Who ya gonna call?

Sometimes I’ll do a scan through Twitter posts that mention TriMet to see if there is anything interesting  being discussed or if people have questions about the trains that have a quick and easy answer. However, I’ve noticed a lot of people use Twitter to tell TriMet about safety or operational concerns, and although Twitter is an official channel for TriMet information, it’s really not the best method to address, well, pretty much any of the things that get posted there.

TriMet’s official twitter is not monitored 24/7. Typical activity on the official account is that every Monday through Friday, someone at TriMet will scan through the last day’s worth of tweets and do a batch of responses to them over the span of about an hour or so. As a result, by the time someone gets around to seeing what you wrote, you’re nowhere near that train that had a broken sign, loose pitbull, bikes blocking the doorway, etc, whatever it was that you wanted someone to do something about in the first place, and the only response you will likely get from TriMet will be to call customer service.

So if not Twitter, What should I do if I want to report something on a train?

TriMet’s Twitter is not constantly monitoring the trains, however the operator of your train is, and he or she is connected to controllers, who in turn are connected to emergency/medical personnel as well as supervisors in the field who can get to situations much faster than Twitter will. That being said, for most immediate concerns onboard a train you should notify the operator, but if there happens to be a supervisor, fare inspector, transit police, or security officer onboard, you should talk to them instead because your operator’s first priority is to safely operate the train.

If at all possible, wait until the train is stopped before contacting the operator about an issue. Only contact the operator while the train is moving if there is an emergency situation.

If there are no other TriMet personnel present, use this as sort of a basic guide to determine when to contact the operator under different circumstances:

  • EMERGENCY SITUATIONS: Situations where someone’s life may be at risk. Examples – someone needs immediate medical attention; there is a fight onboard; the train is on fire; a door opens while the train is moving. Contact the operator immediately. 
  • URGENT SITUATIONS: Situations that potentially pose a safety risk, but do not appear to be immediately life-threatening. Examples – overhead panel onboard the train is open; access to train doors or aisle is blocked by bicycles not properly stowed. Wait until the train is stopped and contact the operator.
  • IMPORTANT, NON-URGENT SITUATIONS: Situations that need attention but are not safety-sensitive and don’t impair the operation of the train. Examples – HVAC not working right, APACU issues (stuck destination signs, announcing the wrong stop, etc). Wait until the train is stopped before contacting the operator.
  • NON-SAFETY, NON-TRAIN SITUATIONS: Examples – a broken ticket machine, platform defects, scheduling issues. Call TriMet customer service at 503-238-RIDE or report the problem to a supervisor, fare inspector, or transit police/security officer. (not really anything an operator can do to fix these, but if you must tell the operator, wait until the train is stopped.)

Generally speaking, situations that would be reported are either safety-related or operational-related.

Safety Issues

When reporting a safety issue to the operator, give as much information as you can. The operator will relay this information to Control. Sometimes Control will ask the operator to step out of the cab to get more information on the situation, and they will often notify a supervisor in the area who will meet the train to address the situation. Control will also send for police or medical if necessary.

If there is a fight onboard the train or other threatening situation where you fear that using the intercom will put you too close to the problem, you can move to the other car of the train and use an intercom from there or use your phone to call 911 and police will meet the train at the next platform.

Fight on the Green Line last year

It is extremely helpful if you are able to give specific information. Your operator’s main focus is going to be to safely operate the train, not getting into the middle of an onboard situation. Operators are not monitoring the cameras inside the train so the more specific you can be will help the operator give accurate details to Control and the better to narrow down where on the train this is happening and what arriving help on the scene should look for:

What is the problem?

  • A fight or someone threatening passengers? Give descriptions of involved people (gender, approximate age, height, weight, race, clothing description, anything like that helps)
  • A medical emergency? Again, description of what the emergency is if you can tell (did someone faint, are they having a seizure, did someone fall, is someone bleeding, etc), as well as description of the person also helps
  • Other violations of TriMet code? (loose non-service animals, bikes blocking aisle or doorways, smoking, etc) – remember, unlike the other two bullet points here, save these types of non-urgent issues for when the train is stopped

Where is the problem?

Door numbers and the car/cab numbers are helpful to convey location in the train when you’re reporting a problem

Know your train! (sort of like paying attention to those airline evacuation instructions…)

  • Which car of the train are you or the situation in, lead car or trailing? Give the car number/letter if you see it (it’s posted in several locations inside each train car, including above the cab doors and posted high near the middle of the train)
  • Whereabouts in the car is the situation – near the cab? in the middle section? by the coupled end? This is where the car number/letter is helpful if you know it – most operators jot down how their cars are coupled in case it’s needed during the shift so they’ll be able to tell Control specifically where an issue is
  • If you or the incident is near a door of the train (in particular if you’re using one of the passenger emergency intercoms), look above the door for the number to give a specific location

From left to right, the emergency intercom in a Type 1, a Type 2/3 and a Type 4

Know where to be able to find the emergency intercoms on the train. In a Type 1, there are 2 per car, located above the seat to the left of each cab. In Type 2s and 3s, there are 4 per car, located at doors 3, 4, 5, and 6 (the doors closest to the middle of the train car). In Type 4s, there are also 4 per car, located at doors 1, 4, 5, and 8 (one near each set of doors in the train car on alternating sides).

