Sunday, April 30, 2017

RISE UP AND FIGHT!

In my post "Defend Us, Don't Suspend Us!" I forgot to add we've been shot at too. Yeah, with actual bullets. I'll bet our upper management gets squirmy if anyone even raises their voice at a meeting. No wonder it moved its offices far away from the action... it's too hot for them.

I've simply had it with this kangaroo court management suspending our drivers, most of us suffering from some degree of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, for defending themselves. According to our union reps, they totally ignore PTSD and armchair quarterback every situation. Safely, in the past tense. Study videos of the incidents and such. We can't tell an assailant, "No, hold on, wait a minute before you attempt to murder me. I have to call our GM and ask him what an appropriate response would be."

"You should have done this, not that," they say later, smugly condemning us for doing what comes naturally.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, PTSD is defined as a "disorder that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary or dangerous event." Most bus operators, supervisors and rail operators have it, I can assure you. These events happen every day in transit.

The NIH also adds "It is natural to feel afraid during and after a traumatic situation." After the event, for months and even years later, the effects are still felt. In fact, they may "feel stressed or frightened even when they are not in danger." Wow, management, if you're reading this, I hope you feel ashamed. How many operators, after an assault of any kind, are asked to continue in service? Many of us do, and have. The result is distracted driving, because I know from experience, the event is the only damn thing you think about the rest of the shift, and often for days afterward. It's even worse when an operator is severely beaten or worse, as they wonder what they could have done differently, or how they could have defended themselves if not for being afraid of what discipline awaited. It's simply maddening that we're having this conversation, as it defies all logic and human understanding.

PTSD is real, but management ignores it. Soldiers are the biggest group of victims. While we're not faced with what they experience, we're still unarmed worker bees in a volatile environment. We can't use anything as a "weapon," or face possible termination. If we "leave the seat," we're suspended, possibly fired. We're not allowed to carry anything like mace or pepper spray. Just take your punches they say. Reasonably. Even cops say they wouldn't do our job.

WHERE IS THE UNION?

Where is the outright outrage, indignation and union strength that once beat the crap out of anyone that dared challenge it? I'll tell you where... it's gone. Because not enough of us care to even show up and try to make a difference. We're a shadow of what we once were. There is no more backbone. It seems all we do is compromise. And talk. Well I say to hell with that crap. Ten, 20 years ago, these criminals would have faced a union army for assaulting us. Management pampers the criminals and punishes the victims, the very people it says it "appreciates."

I'd like to see our union officers hit the airwaves and the print media, demanding management be held accountable for its inaction. All it has right now is a plan to cage us in. What a pitiful, weak move. If someone wants to get at us, they will. A barrier to an assailant is an insult. It simply won't work. Self defense courses would help. Plus getting off our backs and letting us do our jobs without number hacks wailing about "On Time Performance" adding to our stress would be nice as well. We have enough stress out there, and schedule shouldn't be one of them. Finishing a route safely is our number one goal, not metrics.

How many of you reading this would be able to just cower and hide if someone attacked you for no reason? Not many, I'll bet. You'd at least throw up an arm to block a punch. How many of these managers would fight back if they were slapped, punched, spit on or threatened with a knife and a gun? They wouldn't have the luxury of watching tape and discussing what constitutes the bullshit term "reasonable defense." They'd either fight back or shrivel into a whining, whimpering ball. Fight or flight is a natural human response to any threat. There's no time to rationalize the proper response, you just react. You don't have the mental capacity to determine what is "correct," you can only do as your body commands. We're supposed to instantly short-circuit millions of years of evolutionary biology to satisfy some ridiculous corporate doublespeak.

I suffer from PTSD due to several incidents that have happened while I was operating. Some of them happened years ago, but they still pop up when I pass by certain places. Where I was once easy-going and affable, I find myself irritated and angry sometimes. It isn't a fun way to live, and my body certainly isn't taking it well. It's harder to pleasantly interact with passengers, and I have to grit my teeth when I smile at them somedays. Stress is a killer, and management seems to invent new ways of adding to what we already go through. Gee, thanks guys.

