Sunday, August 13, 2017

My Words to Your Eyes

John Denver once spoke about how songs just came along and he just played them as if they'd been there along, just waiting to come out.

"I had nothing to do with it," he said. It's like that with my writing. I just sit here at the keyboard, eyes closed. Thoughts just flood through my mind and out my fingertips. I'm just telling you what I've seen, like you're sitting here with me and we're having a conversation. One-sided, that is. You're just listening as my hands relay my mind's wanderings.

Sometimes while driving the bus, I have the greatest urge to just tell you what I'm thinking at that precise moment. It's mind-blowing, folks! The best stuff I've thought of to date! By the end of the day though, those wonderful ideas have faded with the sunset, and I'm left with my aging mind trying to recall them. By the time I'm sitting here at home, being soothed by my music and working at my great aunt's beloved 90-year-old oak desk, I just close my eyes, breathe deeply and let the words come forth. Like Denver said, mostly I have "nothing to do with it."

Feelings. They're honest and open, if you allow them to be. Unlike opinions, which are crafted and deliberated upon. If you sit back and let them escape, feelings surprise you more often than not. Held within, they are nothing but a cancer. Cleansing the soul allows good or bad to fly free and ramble. Maybe that's why I'm such a long-winded bastard. If I allow what I feel to remain bound within this lapdog of a soul, my voice would never be heard but more important, I couldn't sort the good from what truly bothers me.

As I put the book of blog posts together, I noticed how my tone changed over time. From glowing about the excitement of a new adventure, I gradually descended into melancholy and anger. "Bitch, bitch, bitch," my son told me, "that's all you do. I can't read it Dad... it's too dark." He hadn't noticed how I tried to boost the tone with the good I saw. Still, I heard his warning. I heed it still, but as of yet I haven't found how to blast through wall I've come up against.

Bus operation requires one to be honest with oneself. How you treat passengers has a major impact on the tone of your day. Even in my darkest of moods, I can still find a way to help people smile. Waiting for a mother carrying a toddler while dragging 40 pounds of groceries is more important to me than keeping to an unrealistic schedule some corporatist insists I follow to the nanosecond. It does my soul wonders to hear her say "Thank you... waiting another 20 minutes for the next bus would be an eternity I don't want to endure right now." Hearing her laugh when I say, drily with an exaggerated sigh, "That'll be an extra $29.95, ma'am" is worth more to me than any positive blip on a stat sheet.

It's these moments I live for, yet I tend lately to mostly remember the bad. The nasty, the dreaded, the worst the job has to offer. That's why it's vital I take a step back right now. You don't want to be bombarded with this crap. Drivers deal with it daily, so why would you want to read about it? Readership has dropped, and it's my own damn fault.

Time out. Stay tuned, I'll be back. I want to entertain again. Make you smile, laugh and wonder. When I started this blog journey, I promised to let you know how I feel, from the driver side. You've seen the best, read about the worst. Give me a little time to find the funny and uplifting once again. I won't get there examining transit management, because cranial-rectal inversions are too deep for my taste.

Thanks for indulging me, even when I don't deserve it. I'll be back.

Friday, August 11, 2017

We Need Some Love

Sorry I've been so... seldom seen. This book project is my main focus. But then, there's also w-o-r-k to contend with. Another four-letter word ending in "k." It's wearing me down lately. Gee, I could sure use a vacation. About 35-40 years with full pay would be superb.

I recently read a study that shows transit operators to be the most depressed group of workers. I can vouch for it personally. Lately, I've been pretty blue. Wait, I'm Dekie Blue, and far from pretty. But seriously, the job has been taking its toll. If it's not management pressure to be perfect (whatever that is), it's the public's attitude toward us. People in traffic are more rude than usual. Passengers are surly. Maybe it's the weather. It sure has been hot and sticky lately. Either way, any operator is apt to wear down after a while.

A dear lady operator friend of mine this evening looked truly sad when I walked into the garage and the end of my shift. She's usually smiles and cheeriness when I see her. Tonight she looked up at me to reveal her sweet, expressive eyes were rimmed with tears. Instead of the usual "Hey how are you," I just asked if she could use a hug. She hung her head a moment and sighed. "Yeah," was all she said.

