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'Don't do it to our employees': TriMet to exclude riders caught spitting on operators

TriMet's new ordinance would allow for exclusions previously reserved for other "serious physical offenses."

PORTLAND, Ore. — Starting next month, riders caught spitting at or putting bodily fluids on TriMet operators will be subject to long-term exclusions, the agency said.

On Wednesday, the TriMet Board of Directors adjusted their code with Ordinance 364, giving TriMet’s general manager the authority to impose long-term exclusions on riders who violate those rules. The code adjustments would take effect Feb. 25.

The agency admits hostility and violence toward operators has increased over the last two years.

“It's the first time [TriMet] has actually acknowledged there is a problem, so we're hopeful that we can actually build on that with them,” said Frederick Casey, vice president of ATU 757, the TriMet operators' union.

Casey said for years, he and other union members have asked TriMet to increase protections for their operators.

“Now that they've acknowledged it, let's try to solve it,” he said.

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TriMet is facing a shortage of operators and is actively trying to recruit them. They're even offering bus drivers a $2,500 signing bonus. For the agency, adjusting their code is also a message to potential recruits.

“It does show that we are supporting our front-line staff and will hold people accountable if they do this,” said Roberta Altstadt, director for communications at TriMet. “Such outrageous behavior is not acceptable. Don't do it to our employees, you really shouldn't do it to anybody.”

Spitting at operators has always been a violation of TriMet’s code. However, Altstadt said the ordinance will now allow the agency to impose long-term exclusions for that behavior, which before had been reserved for a "serious physical offense.”

“Riders who violate their exclusions will be arrested,” said Alstadt.

Casey said under TriMet’s rules, identifying people in violation of exclusions would be difficult, except for the operator the excluded rider assaulted.

“[TriMet] does not distribute any photograph of anybody that's been excluded,” said Casey. “They say that that would be discriminatory.”

Alstadt said the most likely way an excluded rider would be identified is if they encountered one of the agency's 18 Customer Safety Supervisors, whose job is fare enforcement. If a supervisor identified someone who had been excluded from TriMet, they would call police, who would make the arrest.

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In addition to higher penalties for spitting and similar offenses, TriMet's board also passed an ordinance that prevents law enforcement officers from checking proof of fare. 

Read more about TriMet's policy changes here.