The time is now to rise up as one across the world. Shout to the media and demand we be given more respect. Insist the Beasley Doctrine be adopted, and not only here but everywhere good men and women take the wheel of a bus every day. If management can't complete this vital task, it should be replaced.

I'm tired of having sand kicked in my face. Aren't you? We're being threatened and punished by the very people whose job it is to protect us. There's more of us than there are of them, and we're the reason they have jobs to begin with. It's time to shake things up. Enough is enough.

Deke

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Just Yield Already

Oh gee, let's just cut off that bus before he gets to the stop. No big deal.

Deke's Note: I'm interested in hearing from bus operators all around the world on this subject. Please let me know your area's laws regarding yielding to transit vehicles. It's interesting to know how you all deal with this issue.

I found an interesting post on FaceBook yesterday. An operator shared a photo of our Yield signal along with the law regarding motorists being legally obligated to allow a transit vehicle to merge back into traffic (ORS 811.167). This post brought about some road rage against us, so I've decided to address this issue... From the Driver Side of a bus.

First, the law itself:

"A person commits the offense of failure to yield the right of way to a transit bus entering traffic if the person does not (do so) when: A) A yield sign is displayed on the back of the bus; B) the person is operating a vehicle that is overtaking the transit bus from the rear; and C) the transit bus, after stopping to receive or discharge passengers, is signaling an intention to enter the traffic lane occupied by the person."

There was a lot of anger directed toward bus operators. One comment stated, "within .02 seconds of turning it on (yield signal) they pull out." Of course, this person was using exaggeration to make a point. I say "touché!" Let's explore traffic patterns a bit.

On heavy routes, let's say the 33 for example, since the post in question was from a driver on that line, the bus runs much of the way on McLoughlin Blvd. It is also known as State Highway 99 East, and is heavily traveled all hours each day. At rush hour, thousands of motorists inch along between downtown Portland through Oregon City. Not only are there cars, but factor in tractor-trailers, motor homes, buses, delivery trucks, skaters, motorcycles, pedestrians and bicycles, it's a very dangerous road at any time. Of any 100 vehicles at any given point, approximately 10-20 percent are operated by professional drivers. (Professional meaning a driver who is heavily trained in safety procedures and must hold and maintain a Commercial Driver's License with current medical certification. They receive regular training and evaluation. Private motorists are trained as teens and rarely have further training.)

Another 20-30 percent of motorists are inexperienced young drivers who are often the most impatient. They take outrageous chances with your life, and their own. The rest are most likely people who have driven between one and six decades. Many are not focused on the task at hand. They employ tunnel vision, not taking the time to fully scan the road around and behind them, let alone 12-15 seconds ahead. When you don't keep your head and eyes moving, your peripheral vision virtually disappears within three or four seconds. This is a very dangerous, sometimes fatal, mistake. When accidents happen, one of the most common things people say is "I never saw them!" Sadly, if they had been scanning their surroundings properly, they would have seen and probably had enough time to avoid the collision.

Only a small percentage of motorists are safe and courteous. They see potential hazards before they need to react, and take appropriate actions to avoid disaster. Of course, this annoys people behind them, who don't even realize the guy they just honked at saved another's life. My hat is off to those people who get what safe driving is all about.

A bus operator's job is one of the most stressful of all positions, just below firefighters, police officers, and air traffic controllers. We're constantly watching around us for possible dangers. It's not nearly as easy as many think. Giving rides to people is only one part of the many facets of this job. My eyes are constantly scanning. See that kid up ahead on the sidewalk? What if the ball he's tossing around rolls into the street, and both he and his dog chase it directly into my path? I'm watching him, the bicyclist charging up on my right side, the traffic ahead of and behind me, my time clock, passengers within and waiting just past the kid, and the intersection immediately ahead. I'm making calculations on braking distance for the possible kid's actions and the bus stop while keeping watch over the bicyclist. Once I've let the cycle past, I can ease into the bus stop, load passengers and wait for them to sit or hold on before I put on that left turn signal and the annoying yield light.

