RTA looking to manage what is broadcast on buses to passengers

Making everyone comfortable….

By Mark Reaman

Developing inclusive policies that protect not just the safety of the transit experience but also drivers and passengers is a focus of the Gunnison Valley Rural Transportation Authority (RTA) board of directors. During its September 15 meeting, the board discussed what drivers should be able to broadcast in the bus and what pronouns to use in its policy document.

RTA passenger Erin Ganser of Crested Butte South returned to the board to describe an experience that took place July 10 where a driver was apparently playing a radio broadcast that she said contained “hate speech.” When asked repeatedly by several passengers to turn off the show, the driver refused. Ganser and others complained to the RTA and ultimately the driver was told to not broadcast such shows while driving. 

At the September 15 meeting, Ganser told the board that a proposed policy change encouraging drivers to play music that is “unoffensive” was not strong enough. “Public buses should be a safe space for people, and not a place where people broadcast hate vitriol,” she said. “Encouraging drivers to play unoffensive music falls short as a policy. The board needs to bring the policy into current times with sensitivity and awareness.”

During the policy discussion the board agreed passengers should feel safe on the bus. “I think at a minimum the policy should state that drivers should not be allowed to play offensive music,” said board member Jason MacMillan. “I appreciate that if asked to turn something off by passengers they have to.” 

“Music is pretty subjective. It is easy for someone to find offense in some things,” said board member Steve Morris. “Someone could find NPR offensive given their political beliefs.”

The board discussed just allowing local radio stations to be broadcast and not individual music or podcasts on a driver’s personal device. RTA executive director Scott Truex said many of the current policies originated from Mountain Express and were written from a tourist-friendly, concierge point of view. The idea was to provide a fun experience and answer questions.

Alpine Express vice president for RTA operations John Galle said his recommendation would be to have nothing broadcast by the driver that could be heard by the passengers. “Just shut it off,” he said. “Passengers can have their own headphones and entertainment systems.”

He said there would probably be some pushback from drivers but ultimately he didn’t expect it to be a “big deal.” He said drivers cannot drive with both ears in headphones, but legally one ear must not be covered by a working headphone. So basically, drivers could be listening to their choice of music.

“On Erin’s [Ganser] comments, do we need stronger provisions for anti-discrimination or anti-harassment for the passengers,” asked board member Laura Puckett Daniels.

“Our policies don’t allow discrimination and harassment under all the federal regulations,” said Truex.

“I know it’s covered but I’m wondering if this board wants to make a stronger statement in our policies,” said Puckett Daniels. “Do we feel this policy document adequately reflects the values of our community? Does it protect the passengers?”

“I think it deserves a deeper dive from the board perhaps,” said board member Anna Fenerty.

“I’m planting a seed with the board that perhaps we need stronger language on this for what makes a safe environment on the bus in regard to harassment and discrimination,” said Puckett Daniels, who said she has heard of similar experiences to Ganser’s that have taken place on the bus. “Does this document reflect the values we need reflected? I don’t have an opinion yet, but things have changed over time.

“Also, have we considered the use of gendered pronouns in this document,” continued Puckett Daniels. “Do we want to change ‘he/she’ with ‘they.’ Would a gender-neutral person that wants to drive the RTA feel welcomed with the document?”

“Are there other training opportunities in this area for employees,” added board member Liz Smith.

Truex and Galle said all drivers and employees are required to participate in trainings dealing with the topic.

“The county is doing an internal review of its documents on this topic so maybe that is why I’m thinking about it,” said Puckett Daniels. 

Truex said he would add non-gendered pronouns to the document and bring the policy back to the board at their next meeting for more discussion. He also said he will investigate the way to include allowing drivers to play music based only on FCC guidelines. The policy discussion will continue at the next RTA board meeting.

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