As I embraced this battle-worn lady, I felt a world of sadness all around her. She seemed empty, spent. I know what that's like, but I usually hide it pretty well. Tonight, my friend could not. So I just held her an extra few seconds. Sometimes actions are more helpful than awkward phrases nobody in that state wants to hear. I walked away silently so she couldn't see my own tear dripping downward.

On my route today, as I was scanning the side of the street, I saw a man sitting in a wheelchair. He looked up as I rolled by, and held up his middle finger at me. I'd never seen him before. He wasn't near a bus stop, so it wasn't as if I was passing him by. It was just a cruel gesture, and it summed up how many people have treated me this week. Normally, I could laugh off something so childish and silly. Today, it seemed to become a thousand-pound weight that plopped down on my already-drooping shoulders. Maybe the guy is mentally ill, or he had an imaginary friend tell him I'm an asshole. Either way, I took it as his general outlook on bus operators.

We don't just sit and roll around easy-pleasy every day. Transit is grueling, it's often painful, and it's humbling. Our management tells the media how "valued" we are, but treats us as if we're mere annoyances to be dealt with. Like pigeon shit on their expensive suits, rather than vigilant professionals who provide millions of safe rides every week. If not for US, there would be no THEM. We're no longer a team, but a divided mass of radioactive waste.

Last I heard, there have been 52 crimes (assaults, menacing, etc.) on my brothers and sisters this year. In 2016, there were 55 total. Yet management boasts how "with reported crime on the system low," they don't feel the need to issue their new lame threat of permanent exclusion. I'm so not impressed with how they're dealing with our being pummeled in the seat, spit upon, threatened and menaced just for doing our job. Let's not come down too hard on the criminals; it's easier to whip up on a few thousand union workers by not bargaining in good faith in contract negotiations.

Management keeps making noise, but it's the kind a human might make if he were three inches tall. A mere whisper among our bellowing pleas for help. Exclusions are very difficult to enforce. They could provide a board with photos and descriptions of those troublemakers, but instead choose to leave us blind. By the time help arrives, one of these battering dipshits would be long gone after beating us for refusing to give them a ride. Then they'd just catch a different bus and be in the wind again.

In their crime stats, I didn't see any incidences of management personnel being assaulted. They treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as if it doesn't exist or matter. We're suspended for leaving the seat to defend ourselves against aggressors, and sometimes no reports are taken. Their only solution is to cage us in, but they forget we have to leave the seat eventually or pee our pants.

There's a virus spreading within our ranks, and we're all catching it. So yeah, that guy flipping me off brought me down. Maybe he was a paid protester. Whatever. Back at ya, greaseball.

Ladybud in the garage tonight, no explanation necessary. I get it. Love and peace with prayers to all my ATU brothers and sisters. We could all use a hug right now.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Deke Sweats the Week

It's 4:10 a.m. on this bus driver's long-awaited Friday night. Many of you are already back at work while I sit here, drowning the hottest week of the year in Irish whiskey. Nah, I'm not drunk. I don't have a problem with booze. It soothes me, and I use it in moderation. Not during the work week. Only to soothe the heated and throbbing nerves I've felt the past few weeks. I should go to bed, but I haven't written to you in two weeks and the Typing Jones is crippling me. So here's a synopsis of the last few weeks.

It hit triple digits three or four days this week in Portland, depending on the location. Just eight months ago, I was shivering in the snow awaiting the arrival of my bus in gonad-shriveling Fahrenheits. It took several minutes for my hands to warm up enough to perform fine motor controls. It was an exciting challenge to keep all six road-bound as I slid around icy turns and fishtailed up snowy hills. Yesterday, I stood in the sweltering sun, breathing exhaust toxicity and wood fire smoke from a forest burning miles distant. No breeze, except for that emanating from passing trucks and black-belching diesel wannabe bad boys in their oversized shiny toys. The smoke from Canada's and Oregon's massive forest fires hung like a grey blanket over a wet campfire. Our air quality hung heavier than that of Mexico City and Shanghai. It was dangerous to breathe, yet alone work in this sludge formerly known as air.

I moved here to escape 100-degree-plus summers, so I should be okay with a week of this crap. No, whining about it seems to be the norm for the normal Nor'westerner. I reckon my home is here now. Once the mercury tops 90, I bitch like everyone else whilst my desert family chuckles at this short-lived misfortune. I gave up summer sweat for rain nearly two decades ago. My soul is at peace in a drizzly, cloud-shrouded rain forest.

