Busted for bussing while busing in Portland

Two 14-year-old girls were kicked off the No. 12 Tri-Met route for kissing, and a driver is in big trouble. But how the story developed on the Web is just as interesting.
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Maika Rich (left) and Jocelyn O'Neal, Portland's teenage bussers. (KATU-TV)

Two 14-year-old girls were kicked off the No. 12 Tri-Met route for kissing, and a driver is in big trouble. But how the story developed on the Web is just as interesting.

Drivers for Tri-Met, the transit agency for the Portland area, get some of the industry's best tools and training on how to deal with would-be bombers and other security threats. It's a safe bet that their classroom time will now include a brush-up on the proper way to deal with PDA (that's "public display of affection" for you home-schooled readers) between riders of the same sex. The trainers could save everyone some time by putting this on a Post-It: DRIVERS: STAY OFF THE INTERNET Here's a rundown on what can only be called the Bussing Aboard the Bus Case. It all hit the fan June 11, when Portland Mercury writer Matt Davis blogged that a Tri-Met driver told two 14-year-old girls to "knock it off" and called them "sickos" after another passenger complained that the two were kissing. When hugging continued, the girls were ordered off, writes Davis. KATU-TV picked it up and we were off to the races. The mother of one of the girls went on local talk radio to decry the driver's actions. As one Internet chat room defended Tri-Met drivers as "totally great people, so don't rag on one idiot," another e-mail stream called for same-sex couples to board Tri-Met buses and do as much kissing as they could before their transfers ran out. Tri-Met responded, as appropriate, by saying the incident would be checked out, leaving it at that until more was known. Nine days later, the agency released a statement saying the veteran driver involved would be subject to disciplinary action. In between, the Mercury writers put in some long hours of online sleuthing, and a group of Tri-Met operators – or was it a group pretending to be Tri-Met operators? – gave them plenty to dig up. On June 18, Davis wrote on the Mercury's Blogtown PDX site that In the comments to our story, disturbingly, someone claiming inside knowledge at Trimet says drivers are now circulating the girls' pictures with a view to denying them service on the buses in future, if the driver gets fired. Davis blogged back and forth with angry readers, reminding them that it was not yet clear if the claims about drivers passing photos was true. Mercury writer Amy Ruiz then picked up the story: Now, I don't know if there are actual photos circulating at the bus barn, but I did find this – photos of the girls posted to a 149-member email list "for Trimet operators to share stories, concerns, favorite lines and buses etc. ..." Ruiz stayed in her chair until she figured out the name of the Tri-Met driver who posted the stuff to the Tri-Met operators' e-mail list. Apparently, some not-so-bright member of the e-mail list picked up a photo of the girls from a local TV Web site, then passed it on with the rant that these obvious delinquents should be barred from buses. The stuff disappeared in a few hours after Ruiz outed them. But she later found some butt-covering rhetoric by the person who yanked the offending info. (It is so hard to quit blogging once you start, isn't it? Step away from the keyboard ...) On Wednesday, June 20, Ruiz reported on the result of Tri-Met's investigation, saying a 64-year-old male bus driver would "face disciplinary action" because the riders' "actions did not warrant being removed from the bus, and TriMet policy requires operators to call for assistance before removing a minor off the bus." Meanwhile other local media had come aboard, picking up the Tri-Met statement and quoting the agency's apologies to the girls and their families. Of course, this isn't going to fade away now. The Merc will stay on it, and other newspapers and news sites have to follow it up, too, or look like they are being bested by their smaller, scrappier comrades.


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