This is where it gets tricky. Imagine scanning traffic in a rectangle and determining speeds and distances of approaching vehicles of various sizes while also keeping track of the scene ahead and all around the 40-foot rig you're captain of. The yield light warns motorists to avoid colliding with us. It's a motorist's responsibility to watch for our signals and react responsibly and lawfully. We stop and then merge hundreds of times a day. When others do their part it becomes a finely-tuned symphony and a time-lapse video would show a harmonic flow of cooperation. When motorists don't cooperate, we can get frustrated. We're trying to do a job, but Junior is just headed to Fred's for pancake syrup and Fritos. Is it really important for him to zip past us just because he can? That traffic light ahead is turning red... why race around a bus to get there first?

If we're late, especially lately as management pushes us to put on-time performance ahead of safety, it adds enormous pressure to an already intense job. Every time a long line of vehicles blatantly ignores our yield light, it adds up in time lost on the run. This, along with passengers not having fare ready upon boarding, bicycles going on our rack, people who use mobility devices needing assistance, and traffic jams all contribute to our being late. So it's not surprising those who complain about us pulling back into the road in front of them would have plenty of time to facilitate these merges, if they were paying proper attention to what's happening ahead. Maybe some operators push the limits, but they're infinitely more patient than 95% of those with whom we share the road.

It's a matter of perception. When we look in the mirror and see a car far enough behind for us to merge, with the yield light signaling our intentions, then notice the front end of that car lifting in acceleration rather than lowering in a braking maneuver, we might just go anyway. It's called being "politely aggressive." It's something every professional driver knows as an unwritten code. We have to be this way sometimes or we'd always end up an hour late. The following car is being "recklessly aggressive," because by speeding up to overtake us, they're risking not only their own safety but also the other obstacles they might encounter by attempting such a foolish move. A car can slow and stop much faster than a bus. Unfortunately, motorists are annoyed by buses and increasingly adopt a "me first" attitude. We see this attitude magnified on Black Fridays in big box stores around the nation.

Another point motorists largely fail to consider is the guy who just left the bus. If he's a few pennies shy of a nickel, he'll bounce right out in front of the bus and walk right into traffic. If you zip past thinking "I'll show that bus driver to get in front of me!" while a pedestrian pops right in front of the bus despite my honking to alert him of this horrible choice, you might hit him. Think of how late that will make you. We have a sign over the front door that reads "Do Not Cross In Front Of Bus." Guess how many people ignore it? That's right, most of them. I'm constantly warning people about this who have just left the safety of my ride. Just last week a guy almost got bumper-checked this way. They think the bus will protect them, but motorists cannot see around or through a 40-foot monster. Kids just out of school have been taught it's not only safe, but legal to cross in front of a school bus; they have signs too. How many motorists reading this can honestly say they always stop for a school bus with signs and lights activated?

We have limited time to do a route. Efficiency in boarding passengers is vital to keep on schedule. Most of our time servicing a stop is spent merging back into traffic. If everyone works together, we all arrive safely at our destinations in a timely manner. A few seconds lost to yield to a larger vehicle than yours is not only logical, but practical too. You'll make up those few seconds the next time the bus stops and you zoom past it. Make the wrong decision, and you (and others) could die. Pretty simple choice, right? Obey the law by doing the right thing and you're safe. Challenge it, and you're looking at trouble.

When you're coming up on a bus that is pulled over to the stop, ask yourself these questions. Did it just pull over and people are boarding? Which turn signal is activated? Is the yield light flashing and is the bus moving? Is that traffic light red ahead? A truly attentive motorist asks these questions automatically and makes proactive decisions based on the answers. This person is keenly aware they are in control of a potential deadly weapon, and drive safely. People who "just don't care," like one who commented on the FB post, are collision magnets.