It was brutal operating a bus with Earth's hazy star assaulting me directly ahead. The front few feet of our newer Gilligs absorb heat like a politician sucks money. Turn on the fans and they spew forth a furnace of hot. Throw the driver's AC vents on high and it's like a hurricane of semi-coolness assaulting every facial nerve. Even though these beasts are set to 70 degrees, the sweat trickled down my neck and wetted the shirt back until it stuck to the vinyl torture chamber of my operator's seat. I felt like cookie dough slowly baking in a convection oven.

Each time I opened the front door, a blast of hot air rushed in and the brief buildup of cool air escaped outward. Unlike in cold weather, passengers didn't greet me with gushing gasps of gratitude. Instead, I was berated for being late even though I managed to keep the clock in the green most of the week. People are surly and unforgiving in the heat, gracious and thankful when frozen. They smell worse too.

Management did its best to add to the misery. In its ill-conceived quest to be everything the unforgiving public expects it to be, fare was FREE during the heat wave. Part of it was due to a system failure, the rest of it a public relations snafu that had the corporate-controlled local rag informing the public they didn't have to pay for the value of a transit ride. The classic screw-the-worker bee, let 'em ride free. This allowed many who would normally wouldn't ride enter our vehicles without as much as a hello or any thanks. Transit operators everywhere can attest to the fact that those who are not financially vested in a service won't respect it.

We had a few more assaults on our brothers and sisters, and tons of rebellious foolishness. Yet there wasn't a hint of it in the ridiculous excuse for our local media. We've had around 50 assaults so far this year alone, while last year's total was 55. Still, no outrage from management, or our union. We're alone out there, as usual. Our screams of rage fall upon ears which refuse to hear.

Rant over. M'lady came out to find me pecking away at nearly 5:00 a.m. I have a full weekend planned with my beloved. Transit will not interfere with my solitude. I leave you with a mental image of Portland's growing disrespect for the transit workers who make the city's economic wheels roll.

"Go ahead and call Dispatch," one passenger told me. "They can't hear you anyway. I know the system's down. Just drive, motherfucker."

Hmm. Sounds like the title of my upcoming book. Sigh. I did as he so rudely suggested. He melted into a pool of sweat and quieted down, so I relented. It was too hot to argue.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Schedules Stink Worse than...

Beating a dead horse more than once involves a risk that the horse hasn't yet died and is poised to kick you right betwixt the eyes. Sometimes however, you hope Ol' Blue still has some life (or sense) left in him, and you just gotta take the chance. So here's another kick, and I hope it strikes home this time.

Remember that first day of middle school, or better yet, of high school? You're nervous as hell, and hoping it doesn't show. Of course, those above you know exactly what you're hiding, and they exploit it. Except for your best friend's big brother, who spies you from a distance but allows some hazing to happen before he suddenly appears at your side with some comforting words. Just having him there makes you feel safer, a little more accepted. This is what I like to do with new operators. I have a strong sense of empathy. If I can help them even a tiny bit, it feels like payback for the veterans who did the same for me years ago.

A few of these new guys have approached me recently, one of them still on probation, telling tales of unreasonable expectations and harassment by management. Over on-time-performance, of all things. Good freakin' grief! Throughout training and line training, we're repeatedly told to work on our driving technique and forget about the stupid schedule. Operator metrics are designed over new operators being late, with the improvement needle eventually angling toward on-time. This normally takes a few months for the best trainees to a few more for others. It's a recipe for catastrophe to encourage a new operator to dismiss safe driving just to appease some misguided edict from above to value schedule first.

Line trainers were recently told to replace the trainee in the seat if they find their bus five minutes late. While there is some logic from the customer service perspective for this new rule, it doesn't teach the new operator anything except they're not good enough if the time clock is glaring LATE at them. I was taught to operate the same way -- safely -- whether I'm on time or late. To this day, I remember and practice this valuable advice. It does no good to push limits when you're late, because you only endanger your passengers and your fellow motorists if you succumb to schedule pressures. If you continue to roll smoothly all the time, sometimes you are rewarded with a stretch where there are no passengers waiting or ringing the bell to exit the bus. Now you've gained five minutes after being seven down, and you're confident that you'll soon be on time again. Had you instead pushed limits, you could be stopped down the road due to a collision caused by management-inspired foolishness we all know better than to accept.

