Dirty Vehicles at TriMet

No matter how broke you claim to be, there is no justification that supports jeopardizing the health and safety of the public, or those who provide a public service. But, that is exactly what TriMet did several months ago when it decided to cut or eliminate bus cleaner positions.

A bad management decision was the message I delivered to the TriMet Board at its February 23rd Board meeting. The following is an excerpt from that presentation made to the TriMet Board:

“At what cost do you jeopardize the health and safety of your employees and customers? In cutting personnel costs, TriMet is jeopardizing the health of its employees and the riding public. KGW ran a recent story of spreading airborne diseases, particularly the H1N1 virus, onboard crowded MAX trains and busses. There was even talk about TriMet putting hand sanitizer dispensers on all vehicles. But TriMet’s response to this problem was to get rid of all bus cleaners some six months ago. TriMet recently installed cards aboard their 654 buses and 127 Max vehicles, alerting the public that it’s flu season and asking passengers to cover their coughs and sneezes. A KGW viewer commented that “bus seats and hand rails have got to be a one-way ticket to germville.” Another commented saying “and I’m not saying the cleaning folks aren’t doing their job; I’m sure they do an awesome job. But the sheer amount of people that ride, that wipe noses and hold on to the rail, that sneeze…..ok, you get my point.” 

What cleaners? Until six months ago, every bus and MAX train got a thorough cleaning about once every four weeks. A cleaner would spend roughly three hours on each vehicle, cleaning the interior of the vehicles from top to bottom. That included washing down the ceiling, walls, seat frames, floors, cleaning windows and removing gum and graffiti. The bus and rail car seats would be changed out after being thoroughly steam cleaned. That was then. But, cleaner positions were removed some six months ago. Now, bus cleaning consists of a maintenance employee opening the back window of the vehicle and using a blower to blow everything to the front and out of the bus while the bus is being fueled. Often, articles such as needles and used condoms get stuck behind seat frames. Cockroach infestations have even been reported on TriMet vehicles and when an infestation was discovered, cleaners would set off bug bombs in the vehicles.

In finding areas to cut costs, I think eliminating the thorough cleaning of bus and MAX vehicles every month was a bad decision, and one that greatly affects the health of those who operate and those who ride TriMet vehicles. Is the minimal savings by trashing vehicle cleaners really worth the health detriment to operators and passengers? Was this a good management decision?

Does the riding public know that the public transit vehicles they commute in are no longer subjected to a rigorous monthly cleaning schedule? A MAX train operator commented “If you ever see me operate the train, you will see me with brown gloves on my hands; many reasons why I and a few other operators use these gloves, but one is definitely germs of any kind anywhere on the trains, the cabs included……”

TriMet needs to resume regular and thorough cleaning of its vehicles. The health of the employees who operate the vehicles and the general public that ride the vehicles is more important than the savings derived from allowing vehicles to run dirty.”

As expected, no action was taken regarding the Union’s demand. Even though it took several months, the Oregonian followed up on the Union’s complaint and published a front page article on July 14, 2011 entitled “TriMet something to sneeze at.”

Maybe now, after the public has been made aware of the unwise decision by TriMet management to discontinue regular and thorough cleaning of TriMet vehicles, something will be done!

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