It would be great if police departments actually enforced ORS 811.167. Milwaukie is aggressive when it comes to speeding. Sure, speed kills. But so does inattention, recklessness and outright rudeness. Put yourself in my seat, and you'd see things From the Driver Side. Until then, please just give us a "brake." It might just save your life, and someone else's too.





Saturday, April 15, 2017

Chill Out, Boss

So management wants to know who Deke is. Why? So they can do what? Pressure me to shut up?

I've figured for a few years the bosses would be curious as to my identity, so I kept the pseudonym. It's better that way. I don't use names, nor do I believe in outright rudeness toward those in management. My words may sometimes be harsh and judgmental, but I also try to balance them with some degree of empathy. When people in power do something that is hurtful however, I tend to pounce. Sometimes I feel guilt after posting a particularly angry piece. But hey... I said in the beginning that this blog would chronicle my career. It describes how I feel "out there," and it has resonated with transit operators all over the world. I must be doing something right. It's up to those with a loud voice to shout it out when "shit ain't right."

Once again, and this time with gusto, I plead with you. If you know my identity and someone asks you who Deke is, please do NOT tell them my name. I am one of you, we are US, and I'm here for everyone who does this job.

"I cannot tell you who Deke is," you could say. "I can't remember his name anyway."

There are a thousand of us, more or less. It's hard to remember everyone's name. Please forget mine. If management figures out who I am, I fully expect to be thrust under the microscope. Any minor slip could become a major catastrophe. Why would they mess with me? Because they can, and that's the only reason they need. Anyone whose voice is out of harmony with the agency's chorus is a dangerous wedge in their stranglehold on public perception.

Funny thing is, if management used common sense and treated us with respect and dignity, my blog would have a much lighter tone. As I come up on the fourth anniversary of From The Driver Side, it's interesting to read through the posts. I've become cynical and combative. Humor has taken a back seat to frustration. I keep hoping my posts will help management see how backed into a corner we feel. Why they can't work with rather than against us, is confusing.

I don't like being a warrior. I'm peaceful in nature. I love people, especially those with whom I work. Management should be our brothers and sisters too, but seems to enjoy this Us vs. Them mentality. It's destructive, and certainly doesn't help those we all serve: the riding public.

Chill out, y'all up there on Harrison Street. We make the wheels roll, so please remove the speed bumps. I hate a bumpy ride.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Defend US, Don't Suspend US!

We've been beaten, battered and bludgeoned. Stabbed, spit upon and slapped. I thought management said we're a F-A-M-I-L-Y? At least that's what was advertised on our deadhead signs for months before this message mysteriously disappeared. Problem is, they're disciplining US for protecting ourselves.

STOP ASSAULTING OUR OPERATORS!

This is the message our union and management should be screaming at every opportunity via every media outlet. Since its silence is deafening, I will do the shouting. Damnit, the absurdity has reached new levels with every assault, and I'm fed up! We ALL are. Except our management, evidently, who seems to be furious with US for defending ourselves. This is asinine, inhumane and infuriating to any normal human.

Our union reps recently defended a brother who has been assaulted SIX times in the past year. He was summoned to a disciplinary hearing because he "left the seat" after being punched and tackled his assailant. Well gee, did they expect him to hand the guy a lollipop and kiss his hand? Offer him a refreshment, maybe even buy him a bottle of booze at the closest liquor store?

After being assaulted the sixth time, this operator is suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This is something our nation's brave soldiers suffer after the horrors of warfare, and many sadly take their own lives because their anguish is unbearable. Yet bus operators are expected to be super-human. We're supposed to take our beatings meekly. We're suspended for fighting back. Our brother's plea to consider his own PTSD was reportedly ignored, and he was suspended. When I heard this, it felt as if management had leveled a gut punch and slapped us several times when we hit the ground. This isn't supporting your front line employees, it's being outrageously punitive.