This brings me to a new operator's plea to me. He's being harassed, even though management would disagree that their tactics amount to it. "Joe" has a route that begins when rush hour does. He arrives to the garage 30 minutes early, signs in and grabs his pouch. Heading out to his bus at his sign-in time, he does a pre-trip inspection and heads out. On time. (New ridiculous rule: drivers are required to open their doors at the gate to mark the time they leave the yard. If their door doesn't close before the light turns yellow, they have to wait another agonizing Portland minute for the new cycle, so the time-stamp is off anyway. Micro management at its worst here.) He arrives at his route's beginning point, usually late because of traffic. If he leaves when the schedule says to, there's no way he can begin his route on time. If he leaves early in order to arrive on time, he's penalized for leaving early. (More ridiculousness thought up by some bored management guru who should be answering phones somewhere rather than thinking up new ways to make our lives miserable.)

Joe begins a few minutes late, and is immediately swarmed by commuters in a rush to get home after a grueling day doing what our management once did (crunching numbers for an accounting firm, most likely). Before he leaves downtown, his bus is full to the yellow line. His passengers are literally breathing down his neck as he negotiates the morass that is Portland's peak traffic. Inching along a busy highway with thousands of other motorists who impatiently cut him off and flip him off just for doing his job, he sweats as he sees the time clock tick later. And later. Traffic. Passengers berating him for not getting them to their destinations "on time." He feels the tension. Some behind him are busily texting complaints to our customer service website because he is helpless to help them. Nobody notices the bicyclist he just saved from their own recklessness, or the lady in the wheelchair he stopped to allow her to cross the street. They're too busy checking their Instagram to see him exercising hundreds of safety protocols that save 20 lives while they're plugged in and tuned out. They only look up and sigh when it becomes apparent that their stop is still a long ways off.

Arriving at the end of his route, Joe is already six minutes past the end of his scheduled break. Instead of the 20 minutes written into the schedule as "Recovery Time," he says "I never get it." He has to pee, rather than sacrifice his kidneys to the agency that simply doesn't care. He sends a "Restroom Delay" message to Dispatch, sweeps his bus for trash and lost items, and makes a dash for the bathroom. Running back to his bus, he jumps in the seat and opens the door to a crowd of people making a point to make sure he sees them impatiently glancing at their watches. He's late, damnit, and it's all his fault. They don't care about the nightmare he just navigated to get there. Still, he's kind, attentive and welcomes them to his bus. He hits "Ready for Service" and eases the bus back into traffic.

This operator, I remind you, is still on probation. He feels rushed and pressured. Management has invited them to visit with them to ask why he's always late. If they would leave their cushy seats long enough to do what he does, they'd understand Joe's predicament. Instead, upper management is pressuring Operations management to get these operators in line and on time.

"I've actually been invited to attend a 'non-punitive' class for those having OTP issues," Joe told me. "I have done everything I was trained to do. I drive safely, inform Dispatch when I have to use the restroom at the end of my break, and I've also written several messages to Scheduling about the issues on my route. I don't know what else I can do, but if they keep wasting paper and time on this, I'll play along.

"They're complaining about the inefficiency of drivers," he continued, "but the problem instead lies with a dysfunctional management upstairs."

Bingo, Joe. If a new driver can spot the ridiculousness of pressuring drivers to achieve the impossible, why can't management realize its own folly?

Joe's frustration is not only understandable, it's infuriating. It's a mess, and management has no idea what they're asking, or how unsafe and unreasonable their insistence on schedule is. Or to simplify things, upper management has no clue it's sacrificing safety for a few federal bucks. Nary a one, folks. And the safety of my fellow operators and their passengers is at risk.

We're approaching eight weeks into this current signup. I've learned how and when to roll on time. There are definite periods I know I'll be late. That's just the nature of the beast. I don't let it bother me. You can't stay on schedule 100% of the time, but I'm right about 90%. If they don't like that, they can come drive my route and do better. Many of them couldn't even get the bus into gear.

Enough. This horse is worse than dead, it's rotting.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Damn the Whole Mess

James Taylor in concert with Carole King
Portland, OR 2010
"Well I left the job about 5 o'clock
Fifteen minutes to go three blocks
Just in time to stand in line
With the freeway lookin like a parking lot
Damn this traffic jam
How I hate to be late
Hurts my motor to go so slow
Time I get home my supper be cold
Damn this traffic jam..."

