EXCLUSIVE: City bus drivers complain text alerts compromise safety

EXCLUSIVE: City bus drivers complain text alerts compromise safety

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow)

A Mobile Data Terminal rides shotgun as city bus driver Jerry Teves motors down the road. TheBus recently upgraded its messaging system so the machines receive text messages from master control and beep drivers with alerts.

"When the beep comes on it just startles you," Teves said.

The messages tell bus drivers running ahead of schedule to adjust their timing. Some drivers complained to Hawaii News Now that the electronic system distracts them.

"Just the second that you take your eye off the road to try and read the text, it's dangerous," Teves said.

Oahu Transit Services president Roger Morton said the enhanced system beats the old way of calling drivers over the radio and having them look at paper schedules.

"It's a lot safer to look at the heads up display than it is to refer to the other methods that have been used," he said.

He said he has talked to drivers who believe the system doesn't endanger passengers. But Teves feels it does because drivers naturally react when the alarm rings.

"It could be a road closed ahead. So they have to try and retrieve the message to see what it's all about," he said.

Morton said the text messaging doesn't violate Hawaii's distracted driver law. Some riders said that rule of the road should also apply to bus text messages.

"As a bus driver that's for the public, they should be doing the same thing," Allan Halverson said.

"It's not safe," Avery Kealoha said. "That's a big automobile to control."

Morton said adjustments will be made to reduce the frequency of the alerts and to discourage drivers from immediately turning to the screen to read the texts.

"One of the things that I've asked our staff to do is to see if we can modify our system so messages are not sent if the bus is moving," he said.

OTS copied the text messaging systems used by bus companies on the mainland. Morton said it will improve on-time performance. Teves said it's a dangerous gamble.

"We try to get the people where they need to be on time and do it safely," he said.

The text system went live on city buses last week.

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