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Actions taken against bus drivers caught talking or texting on cell phones has increased nearly 60 percent this year, according to NYC Transit.

The agency has reprimanded, suspended or fired 170 drivers for using cell phones and handheld devices while on duty through September – compared to 108 for the entire duration of 2008.

The agency suspended and tried to fire Jeremy Philhower, a bus operator for texting while driving. But, last week an arbitrator ordered him to training instead. On his first day back on the job, his bus struck and killed Seth Kahn, 22.

While he hasn’t been charged with any wrongdoing, Kahn’s family is outraged that the arbitrator allowed him to retain his job.

The agency attributes the increase in disciplinary actions against drivers to increased enforcement, including random observations of drivers.

NYC Transit and the State Public Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash. If the agency determines the accident could have been prevented by Philhower, they could seek to fire him again.

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