"Traffic Jam"
-- James Taylor

For a job done correctly, you must have the right person. Evidently, someone upstairs thinks a transit agency is a corporation. Whoever this is needs to find another occupation, preferably InCorporata, rather than within transit. We know how to do our jobs, thank you very much. Your incredibly-talented trainers made sure of it long before you came along. Management interference muddles the works, endangers the public, and unnecessarily provokes its professional operators.

The world today is a much more stressful one than 10 years ago. People work harder for less. Our state's population is growing by hundreds each day, adding to the traffic congestion that was horrendous before they arrived. Bus schedules written a year ago are out-of-date within a matter of months because of passenger loads and changing traffic patterns. A route I drove a year ago is now much different because of these factors. The schedule however, doesn't seem to have changed. This is a sure sign that management expects more of us than is reasonable.

Our workplace has transformed from a Peaceful Easy Feeling to Desperado in less than a year, with a healthy dose of Hotel California mixed in. As logic dictates, we were trained to value safety over schedule. With a new operations guru at the helm, suddenly our focus has flip-flopped more than a politician on amphetamines. This is causing problems for operators who have, for a hundred years now (Happy Centennial, ATU757!), excelled in providing safe transportation to Portland passengers. Schedule was always secondary. We try to remain on time, but sometimes it's just impossible. Mostly, it's just unsafe. Is it unreasonable to consider the safety of my fellow Portlanders more important than a schedule? Definitely not.

Conditions change daily, yet we adapt and attempted to incorporate customer service into the mix. Do a run for a month and you're aware where you'll lose or make up time. You know where Grandma Walker is daily awaiting your arrival, so you leave a stop earlier than management dictates because it takes her about 47 seconds to board. If you leave the prior stop to hers at 000 on the clock, your adorable regular becomes a schedule liability. You learn to work it so you arrive at the next time point exactly when regulars expect you to. But Granny's special needs aren't recognized by a corporate number cruncher who's hell-bent on making you toe their unrealistic yellow line. You're forced into a meeting with a manager because you pushed a bit too hard in an attempt to accommodate passengers while staying on schedule. By applying the new guidelines, you're late at the next stop instead of being on time. Late becomes later, and eventually you're buried under a clock that now weighs as much as the vehicle you drive because you're pushed to adhere to the expectation of someone who has never sat where you operate daily. Next, you're summoned to a meeting where you're expected to explain why you're consistently late. They won't accept responsibility for mucking up the works; it's all your fault now. The rules have changed, but you can be disciplined for doing something that's worked for decades.

It sounds crazy, because it is. Signs within our garages emphasizing safety are being replaced by newer ones stressing schedule. This puts our passengers at risk. It increases the chances of colliding with other vehicles on the road, due to operators feeling pressured to fulfill outrageous expectations rather than rolling with the normal flow of traffic. It encourages new drivers to be on time rather than practicing safe driving techniques. Additionally, it pushes experienced operators to push the limits of safety for the ridiculous expectations of a management which values federal funding benchmarks over the well-being of those it is entrusted to transport.

To my fellow operators who receive a "Come see me" message from an assistant manager regarding this on-time fad we face today, please do not agree to do so without union representation. We must document this ongoing assault upon everyone's safety. It's imperative we fight this together in order to continue serving our fellow citizens with a high level of professionalism they have come to expect. If we simply allow this harassment to continue without loudly voicing our disapproval, we're just as guilty.

As this job was originally described to me when I began this journey, we're to drive safely above all other considerations; schedule is secondary and customer service is only possible if the first of these is consistently adhered to. Schedule is dependent upon many variables, but shouldn't be the benchmark.

If we remain collectively dedicated to this principle, we might just once again become the finest transit system in the country. Without our dedication to this time-honored tradition, passengers risk their safety every time they step onto a transit vehicle. This is not right. It's time management takes a turn in the seat to learn the rules of the road, because they're breaking most of them. I, for one, refuse to break them. Call me in for a discussion, and I'm bringing my union rep and a vigorously righteous indignation which cannot be steamrolled. Bank on it, brothers and sisters. Management is in overdraft status, and it's time we call in our markers for the safety of us all.

Monday, July 17, 2017

You're In My Two-Wheeled Prayers

Bus operators and bicyclists are sometimes at odds when it comes to sharing the road. Maneuvering a 20-ton vehicle among other vehicles, pedestrians, skateboarders and cyclists can be tricky, but a little cooperation is in order to do so safely.

