By Elizabeth Barber
BOSTON, June 17 (Reuters) - Boston's public bus drivers and train conductors can now be fired for simply bringing a cell phone to work, according to a new policy that transit officials say is the toughest of its kind in the nation.
The rule was announced by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority on Monday a month after a public bus driver who police said was holding a cell phone crashed in a Boston suburb and injured several people.
"It's absolutely essential that we do everything we can to help ensure that each customer's trip is a safe one," said MBTA General Manager Beverly Scott in a press release.
Under the new policy, MBTA bus or train operators who carry a cell phone or other electronic device on the job risk dismissal, even if the phone is in a pocket or bag. The MBTA has prohibited drivers from carrying cell phones on the job since 2009, but the new regulations raise the penalties to be on par with those for using a cell phone.
Under the previous policy, drivers caught carrying a cell phone faced an automatic 10-day suspension, and only faced firing on the third offense. Those caught using a phone face firing on the first offense.
The MBTA said it does not know of any other public transit authority in the United States that bans drivers not just from using but also from carrying cell phones.
New York City's Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the busiest and largest in the country, allows drivers to carry cell phones on the job but fires them if they use their cell phone twice on the job within two years.
Last month, a public bus in Newton careened into a guardrail, injuring several people and leaving the bus partially hanging over the Massachusetts Turnpike.
The driver, Shanna Shaw, was holding a cell phone in her hand at the time, police said. She was terminated from her job and has pleaded not guilty to an obstruction of justice charge for allegedly telling investigators that the accident happened during a sneezing fit brought on by allergies.
Boston Carmen's Union Local 589, which represents bus and subway drivers, was unavailable for comment on Tuesday. (Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Prudence Crowther)