News-Times Tuesday, July 3, 2012
Phone: 503-357-3181 www.fgnewstimes.com
TriMet: Latest investigation still underway ■ From page 1
op the LEP plan, and said it’s about reaching out to communities of people with limited English proficiency and making it easier for everyone to use public transportation. “The program in itself is trying to provide better access to people,” he said. Gonzalez said the program so far has implemented ticket vending machines that offer instruction in English and Spanish, and has translated some written materials such as schedules and travel tips into Spanish.
Gonzalez said the passengers who complain often don’t document all the details of the incident, such as the time of day and vehicle number of the bus. Gonzalez said this can make it hard to investigate the issues riders face. But for years TriMet has been working to better serve passengers who do not speak English as their first language. In 2006, TriMet received a grant from the Federal Transit Administration to develop a Limited English Proficiency (LEP) plan. At the time, it was the only such program in the country, Gonzalez said, and TriMet is now a model for other transit districts. Gonzalez was hired to devel-
Making transit simpler Gonzalez said the federal grant funding the LEP program expired this year, but TriMet kept the program by rolling its costs into its general fund budget. He said he hopes to keep
developing it by creating icons safety, Fetsch said. They can ofthat can make using TriMet fer new drivers a basic class in even simpler. diversity, but drivers interested Even before the in learning Spangrant, TriMet ofish have to pursue fered instruction it on their own. in “Farebox SpanCornelius Police ish” to bus drivers Chief Paul Rubenwho wanted to stein said language learn some basic skills can be a mahelpful phrases, jor asset for public and Fetsch said employees who many drivers took routinely interact advantage of it on with the public, estheir own time. pecially in a comHowever, Trimunity like CorneMet has since lius, where 51 pershifted its focus cent of the resiwhen it comes to dents are Hispanic. — Mary Fetsch, training bus oper“There’s no busiTriMet ators, and no lonness, government ger offers “Fareor private sector in box Spanish.” TriMet’s main this area that doesn’t try to get training priorities are about se- bilingual people,” he said. curity, customer service and Rubenstein said that of those
“The bottom line is that operators who provide good customer service always seem to find a way to provide good service.”
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In January 2006, a concerned TriMet passenger called to report that she overheard bus driver Claudeen Hendren using the term “Mexican” in a disparaging manner. The passenger said that when a Hispanic passenger boarded the bus, Hendren made a comment implying that “Mexicans” pretend to not understand English even though they usually do. Hendren responded that she did not refer to Latinos as “Mexicans.” TriMet reviewed the incident and said the evidence was inconclusive. Hendren was reminded of TriMet’s harassment policy and the complaint was dismissed.
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Only one other complaint involving Hispanic rider
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Last week the News-Times reported that a No. 57 bus driver was placed on administrative leave while TriMet investigated a June 7 incident in Forest Grove where a mother and her crying children were ordered from a bus following a fare dispute. TriMet spokeswoman Mary Fetsch said TriMet will speak with Maria Ruiz and other witnesses, three of which identified the driver in question as Claudeen Hendren, who served a 10day suspension for a similar incident in September. The investigation should be finished by the end of this week. Fetsch said TriMet operations will review all of the information from the investigation and decide what, if any, discipline Hendren will receive.
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on his 14-person police force, two officers are fluent in Spanish and one is learning. Maria Ruiz, the mother who was kicked off the bus with her four children June 7, said she was relieved when the Forest Grove Police officer who responded to her conflict with a bus driver could speak Spanish. While the officer, Ernesto Villaraldo, couldn’t diffuse the argument between Ruiz and the bus driver, who ordered her from the bus, Villaraldo decided to drive Ruiz and her children home to Cornelius. When police respond to crisis situations, Rubenstein said being able to communicate in someone’s first language can make a big difference. If there is no language barrier, he said it’s easier to “get at the root issue” and resolve the problem. Rubenstein commended Villaraldo for driving Ruiz and her family home. “That’s problem solving at its best,” he said. Rubenstein, who grew up in Mexico, is such a fan of bilingualism that he gives his bilingual officers a small pay bump, as do many other Oregon police agencies. TriMet makes no specific effort to recruit Hispanic or bilingual bus drivers, according to Fetsch, nor track which drivers speak multiple languages. But TriMet does know the racial and ethnic mix of its employees. According to Fetsch, as of June 30, 72.7 percent of bus drivers were white, 14.7 percent were African American, 4.5 percent were Hispanic or Latino and 3.9 percent were Asian. Festch said bilingual bus drivers are “treated no differently than all of the other operators.” They receive the same salary, and are not placed on routes where they might interact with more Latino passengers. Fetsch said bus drivers need to solve problems, including those related to language barriers. “The bottom line is that operators who provide good customer service always seem to find a way to provide good service,” she said.