore. – A group of bus riders, worried about driver fatigue, plans to ask TriMet officials to change how shifts are scheduled.

Oregonians for Safe Transit will present petition at the TriMet board meeting Wednesday asking Gov. John Kitzhaber to intervene if TriMet and the drivers’ union can’t agree to new work hours policy.

The Oregonian was first to raise concerns about drivers working overtime without rest.

Federal law requires MAX train operators to take at least a seven hour break between shifts, but that doesn’t apply to bus drivers.

TriMet’s current contract allows drivers to pick up extra shifts for colleagues who call in sick. That means they can rack up the overtime if they push themselves to keep driving.

The rules for drivers say they can’t work more than 17 hours in one day, but because there’s no required time between shifts, drivers can work a two 17-hour days back-to-back.

“It doesn’t make much sense when an operator can work say 20 hours with a little time off in a 24-hour period,” said TriMet spokeswoman Mary Fetch.

Fetch said fighting driver fatigue will be a top priority in negotiating a new contract with the union.

TriMet wanted to change the hours policy in the previous contract, but the issue took a back seat to the more contentious battle over health care costs.

In the meantime, TriMet General Manager Neil McFarlane is calling on drivers to decline extra shifts if fatigue is setting in. He also wants staff to report tired drivers to management, and he’s requiring an overtime audit.

The drivers’ union did not return calls from KATU Tuesday night, but has told TriMet it is willing to discuss scheduling concerns.

“We have a safe system. I will tell you that,” said Fetch. “We have operators that are professionals. This is a small group of operators that take advantage of this ability to work long overtime. Now they choose to work this long overtime.”