Ever been on a city bus while the driver is fiddling with a cell phone? It’s a disconcerting experience, given a number of factors — the size of the vehicle he or she is driving, the number of people dependent on that bus not crashing for their lives to continue unabated.
Not that it’s a major problem, though, and the Metro Transit Authority intends to keep it that way. Department officials hope a little black box installed on city buses will minimize accidents — and driver dismissals.
In April, MTA became the nation’s first mass transit agency to use Phone Blox, a literal box that both secures and silences mobile phones. The agency has installed the boxes on about half of the city’s bus fleet.
“We’d like to think the drivers will see the benefit,” said Bob Baulsir, MTA chief operating officer, adding that Phone Blox is voluntary for drivers. “Passengers don’t want to see a bus driver on the phone.”
When a driver hops into the captain’s chair, he’s supposed to power down his cell phone and stash it where it won’t offer distraction. With Phone Blox (whose name recalls infomercials past), a driver just plops the phone into the box and voila! — phone signals blocked, box locks, time to ride.
MTA has a zero-tolerance policy for drivers who mess with their cell phones while behind the wheel. The agency has dismissed a handful of drivers this year for using electronic devices while driving.
“Phone Blox ensures a high level of focus from vehicle operators, thus lowering the risk and likelihood of accidents,” Baulsir said.
The invention of Ginny Foster, an electrical engineering major at Saint Louis University, Phone Blox features an electromagnetic latching mechanism that locks when an MTA driver turns on the ignition. The box prevents a phone from sending and receiving signals.
Foster has a patent on Phone Blox and now has a second client, the Central Midlands Regional Transit Authority in Columbia, S.C.
“Feedback has been really positive,” said Foster, who supplies the boxes at no cost to MTA.
Earlier this year, the American Public Transportation Association gave MTA a Gold Award for Safety for implementing the system.