Sunday, November 22, 2015

Blame Sharing for Tragic Incidents

My most recent post came out of a "Re-Certification Class" our agency has once a year for all bus operators. This one will delve into more detail about what constitutes "safety", and whose responsibility it is in regards to transit.

Our local transit-blog muscle man, Al Margulies, recently posted a video on this subject. (See TriMet Refuses...) A retiree, he is well-known for blasting Portland's transit agency, TriMet, for its blunders and shenanigans. It's good to keep grinding the agency for dragging its feet, especially where the word "safety" is concerned. Also, while he's correct in lambasting the agency for its lack of action in lieu of a passel of fancy words and finger-pointing, my blog's mantra is "Safety is a Two-Way Street".

I've stated many times that bus (and MAX) operators SAVE lives every trip, every line, every single damn day. You won't hear about that in the media, because "safety" doesn't sell. Unless, of course, something bad happens. Then you hear about how TriMet needs to "train its operators more" or "study safety solutions" and blah blah blah.

Oh sure, once in a while you get the "Operator Good Guy" feel good story, but most of us don't tell the Public Information Office (PIO) about all the good things we do. Why? Because it's all part of our job. The "news" would most likely not be interested if it were inundated with "OGG" stories, and most of us are just simply... well, too modest to talk about it. After a shift is over, we just want to go home and be with our loved ones, putting that day's work behind us (if we can) when we walk out of the garage. The next day, we often forget what happened the day before. This is also how we deal with the shit thrown at us by rude and abusive passengers every day. In order to drive safely, we have to let it all just roll off our shoulders, good and bad.


So when you hear about tragedy in our fair city, such as Lady Doesn't Look, Loses Her Leg, people are quick to point at the operator, especially our local media. Do you think my "headline" for the link in the last sentence is what the media would say? Of course not! That would be putting the blame on the poor lady who lost her leg because some bonehead operator ran her over! Now wait a minute, we operators say, what about the lady's responsibility in this matter? If you read the quote by a police officer, it speaks volumes about "blame".

"Witnesses stated (she) had a hoodie on, and looked to be wearing earbuds as she crossed the tracks", directly in front of an oncoming train. A train that sounded its horn in warning, a signal everyone else but the victim, seemed to hear.

We see this type of behavior every day. Downtown. On Division. In Beaverton, Gresham, Oregon City, St. John's, Gladstone, Tigard, Tualatin; everywhere we operate buses or trains. People just act as if the world around them is responsible for their safety, and if they wear earbuds it's up to someone else to watch out for them. Bicyclists especially are guilty of taking foolish chances around transit vehicles. However, when we alert them of our presence with a firm "beep beep" of our horn, their idea of thanks is often an extended middle finger. Oh, how I'd love to bend those fingers back until I hear a "snap", just to teach them a lesson! But no. Can't do that. We're not allowed to respond. At all.

Yes, I get a bit testy when the public, or the media, questions our "safety training". It's quite adequate, thank you. The public's, however, is severely lacking. There are no media spots on How to Ride a Bus (for Dummies). I never see any Public Service Announcements on how to BE SAFE. People won't even read Signs on the Bus! I get it. It's a personal responsibility thing. But wait... whatever happened to that? It blew away with the advent of the smart phone, I'll betcha. Plugged in and tuned out. That's what we are, as a society.

When something bad happens with a transit vehicle, BAM... blame it on the operator. They're overpaid monkeys anyway, right? I mean anybody can drive a bus! Well evidently not everybody can walk down the street without doing something stupid, but that's beside the point, I reckon.

Yeah, I had a Recert Class recently. The trainer was very informative, as usual. He was a veteran with many years behind the wheel, someone I respect and admire greatly. I learned some things that can truly help me become even safer. Bus operators are human. We develop bad habits that need correction. We need to be kept informed about different safety procedures. This class is really a good idea, even though the district probably wouldn't have done it if not for a fatal incident a few years ago. Yes, we get regular training. But does the public?


One thing about the class that bothered me was a demonstration by someone who works in the "Safety" division. We were subjected to a terribly patronizing video outlining such things as what constitutes a "fall", or a "trip" and other such things we all learned as children. We listened politely as this chap told us how "safety is our culture", yet the talk of the town was how this lady had lost her leg when she was hit by a train when she didn't look before crossing. We all had the same reaction to this corporate double-speak: bullshit. Show this tripe to the riding public, and I'll bet their response wouldn't be nearly as politely restrained as ours.

The only people at TM truly concerned with "safety" are the operators. Management seems to just like the sound of it. It's a pretty word to them, but when they're slapped in the face with obvious safety-related fixes, they "study" this word. Sometimes they study really hard, for a long time. But then they fail the test.

Take our beautiful new Orange Line, for example. Cost to build: $1.5 billion dollars. Yet with all this money, and a supposed "safety culture", the end-of-the-line boarding approaches are straight lines with feeble warnings (on the ground) to "Stop and Look". No herding passengers left, then right, before crossing the tracks; like they have on some of the remodeled approaches on other lines. Brand new line, horrible design where safety is concerned. No gates, little to save people from their own stupidity. Sure, the trains there are poking along at 5-10 mph. But if you get hit by a slow-moving object that weighs 100,000 pounds, it's definitely going to ruin your day, if not lose you a limb or two, or flat-out kill you.