We're constantly scanning a 180+ degree view around our vehicle, including what's behind us. One day however, I was twice surprised at busy intersections by bicyclists who not only ran red lights, but casually pedalled across the paths of five lanes of traffic. In the far right lane, I saw my light turn green, but as always, I glanced left to be sure nobody was running the red light. There was. He was holding a 12-pack of beer in one arm and simultaneously looking at his cell phone held in his other hand. No hands on the handlebars, and either not caring or unaware he was pedaling directly in front of rush hour traffic that likely had waited through three light cycles for our chance to proceed. It was amazing that everyone waited. Nobody jumped the gun as soon as the light changed, none of us honked at this fellow. Perhaps we were all shocked at his blatant disregard for his safety. No shirt, no helmet, no apparent common sense. Maybe he believes his own safety is dependent upon others to ensure. Luckily for him, he made it safely through.

A few hours later, at the same intersection, I saw another bicyclist run the light. This one seemed aware of what he was doing. Helmet-wearing and seemingly aware, this one received several horn honks. He wasn't in a hurry to clear the intersection, even though he entered it a second after his light had turned red. I sighed, knowing Portland's impatience on the roads can often result in human tartare. It scares me, because I truly care about the safety of my fellow Portlanders.

My hat is off to the majority of our two-wheeled fellows on the road. Many are professional and courteous, aware and safety-conscious. They use hand signals, wave at drivers who yield the right-of-way to them, and are keenly aware of their surroundings. It's refreshing to see. In the past, I've been very critical of the self-propelled two-wheeled public. Sometimes, I've been unfairly harsh. Since my last brush with Bike Portland enthusiasts, I've had to re-evaluate my feelings about those vulnerable souls who brave traffic to pedal rather than pollute their commute. Both my brothers are avid bicyclists, and my father rode his recumbent 75 miles on his 75th birthday. He was once hit on his bike by a car traveling 50mph. I'm aware of the dangers bicyclists face on the streets, and I'm sympathetic to them. They're 100-200 pounds on two wheels without anything protecting them from the glass and metal beasts they ride near. I'm guiding a 20-ton beast among them, and I'm very mindful of their safety especially when they're not.

