Bus drivers applaud no-ring bill
Some regular riders wonder how a ban on cell phone tones would be enforced
Maile Spencer learned the City Council wanted to ban her from using her cell phone's ringer on the city's buses only after the Council passed a bill to do exactly that.
"It sucks," Spencer, 18, said. "That's not fair because it's not normal. It's in a public area."
Spencer, who sets her cell phone's ringer to high so she can hear it, has never had any complaints from people before.
"When your phone rings, nobody cares. (Although) some people may look at you, I just think there's no use in making that" law, she said.
The bill would require that cell phone ring tones, voices, sound effects and other sounds from electronic devices be silenced while on the city's buses and special transit vehicles.
Phone conversations would still be legal, but ring tones and walkie-talkie conversations would be forbidden.
Hannemann, who is likely to pass the bill, has until Dec. 29 to sign it, said Bill Brennan, a city spokesperson.
Hundreds of city bus drivers signed a petition to show their support of the bill because the ring tones and sound effects, some of which sound like people screaming or loud music, distract the drivers and annoy or startle the passengers.
"Thank goodness," said Joan Velles, a city bus driver for 14 years, in response to the City Council passing the bill.
"We get one stressful job and a heavy responsibility. We deal with lives. We do what we can to drive them safely," she said.
Walter Contradez, a bus driver for seven years, said a law against cell phone rings and sounds would give him more sway with insolent riders.
"They get all mad," he said. "They get all (upset) when you tell them to turn it down as if they got the option."
He's even had riders ask him to tell other riders to turn down their cell phones or to speak softer.
But riders had more mixed reactions about the possible ban.
Clarence Fung, 74, who supports the ban, compared it to a ban on smoking in public areas.
"One is the smell, the other is the ears," he said. "You're in a bus, not in your own car."
Some seemed less bothered by electronic sounds on the bus.
"It doesn't bother me," said Cindy Silver, 51. But she added that the ban might help elders who may be sensitive to sounds or drivers who are trying to concentrate. "All these different ring tones, it kind of distracts the driver -- for safety reasons, why not?"
Elsa Garcia, 29, wondered how effective the ban could be.
"I don't think they (other riders) will pay attention to it," she said. "It's kind of silly. It's about a cell phone and who's going to enforce it -- the driver?"
While passengers may not be allowed to let their phones ring, bus drivers are not allowed to operate buses with a cell phone of their own in the on position, said Roger Morton, president and general manager of Oahu Transit Services, which operates TheBus and TheHandi-Van.
"We have had that as a perpetual problem," Morton said. "We've asked supervisors to be on the look out for that and if they do find an operator that is using a cell phone or wearing a cell phone adapter, to take action on that," he said.
Expect the ring tone ban to be initiated as soon as Hannemann signs the bill, Morton said.
A campaign would educate riders about the new law using posters or announcements, while drivers would have a pre-recorded audio announcement, activated by button, reminding passengers to silence their cell phone ringers or electric devices, Morton said.
The objective is not to punish people, but to get people to act courteously toward others, Morton said.
"We're going to have to have a new era of figuring out what politically correct cell phone rings are and where it's appropriate to do that," Morton said. "I think our whole society's going to do that."
Morton said other cities, including New York City, are watching Honolulu and have contacted him to see if the ban is successful.