It is natural for a human being to not only defend himself, but to at least prevent his assailant from inflicting further damage. Management has stated we're not allowed to do so, even though Oregon State Law allows us this basic right. Its ambiguous policy is that we're allowed "reasonable self defense" when attacked, but we're subjected to a panel of Monday Morning Quarterbacks who lambast us for our actions after our bodies have experienced Fight or Flight Syndrome. We don't have time to call and ask their opinion during an attack, we have to react instantly to preserve our own safety. Some victims endure pain and traumatic flashbacks for months afterward. For someone who's been attacked even once, our agency's rules are biologically impossible to adhere to. This operator, after having endured bodily injury and PTSD from five previous assaults, couldn't take this latest insult. So he tackled his assailant, didn't inflict any injury, and returned to the bus to hit the silent alarm. He waited 22 minutes for police to arrive. By that time, the bad guy was long gone.

This is an operator with no history of violence. We're vetted to the extreme, with the slightest of previous incidents thoroughly investigated prior to being employed as an operator. But PTSD is something many of us, myself included, deal with on a daily basis. Some managers have never been behind the wheel of an in-service bus. They've never dealt with passengers who consider mayhem a hobby. They're insulated from our world, which is the reality of transit. They deal in numbers, we transport those unable to understand proper behavior, let alone practice it.

There is wide disconnect between transit management and its frontline workers. It's so bad, union workers went to Salem to lobby the Oregon Legislature to increase penalties on our assailants.

The recent fare policy fiasco is another indicator of management's lack of perspective. It thinks that by not prosecuting fare evasion that it will protect operators from fare issues. It actually makes the situation worse, because now we have nothing in our arsenal to keep some of the troublemakers off our vehicles. If nobody has to pay, they're not invested in a safe, peaceful ride. It also erodes the respect we should reasonably expect as professional drivers. Most passengers pay and are courteous. It's the bad apples who cause trouble, even when they get a free ride. They have no respect for anybody, especially us.

I've read widely of abuse, even murder, of transit operators worldwide. It's a pandemic, and all the agencies have come up with so far is caging us like zoo animals in a pathetic band-aid to this monstrous problem. New hires are shaking their heads as they try to sort through this nightmare. They can't believe the mental health disaster we face daily, and are appalled at the seeming lack of concern for our well-being.

Our brother was suspended for, among other things, "violence in the workplace." As if it was his own fault he was assaulted. We are responsible for the safety of all inside and outside of our vehicles. We expect passengers to behave in a manner consistent with agency code. When they break the rules, it endangers the safety of our peaceful passengers if we don't refuse service to troublemakers. This assailant did exit, but not before leveling a punch at the oft-beaten operator. Instead of focusing on the criminal's behavior, they suspended the operator. This is intolerable and irresponsible, and we all deserve an apology. This punitive action disregards our safety. Our brother deserves compassion and aid. Instead, he's been served with the most horrible of insults.

Safety Is Our Core Value? So why then, are we brutally served the core? Where is the value? Come on folks, this statement is ludicrous. We're owed not only an apology, but an entirely-revamped system that values, rather than dehumanizes, US.

I recently spoke with an operator who stated she's been assaulted 12 times on the job. Some would argue this number suggests she has a "bad attitude." Perhaps she does, but even gentle people bite back after being mistreated. If an office worker is assaulted, do you think her management would punish her rather than the assailant? If she fought off a rapist, would she be suspended? Not in any rational world. We don't live there; transit operators work in the trenches, and it's an often an irrational environment.

My wife and I never thought this job would be so treacherous. Police officers and firefighters go to work with the full realization they might not live through a shift. But even cops shake their heads and tell us they wouldn't do our jobs. We're on our own. Not allowed to carry any sort of implement that could be construed as a weapon. No pepper spray or mace. Just sit there and take a beating, and maybe you'll still have a job if you don't raise your hand in defense. If you live through it, don't complain to the media without management approval. Free speech is one thing, but if you puncture the fallacy of this "safety" mantra bubble, the backlash is severe. We all know nothing is free... everything comes with a price.