One more quick note about the intercoms – if you happen bump into one by accident, when the operator responds asking how they can help you, PLEASE REPLY that you bumped it by accident. No harm, no foul. If you don’t respond, the operator will have to notify Control that there’s no response, and will search the train for anyone in distress, because from the cab, there’s no way to tell if someone is having an emergency situation and hit the button but can’t verbally communicate. It saves everyone time if you just say “Sorry, was an accident.”

Operational Issues

Something is broken

If something seems broken or out of place on the train, you can let the operator know, using your best judgment if the operational problem poses an immediate threat to safety or if it can wait until the train is stopped at the next platform. Same as with safety issues, giving a specific location is very helpful (which car is it in; what door number is it near, etc) – considering that a 2-car consist is about 200′ long, being able to quickly narrow down the location of the problem means getting to it faster to fix it and less of a delay for everyone.

Why aren’t we moving?

Twitter is not going to be helpful for this at the time you want it

As to the answer to this particular situation, I don’t know what the issue was, possibly a bridge lift. But operators are trained to keep passengers informed of delays with as much information available regarding when the train will be rolling again. Some delays at platforms are expected and built in to the schedule (in particular at Ruby Junction, Gateway, Beaverton TC, or Elmonica) where one operator relieves another at the end of their shift. Other times trains can get conga lined if something causes a backup and this could also cause delays. If your train has been stopped for several minutes with no announcements made, it’s okay to contact  the operator and ask what’s going on.

Not everything that seems unusual is necessarily a cause for concern

For example, now that we’re back in the rainy season, you’ll hear the buzzing sound of sand being deposited for traction which is normal and expected. Another example of something that isn’t a concern is when the lights and HVACs in the train temporarily go out because an operator took power underneath a section isolator or where the overhead wires cross (such as near Pioneer Courthouse or any of the Streetcar/MAX intersections) What is a cause for concern is if the lights go out and stay out, or all the lights on one side of the train go out – let your operator know if something like that happens, because that’s indicative of a converter or inverter issue and will need to be fixed.

Any other options to report an issue?

You can also call TriMet’s customer service number 503-238-RIDE to report a safety, security, or operational problem by pressing 5 in the menu of options. However, this is only available Monday-Friday, 8:30a-4:30p so if you’re traveling outside these hours, similar to Twitter this isn’t going to be the most helpful way to get a fast response.

And of course, you can call 911 if the onboard situation warrants it.

So When should I tweet @trimet about an incident on a train?

*crickets chirping*

Sorry, that was sarcastic of me, but if you want an immediate response, tweeting @TriMet is not your best option. While @TriMet is great for directing people to customer service after incidents occur, it’s not a good way to get an immediate response to an issue. Talking to a TriMet employee at the time the incident that you want to report occurs is the best way to get a situation addressed, and so this should be your first option for safety issues or an operational problem with a train. The official Twitter backed me up on that after someone tweeted both @TriMet and the mayor of Portland to report that a stanchion pole on a train was broken – that sort of thing would best be reported to the operator when the train is stopped at a platform.

If you have a non-urgent, non-safety, non-train concern such as reporting a broken ticket machine or validator, a Transit Tracker problem, or graffiti on a platform, you can use Twitter to let TriMet know as these aren’t urgent situations that require a fast response.

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5 responses to “Who ya gonna call?

  1. The crickets chirping really cracked me up. Twitter will continue to be bombarded since most riders just cant get off there iPhone during a commute. Just like they always hit the open doors button as a train leaves the station, and walk out in front of max, and walk down tracks, and…..

    • Oh I know, there’s a level of “preaching to the choir” here in that the people interested in reading about the rail system aren’t going to be the ones causing problems on it, but it feels better to try to put something out there.

  2. There’s another problem with doing vocal reporting though, and its something that Ive sent to tri-met about several times, as Ive seen it happen else where in other mass transit systems. If there is some sort of fight going on, or someone threatening passengers, the last thing I want to do is grab my cell phone, make a call to the police to report that person x appears to be getting ready to damage person y. If person x happens to over hear me on the phone, highly likely since when these types of heated issues come up most people stop talking and get very quiet, I’ve just suddenly become a focus of interest for the person who is not in a good mood. The VERY last thing I’d want to do is suddenly become a target because I’m doing the right thing in reporting a potential crime. We really need a way to alert authorities without putting ourselves in danger when they happen to over hear that I’m reporting them. You can say all you like that nothing would happen to me by reporting someone else, but tell that to the innocent person who was shot dead by doing exactly that. And even though it just makes that persons situation worse, it still wasnt as bad as the dead man who was doing the correct thing in reporting it. We need a way to alert Tri-met / the authorities of potential criminal activity without drawing attention to our selves.

  3. Ghostbusters!

    Seriously, this was (another) good post. I happened to be on a train with puke on it recently. I knocked on the operator’s door at the next station, and while the bus supervisors that came on to check fares didn’t do anything about it, a rail supervisor was later ready to address it and a swap was prepared so the cars could be taken out of service at the end of the line.

    Regarding being fearful of reporting something, Neil McFarlane himself gave the advice of moving away from the situation.

  4. I think I remember reading or hearing something about 911 services soon to be usable by SMS. Might make someone reporting a situation to police just a little less conspicuous.

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