Even though this post seems a bit hard-hearted toward the dear lady who lost her leg recently, I can safely say that all operators feel terrible this happened. Especially me. Whenever we hear about an injury, or a fatality, you can be assured that at least a thousand operator voices are raised in prayer for the victim and family. We're human, we truly care about our riding public.

Pay attention folks. We sure do.


16 comments:

  1. I'm just an interested amateur, but I must say this is an incredibly well-written blog, and this post just stands out. Of course our hearts go out to someone who suffered such a life-changing injury at so young an age, and to the operator who will replay this in his mind and will face no end of Monday-morning quarterbacking (should have been going slower, should have put the train in emergency sooner, shoulda, woulda coulda). Reality is the train was exactly where it was supposed to be, doing exactly what trains do. Had the train wheels not been on the rails, now that would be news!

    And I just don't get the management culture at TriMet. The days of a driver working his way up to General Manager, like Al Leahy (sp?) of LA Metro are probably long gone, but if your Dear Leader truly were a leader rather than a bean counter he would take it on himself to get whatever licensing and union agreement it would take to actually take a vehicle, by himself, in revenue service for a few hours once a month. He might actually learn something. Maybe he would agree with you, maybe he wouldn't, but at least he'd be speaking from experience, rather than whatever the management theory de jour is this month.

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    1. Thanks, Big Ed. I agree about our GM. Here's one covering that slippery ground: http://fromthedriverside.blogspot.com/2015/06/time-for-restructuring-mr-gm.html

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  2. Passengers earn their accidents...just as we do.

    I feel bad about the accidents I caused because of my unsafe behaviors, but I don't feel bad about the ones where someone went and put themselves in peril despite my best efforts. OK, I feel bad in a general way about the guy who appeared to StopLookListen before stepping directly in front of my moving streetcar...not for the ribs and collarbone broken at impact, but for the granite pavers he hit afterward causing bleeding leading to brain damage. That is too big a penalty for a low speed collision. In this one, the witnesses, police report, and Muni determination were telling:"I saw the red hand and streetcar coming ringing its bell so I didn't walk", "It looked like suicide to me!", "Pedestrian at fault", "Unavoidable."

    But...really, I could have done without all of that...the investigations, my second guessing myself, the high powered lawyers (very glad that I had nothing to get caught on!), the occasional updates on the court case (dismissed a year or two later). I would much rather have finished my shift uneventfully and gone home to a nice dinner, etc. before coming back to do it again...

    We say here "If you didn't save someone's life by 10am, you probably called in sick!"

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  3. Just want to say as a member of the public who rides max and bus on a daily basis that I think you operators do a damn good job everyday. I incidents like the one described where a person is struck by a train or bus is not the operators fault. I see idiots everyday who don't pay attention and walk right in front of your vehicles without even an inkling of thought. There is more than enough safety precautions in place, as well as VERY safety conscious vehicle operation going on. I see this on a daily basis with operators. Especially considering everything an operator faces, unfriendly motorists/pedestrians, deplorable traffic conditions, abuse from passengers, it's a testament to your professionalism and concern for safety that these type of incidents don't happen nore frequently. Keep up the good work, and know that there are many of us out there who respect and appreciate you getting us safely to our destinations everyday.

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    1. Thank you Frankie! Your viewpoint is refreshing.

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  4. Hey I think this blog readership is about to really take off. Just saw you get listed on BikePortland.

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    1. Yes, and some of the whiners have raised their shrill little 'why me?' voices to the shrine of idiocy. Already. smh

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    2. Hey buddy let me tell you right now, don't get roped into discussions with those bike Nazis. They can only hear their side of any discussion. Just keep going forget those folks and what they think. Let them talk to themselves

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    3. I suppose you're right Al. But I should only avoid the mental midgets; some of them are quite interesting!

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  5. Look, the trams all over Europe have little protections between the people and the train. We shouldn't be dependent on barriers. We should be paying attention.

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    1. Most definitely! Whatever happened to 'personal responsibility'?

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  6. Thanks for reminding people about all of the training you folks receive. I certainly do not envy any Trimet operator for taking on (and evidently internalizing) all of the conflicts that the transportation system creates.

    However - a lot of your venting is non-productive. Maybe you are a singularly angry person, but this post paints a picture of a culture of anger amongst Trimet operators.

    Breaking people's middle fingers? Lame. Threatening people on the web is lame. It is never productive.

    Does Trimet provide or facilitate therapy for anger problems in the operator community?

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    1. Nathan

      I'm inclined to agree with you. Our good blog author had a post about how the TriMet GM should endure some of the worst of being a trainee bus operator, complete with low pay and miserable hours. Unfortunately it comes across as a rant that's hard to take seriously.

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    2. Nathan,

      This blog IS my therapy, thank you. Y'all take things WAY too seriously. You expect us to be perfect, but this is not a perfect world. How many times have you said "Why, I'd like to..."? But you don't mean it. Neither do I. However, to remove this from my post would be literary cowardice. If you take it literally, then you're not reading how we keep the finger-flippers safe, and gladly so. They are someone's love/son/daughter/husband/wife/brother/sister, etc.

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    3. And Big Ed, the piece on the GM is a bit of satire. I don't expect it to be taken 'seriously'. It would never happen. Good grief.

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  7. Hey Deacon
    found your blog on Bike Portland. I ride a lot, but really have no beef with bus drivers. It doesn't take a genius to figure who has right of weight. I don't envy you guys, Traffic is unpredictable and road users are stupid. Thanks for taking safety seriously.

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