Transit workers are vigilant protectors of the communities we serve. Dispatchers tell us we're "the eyes and ears of transit." When we see people in jeopardy, we call for help. A Portland operator was recently hailed for heroism when he alerted a sleeping family their home was burning, saving their lives. A Milwaukee, Wisconsin operator spotted two young children walking alone and stopped to help, learning they were lost, so she brought them aboard and alerted police. We don't just drive, we are unofficial members of every neighborhood's watch program. Yet, when we're assaulted or involved in a collision, it seems we're automatically at fault.

One reader recently lambasted me for being negative. "Bitch, bitch, bitch," they wrote, also saying that I need "a new job." No, I truly love my job. I enjoy providing people a smooth, safe ride. To endure abuse in silence, however, is something I cannot do. When my fellow operators are being pummeled and then suspended, I'm gonna bitch. Passionately, with gusto. If management pitches conflicting policies at us, I'm gonna take a swing.

Without communication, there is no understanding. When only one side communicates, the majority loses. We should not cower beneath the shadow of blind compliance. The truth is light, just a step away from the darkness of silence. Winter is over... I'm ready for sunshine.

Friday, April 7, 2017

You Want Us to What?

Avoiding potholes is a new road sport here lately.

Sometimes, people are hired to do a job they know little about. They look good on paper, have degrees and have held positions in which they've done well. Then they're hired to do something totally foreign to anything they have ever known. With a vengeance and good intentions, they burst onto the scene ready to implement innovative ideas and offer a new vision to old standards. In some industries, this can improve working conditions. In transit however, new management hires don't see far enough to avoid the potholes we already know are there.

We are suffering the effects of contradictory policies. It's confusing and frustrating to insist we be perfect in safety, schedule, and customer service. The three cannot all align in transit. It is certainly our goal, but from training onward we have been instructed that safety comes first. Always. Next, in no particular order, the other two follow. The best we can do is come close to weaving them all together, but it is basically impossible to have all three in harmony.

Transit agency management has a penchant for treating these entities as corporations. They crunch numbers and study trends while implementing policies which look good on paper. Everything would be perfect, in their minds, if operators would just run on schedule. Every run, each day. Oh but don't sacrifice safety, because "it's our core value!" Whatever you do, be nice to those 350,000 people who use our system every day. Oh sure, some of them will assault you, but we'll soon have you locked in cages so don't worry about that. You're here for them after all, to treat them as fragile daisies no matter what happens. Management wants the public to admire their constant improvements to the system. Operators? Oh they're overpaid, "undereducated" (a popular term coined by a local radio host) and greedy pucks who are only necessary until buses can drive themselves. Besides, driving a bus is so easy even a monkey could do it, right Lars Larson?

What these number crunchers don't realize is how much skill is required simply to move a bus or light rail vehicle, let alone do it safely. While middle management employs former operators to some degree, the majority of upper management is staffed with people whose only experience with transit is as passengers. This creates a major disconnect with those of us who roll the wheels.

In order to reduce assaults, management decided to "de-criminalize" fare evasion. While I applaud their intent after several years of rising numbers of transit worker beat-downs, it's like applying duct tape to a broken axle. It may hold for a few moments, but the weight is too extreme for the fix to be effective. When you tell a public it no longer is required by law to pay a price for a ride on our extensive transit system, eventually a majority of passengers will simply stop paying. They are no longer invested in the service. Revenue will fall, and when corporations lose money, they cut services. Some industries follow with salary cuts. This is not how you improve morale.

