PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A driver in Oregon's largest public transit agency berated a woman and her crying baby into getting off a bus in a Portland suburb, saying "I can't drive with that noise," another passenger said Monday.
Over the loudspeaker, the female bus driver told the woman to distract the baby to quiet it down, passenger Jennifer Chapman said. Other passengers muttered that the driver should "just drive the bus, just do your job," she said.
When the mother and the baby got off the bus at a stop in Hillsboro, other passengers also left en masse in protest, she added.
Mary Fetsch, a spokeswoman for the agency that runs mass transit in the Portland metropolitan area, said TriMet's policy is not to remove people such as women with children from a bus. The driver, who was not identified, has been placed on administrative leave while the agency investigates the complaint from the incident Thursday, Fetsch said.
The Portland area prides itself on its environmentally friendly transportation options, such as miles of bike paths for commuters and a booming public transportation system. TriMet said it carries more people than any other transit system of its size in the country.
Chapman said the child was younger than 2 and was fussing around in her mother's lap at the time. The woman spoke only Spanish, she said.
The bus driver pulled over at a scheduled stop, walked to the back of the bus, pointed at the mother and then the baby, Chapman said. The woman then walked off the bus with the child, followed by the other passengers, she said.
In a conversation with a dispatcher immediately after the confrontation, the bus driver described the baby as not "just crying."
"It was screaming all the way from Beaverton, and I just finally stopped the bus," the driver said. "I said we need to get the baby to stop screaming because I just can't drive with it screaming ... that is not safe."
The conversation was recorded by Al Margulies, a fellow bus driver and blogger who monitors scanner traffic. Marguilies played the recording to The Associated Press, and TriMet has confirmed that the accuracy of the recording.
The driver told that dispatcher that when the woman and child had gotten off the bus, four or five passengers insulted her, so "I said you guys can get off too."
The dispatcher told the driver: "In the future, if there is a baby crying on your bus there really isn't a whole lot you do. It's public transit."
Fetsch said drivers can take steps if they believe their safety is in jeopardy, but policy prevents them from removing people "of a "vulnerable population." The driver has been working for TriMet for 10 years, she said.
Nigel Duara can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/nigelduara