As a bus operator, I'm trained to constantly scan my surroundings. Bicyclists can sometimes be difficult to see in a rear view mirror, especially if it's of our right-side convex variety. I do my best to see them, but I'm human. Sometimes, they exhibit behaviors that aren't easily predictable. When you're pedaling along a busy city street, please practice safety. Here's some things bus drivers need you to seriously consider.
  • If there's no bike lane, remember we can't see directly behind our bus. If you can't see our mirrors, we can't see you. If you're behind a bus that slows and pulls to the curb to service a stop, please wait. It usually takes about 10-20 seconds for us to complete this maneuver. If you're impatient and decide to pass the bus on its left as I prepare to pull back into traffic, this is a very dangerous time for you to do so. Most of us use the yield light feature on our bus to warn traffic we're ready to roll. It's also a state law that other vehicles are required to allow us to merge back into the travel lane when our bright red triangle is flashing. A few seconds is certainly worth your well-being. We want you to arrive safely home, but we're not superhuman. We expect you to follow the basic rules of the road, because you're considered a vehicle as well. Please exercise common sense near vehicles that are thousands of pounds heavier than you.
  • If you come to a stop-signed intersection and see a bus to your right, please don't just roll through. We're all required to yield to whoever is to our right. Just because you're pedaling doesn't give you priority. Any intersection is very dangerous to bicyclists and pedestrians. You share responsibility for your own safety with those around you. Do the right thing. Stop first and assess the situation. Yield as necessary, and only go when it's safe (and legal) for you to do so.
  • Be predictable and use hand signs to let us know when you're going to enter our path ahead. We'll slow down and let you roll into that left turn. We just need to see your intentions. Eye contact with the operator is vital to your safety. Rolling into our path without knowing we're there, or expecting us to read your mind and react to your sudden maneuver is a recipe for your own funeral.
  • When boarding a bus, please await us off of the street, preferably on the curb. Make eye contact with the operator, and wait until we stop. Do not step in front of a moving bus. I will immediately deploy my parking brake for your safety, before opening the bus doors. I can't speak for every operator, but this is how we're trained to deal with bicyclist passengers. This ensures the bus won't move when you step in front of it. When we've given you the signal it's safe, please put your bike on the rack. The securement bar always goes on the front tire. When you're ready to exit the bus, please come to the front and inform me you're going to step in front of my 40,000 pound vehicle to remove your bike. If there's not another bike on the rack, be sure to return the rack to its stowed position when you're done. Thank you!
  • Remove any items from your bike that are a vision barrier to the operator. We need to see through your bike to avoid any obstacles in front of the bus. Turn off your lights, make sure the bike is secure in the rack. Neither of us want your bike damaged.
  • When exiting the bus, remind the bus operator you're taking off your bike. My current bus route is 10 hours long. During that time, I serve an average of 20 cyclists. We cannot always remember whose bike is on the rack. If you exit the rear door, walk the entire 40-feet of our bus and then step in front of it as we're ready to depart the bus stop, you could be killed. Once you're out of the danger zone in front of the bus and the doors are closed, we're intent on re-entering traffic. Your exit from the bus is complete, as far as we're concerned. This step is extremely vital to keeping you safe. Please always remember to remind us you'll be removing your bike.
  • If you arrive at a stop as a bus is leaving, do not EVER touch the moving vehicle. Your doing so will place you in imminent danger and will NOT result in our stopping to board you. Just a few years ago, a bicyclist did touch a moving bus on 82nd Avenue, and then slipped and fell into the duals. He was dismembered and instantly killed. Was this tragedy the driver's fault? No. It was dark, rainy and he had already scanned behind him, not seeing anyone else. The bicyclist slipped and fell in between the dual wheels. It's very annoying to miss a bus, and everyone expects us to stop and let you board. Sorry, but when the doors close and the bus starts to roll, you've missed it. When a bus pulls away, don't expect it to stop. Everyone on the bus was at their stop on time. Wait for the next one, and you'll arrive home safely.
  • When riding on 5th or 6th Avenues in downtown Portland, stay in the left lane, reserved for non-transit vehicles. The right lanes are reserved for transit vehicles ONLY. They are not de-facto bike lanes. Your being in these lanes is not your right, and it's illegal while also extremely dangerous. A light rail vehicle weighs about 100,000 pounds. They can't stop on a dime. Neither can a bus. While it's dangerous to ride on sidewalks, it's infinitely more safe than riding in a transit lane. If a bus honks at you for zipping between the auto lane and the transitway, don't flip us off. You're treading on deadly ground, and our horn is only to remind you we're there, vigilantly watching you and keeping you safe.
After several years on this job, I've evolved. Bicyclists once pissed me off, and some of my earlier posts were overly-critical of two-wheeled conveyances. I was falsely accused of being aggressive, an over-honking mass of fury recklessly hurtling my 20-tons without empathy. I had to look inward and re-evaluate my driving psychology, and it led me to be even more vigilant in ensuring your two-wheeled safety. When you flip me the bird now, I no longer react to this temper tantrum in sign language. It would be nice however, to see a friendly wave from those whose ridiculous antics I've anticipated, sparing you a painful trip to the hospital, or a painless one to the morgue.

This post might result in some angry responses from our two-wheeled fellow Portlanders. I tried to set a conciliatory and protective yet educational tone here. We must work together to ensure your safety. We save many lives every day, but safety isn't a value the media recognizes. When someone is injured or killed, the headlines always say "Bicyclist Hit by Bus." You'll rarely see a story recognizing how many cyclists are saved by the constant vigilance of your civil servants who roll buses safely for years without incident.

Please be safe out there. Thank you for eschewing the polluting alternative. We value your noble sacrifice and work hard to ensure your safety. Please remember us in your prayers, because we are often your guardian angels. Peace be with you, two-wheeled neighbors.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

You Left Two Seconds Early!

You don't want us to leave early, not even just a few seconds. Nor do you want us running late, no matter the circumstances. Transit agency management, you are failing at your job, and my brothers and sisters are furious.

Once again, we're reminded how bad an idea it is to have corporate wonks in transit management. Take one of the most stressful jobs there is, add some unnecessary needling from people who have never been in the seat but think they know how it should be done, and you add to the pressure cooker. The constant harassment is adding stress, and operators are fed up.