Next, tack on our agency's latest push: being on schedule. Management sees numbers. We see trends in traffic and passenger flow, and how to work with a schedule that benefits both ourselves and the riding public. After driving a route for a week or two, we know where the passengers will be at any given point in the route. If we're a bit early at one time point, we know how long to wait before taking off again so that we're not late to the next one. We know that if we're late at Point A by a few minutes, chances are good to excellent that if we play it right, we'll be right on time at Point B. We're also aware that Jimmy Hardhat gets off work precisely a minute after we're due at the stop he boards from, and if we're too early he has to wait another 15-20 for the next bus. If we hang out at the time point a few stops prior until we're late a few minutes, Jimmy gets to his connecting bus on time and we're still a bit late but will soon make up the time. If we're too early for him yet exactly on schedule, Jimmy will call Customer Service and lodge a complaint against us. Even though we're on schedule by letting Jimmy wait, we're not providing him the service he's accustomed to. Too many complaints result in disciplinary action. We don't like to leave Jimmy behind, and he hates standing in the pouring rain for several minutes hoping the next bus isn't late or broken down. He always has his fare ready when boarding, and is kind and polite to the drivers. He's the kind of passenger we enjoy driving home. He always thanks us on the way out the door, and has helped calm unruly people to keep us rolling.

Due to management's push to make sure we're on schedule, our ability to provide personal service declines. In order to please the bean counters, we feel pressured to not leave that time point  "late" so the schedule metrics match management's unreasonable expectations.

Management swears they don't expect us to ignore safety in favor of schedule. But when they pull an operator into their office to "counsel" them on being a few minutes late every day, they're not giving credit for everything we do out there. Many transit passengers have been riding for years, even decades. They help us understand our own version of "metrics." When is that lady who uses a mobility device going to be at this stop as opposed to another? When does that connecting bus leave the transit center? If I leave a time point just a few seconds early, I'll help them make that connection. If there's a supervisor parked watching us at this time point and we leave early, we risk being disciplined for helping our regulars. Waiting out the time makes the passengers miss their connections but hey, at least management's happy.

Operators also communicate with each other about transferring passengers. Often, several bus lines will converge upon a transit center at the same time others are leaving. It used to be that operators would wait if we gave them a polite "beep beep" of the horn upon arrival. Now, we're too afraid of the schedule masters, and I've recently noticed some drivers refuse to wait. This causes tension between riders and operators. We've seen the results of this too many bloody times. Not all assaults happen because of fare disputes.

Which leads us to the most important of all our goals: safety. If we're expected to be on time every damn time, how are we supposed to do this? While I drive the same way whether I'm on time or late, some newer operators are feeling pressured. They're not experienced enough yet, but they might press that accelerator a notch or two over the speed limit to make up time. Each mile per hour over the limit exponentially increases the chances of disaster. Experienced, safe operators won't sacrifice safety for unreasonable expectations of management. No matter how they try to spin it all, their recent insistence on perfection is just plain reckless.

We're very good at what we do: safely transporting passengers to their destinations in huge and heavy vehicles. I try not to run late, and I avoid being too early. We all have our own metrics. They mostly deal with learning a route and its intricate details, passenger habits and behaviors, and squeezing just enough time out of tight schedules to enjoy a decent break on either end. It takes many years to learn this fine balancing act, and helps us remain happy and healthy in the seat.

As I've said before, people working in management should be required to drive a few miles in our seat. Maybe then they would learn true respect for what we do and how it's accomplished. Otherwise, they should respectfully back off and let us do our jobs.



Thursday, March 30, 2017

We Predict the Future

When you're almost done with the day's work, sometimes you find yourself easing up a bit. Only one or two passengers remain aboard at the end of the line. Your stomach growls, anticipating a nice dinner and some relaxation afterward. You turn left and then... BAM!

Kid skateboarding down ramp... I see him, STOP, he sees bus, jumps off and board rolls directly under bus, bounces off front wheel and right back to him. We saw impending disaster at the same instant, but it escaped us both. How fortuitous.

I saw him rolling down that ramp hell-bent for leather as I turned. My son is a skateboarder, and I imagined it was him. It didn't look as if he had time to stop before rolling directly into my path, so I did. The kid even signaled me that he wanted to crawl under and grab the board. Emphatically, I held my hand out to say STOP YOU DUMBASS! The timing was perfect. Immediately after, the skateboard bounced off the front left tire and rolled back out to the kid. What a sigh of relief I exhaled. The two people on the bus, seated in the rear, missed it all. My heart missed about five beats.

