Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Aiden Bailey learned a painful lesson about buttons last week. TriMet should have learned it, too.

Since Aiden is only 3, his moral of the story may not entirely square with everyone else's version of what happened. But Aiden does know he became separated from his father while getting off a MAX train, when he gave an irresistible button -- for a disabled access ramp -- an exploratory push.

Aiden then darted out a train door and lost his father's hand. The door shut and the train pulled away, with his dad still on board. Neither his frantic father, inside the train, nor a woman outside, were able to open that door.

Luckily for Aiden, his dad and the whole TriMet system, that woman came to Aiden's rescue and waited with him for seven minutes until his father could get back to him.

Afterward, Aiden promised his dad this wouldn't happen again. Nope, because he wouldn't be pushing any more buttons.

The moral of the story for the rest of us is that pushing buttons on a TriMet train may not do you any good. As the train pulled out, Aiden's father again and again pressed the button to activate the emergency intercom and talk to the operator of that train, but never got any response.

On Monday, TriMet ruled out mechanical failure as the cause of what happened, and blamed the train operator for the Bailey family's separation. The operator has been placed on administrative leave, pending the results of an investigation.

That's exactly the right call, but TriMet needs to go further. It needs to re-examine its policies and training and make sure train operators understand that intercoms are not just for decor.

It would be nice to think that what happened to Aiden is an isolated incident. But another father reported a similar incident in September, when he, too, became separated from his children.

Train riders almost never enjoy the friendly give-and-take with their drivers that so many bus riders experience. Yet MAX passengers do trust that an authority figure is close at hand -- a captain of the ship, even if rarely glimpsed.

True, you can ride the train for years without verifying that such a person is on board. But each car does come equipped with four emergency intercoms to communicate -- in theory -- with your operator.

You may never need to push one of those buttons, which are stationed near the car's doors. But when you do push one, because of a rowdy crowd, threatening behavior, medical emergency or other problem, there's no excuse for a driver to tune you out.

For this remote captain to fail to respond in a moment of crisis is terrifying, even if you're not 3 or the parent of a 3-year-old -- even if you're, say, 83.

Vicki Hersen, executive director of Elders in Action, works with transit riders on that end of the age spectrum, sometimes in frail condition. And when they or their caregivers require help on board a MAX train, they're counting on those buttons to work. "It's not used very often," Hersen repeated Monday -- but when it is, the call is urgent.

Aiden Bailey is absolutely correct. This is a button-pushing problem, all right.

It's time for TriMet to push some buttons.

I will bet there is even more to this than has been divulged. Most likely the MAX operators are under extreme pressure from TriMet to keep on schedule, no matter what. To keep expenses down, Tri Met purposely devises schedules using the fewest trains possible to maintain their line. This manifests itself in not providing fudge time to respond to emergencies. So, yes the operator should have responded and should be disiplined, but I believe that TriMet's catch 22 policies are also to blame.

Inappropriate comment? Alert us.
Posted by alyourpalster
November 24, 2009, 11:18AM

OREGONIAN, if your paper was to have any actual creditability at all it would have gathered some facts before making this editorial.

For example, how often do these call boxes get used? Of all the calls how many are legitimate and how many are "crank", I've seen all kinds of stupid people asking stupid questions on those call boxes.

Now you people have just got done lecturing TRIMET BUS DRIVERS about the perils of distracted driving but now you expect the MAX OPERATOR, to divert their attention from the platform leaving a station and deal with whatever is going on in the train?

You want the max operator to stop the train every time somebody calls them?

You really think that is legitimate?

I get this feeling that the Oregonian has an agenda of attempting to make TRIMET employees look bad, could this have anything to do with the working and wage agreement which is forthcoming?

Otherwise the Oregonian would be covering some REAL LEGITIMATE NEWS; like this for example:

instead of trying to inflame passions against the transit workers of the greater Portland area.

It seems TRIMET and TRIMET employees are expected to be perfect while the rest of the world can function in its dysfunctional manner with out question!

What's really going on at the OREGONIAN?
It stinks like rotten fish!


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