Considering management is whining because union members won't bend over and take another contract enema, it's terribly insulting to have them insist our on-time performance (OTP) be perfect. As I've noted, you cannot have safety, customer service and schedule perfection. One or two of these is possible at times, but not all three. I've taken to leaving passengers behind if they're late to the stop. I don't need the stress caused by a manager breathing down my neck for doing my job as it should be done.

For an agency to blithely state "Safety Is Our Core Value" while also insisting we value schedule over safety is inexcusable. I don't know whose safety they value, but it's not ours. Their own safety is pretty much guaranteed... when you work in an ivory tower far away from the trenches, you can't expect to earn respect from those of us on the front lines.

One driver told me he received a "come see me" letter from a manager. The note stated that he left the garage two minutes late. His OTP is hovering at 90% for the past year, and he left his starting point on time. On his route, even if you leave a few minutes late, you can be early within 10 minutes. Sometimes it's better to leave a transit center late, especially if a light rail is arriving. People getting off the train expect buses to wait for them. Lately, I've had to leave people behind who were a mere 10 seconds late to the stop. Maybe some are on their way to work, a doctor's appointment that took weeks to schedule, or a parent's deathbed. Sorry folks, management doesn't care about your problems. They want us on time, so damnit, that's how we gotta roll.

This leads to the rise in operator assaults. Now that we can't do our job as we should, we're even bigger targets. People get understandably upset when operators change habits to the detriment of those we transport. A few seconds waiting for the elderly couple who can't run is more valuable to them than transit management's ridiculous schedule adherence mania is to the big picture. Does management hate us so much they want us to be attacked? I hope not, but their ridiculous mandates lately have most operators shaking our heads in amazement. Are they trying to improve our dismal ranking in transit agencies by bringing the average OTP up a few points? Try treating the employees with respect, and that would go a long way. This nit-picky micro-management isn't going to get the job done.

I've heard many operators say "This was once a great job and a wonderful place to work. Union and management got along fairly well and cooperated. There was mutual respect, and we were the top transit agency in the country. Then these corporate boneheads, most who have never driven a bus or light rail vehicle, took over. Now the place has gone to hell." Another veteran told me early in my career, "This is the best job I've ever had, but the worst company I've ever worked for." It took a few years to experience it for myself, but I'm there with ya now, brother.

Are they trying to eliminate veteran drivers with decades of service, who are usually management's loudest critics? They hire all these newbies, throw them into full-time positions within weeks of their "going live," and wonder why they get Preventable Accidents. I've heard the attrition rate is atrocious these days. Nobody should be elevated to full-time at least until their probation is over. It's asinine. It takes months of practice to learn the skills necessary to drive 8-10 hours in service every day. It's unreasonable to expect new hires to provide the same level of service as seasoned veterans. That's why we started out working part-time for over a year or more. Perhaps they think if they replace the "trouble causers" with new drivers who have less benefits and expect less from management than we do, then they can eventually have a docile workforce they can mold into corporate robots.

When management last year decided that new hires could no longer take an afternoon to go to the union office to be officially welcomed as ATU members, it was another slap in our collective faces. Then they locked our union leadership out of the garages. It's obvious management has definite plans to totally break the bond between workers and our representative body. It has us by the short hairs, because it's illegal for us to strike. This provides management an unfair advantage. They get the gold mine, and you know where the shaft ends up.

The latest insult is management's crackdown on uniforms. Sure, some operators could clean up their act. There's always the lone wolf who wears something not acceptable to the uniform code. Others are a bit sloppy in their appearance. It's unprofessional, and it's an insult to those who show up to work looking neat and sharp. It's hard to expect the public to respect us if we look like we slept in our clothes. But of course, management once again takes it to the extreme. One operator was lectured about a logo on his socks. For crying out loud, really? Want to see the stains on our underwear from not having time to use the restroom because you require us to leave on time? Did I miss a whisker while shaving? Does my hair color match the uniform? Give me a break.

This schedule stressing is like expecting a cow to produce exactly two gallons of milk a day, and whipping her if she comes up a milliliter short. This is corporate micro management at its worst, and it needs to stop before it results in catastrophe. Emphasis on schedule leads some to push speed limits and take unsafe chances. It causes unnecessary stress on an already-stressed workforce. It creates more public animosity toward operators. Worst of all, it insults those whose efforts make management's employment possible.

I've said it before and I'll repeat: We can do this without management. It's time for us to run the place. Get out of our way and let us roll.