On my deadhead back to the garage, my mind was awash with "what ifs?" and I couldn't believe what had happened. Even though I had the end of the line directly ahead, I remained focused enough to see everything I needed to avoid a fatal encounter.

What is safety to me? If somebody died after making contact with my bus, I would hope to look their family members in the eyes and say, "I'm sorry this happened, but I truly did everything I could to prevent this disaster."

Dad always taught me to scan around at other motorists and imagine the worst possible thing that could happen at any given moment, to have a plan in case it happened, and be ready to execute that plan. And Plan B, C and so on. That's safe driving.

Sometimes I take it too far. Driving along about 40mph on a heavily-forested road on my route one stormy Saturday, I envisioned a tree falling into the road directly ahead of me. What could I do? Veer one way and hit a still-standing tree: disaster. Steer another direction and fly 200 feet downhill into a raging river, possibly flattening an oncoming vehicle while doing so: equal doom factor. The safest thing I could do would be a controlled hard brake and hope to slow enough before impact so that any injuries would be minimal.

I see a lot of possible disasters as my 20 tons rolls along. One driver today described an incident where she had to firmly stop her bus to avoid colliding with two other motorists who weren't thinking rationally while driving. If she hadn't stopped, a collision would have surely happened. She was frustrated that they had done this, and asked what we're supposed to do in these cases. I responded: "predict what they're gonna do, and act accordingly." A newbie, she asked how to do this. The only answer is that it comes with experience. Yet, even the most senior drivers can be surprised. Vigilance is paramount, along with never being in a hurry.

The more miles we drive, many things happen. We either just hum along without thinking or scanning enough, or we diligently apply what we were trained to do in the beginning. While doing the latter, we learn predictable motorist behavior. Then other times new twists to older themes come about, and they're added to our toolbox. We adapt, learn new methods of seeing what might happen, and pray we're ready for the unknown.

Tonight I was lucky enough to have just enough experience to simply shake my head at the kid, wait for him to clear out, and continue on my way. Even luckier, the kid was able to as well.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

A Riddle and A Frog

The sun came out to play on Thursday. How refreshing to know spring is near! I finally had the chance to test my new eyeglasses, and thankfully they darken inside the bus too. It was quite a challenge when the rainy streets were ablaze in sunlight and my old specs didn't filter the glare. Either way, I hope this is a glimpse of more to come.

With the bright rays came a lighter mood. I was jovial, opposed to the previous five months of steady rain dampening my spirits. Plus, that happened to be St. Patrick's Day so people were playful. When thinking of bloggable subjects, I came up with this bus operator's riddle:

This shade of green beckons from afar,
Shining below an amber star.
But if you try to reach it too quickly,
The result could render some sickly.

I doubt this will fool most of you,
Today it's framed by a shade of blue
We Nor'westerners rarely can see;
Oh what then my dears, could it be?



* * *

A sweet girl boarded my bus on a layover one recent rainy evening. Her hands were cupped protectively in front of her, around something I couldn't see.

Noticing my curious glance, she asked "Want to see my frog?"

Instantly, I was trying to figure out if this was acceptable behavior. She had ridden before, and had always been sweet and respectful. What came out of my mouth next was a surprise to us both.

"Oh," I said, "is that your service frog?"

After we both laughed at my clumsy humor, she explained. 

"I'm bringing it to my friend because you see, I broke his terrarium earlier and I feel bad. I wanted to give him something to make up for it."

I was simultaneously amused and perplexed. What if little Freddy escaped his bondage and jumped up some lady's skirt? Might somebody's work boot accidentally prove fatal to this juvenile amphibian?

Stepping off the bus to contemplate amongst a satisfying cloud of nicotine vapor, I was flummoxed. Knowing the Standard Operating Procedures require pets to be in an enclosure, it worried me she didn't have one. If someone complained, I might hear some grumbling from management.

Luckily, a friend picked her up a few minutes later. My worries were no longer valid.

Service frog, indeed.