Friday, January 29, 2016

Bus Stops and Body Parts

It's truly a good job, one I enjoy. It is however, a tough one. Sometimes it gets to me, and I bitch people out for the crazy chances they take to catch a bus. Other times, I just smile and shake my head, glad I was alert enough to avoid potential disaster. Still others, I curse myself for making mistakes that could be potentially disastrous and promise myself not to repeat them.

We're often lambasted for being "greedy", since all we do "is drive a bus around all day". Wow. Really folks, is that all we do? Everything we do is part of operating a bus, and there's a lot more to it than most are aware. We're not, after all, sitting behind the wheel of your fancy new Lexus, with a seat programmed to remember your pampered body. It's a monster of metal and glass, with a seat designed back when Abe Lincoln was driving a bus in Springfield. (Okay, so I sometimes exaggerate.)

This is an incredible responsibility. Each weekday, we transport nearly 400,000 Portlanders around the metro area. Professionals on their way to work, mothers with their beloved precious cargo, elderly headed to doctor's offices, countless others to whatever destination awaits them. People who use mobility devices, walkers or canes receive our special attention. Each passenger is our responsibility, their safety entrusted to our skill and instincts. No matter what Mother Nature throws at our windshields, we brave conditions to provide millions of safe rides every year.

The first weekend of January was particularly challenging after a few inches of snow were topped with a thick sheen of treacherous ice. We remember snow days of years past, when our fellow citizens were urged to stay home while we braved dangerous conditions just to get to the garage so we could slip and slide along our hilly town to safely transport friends and neighbors.

Sometimes, when I glide along in my 20-ton mega ride, I'm treated to a lovely sight. It could be a dazzling snowy Mt. Hood illuminated by a full moon, downtown Portland bathed in the shades of pink and purple during a grand Northwest sunset, or deer grazing along the roadside. I marvel at the kindness of my fellow Portlanders who see someone struggling to cross the street in their mobility device, so they push them to safety. Rush hour traffic affords the opportunity to observe the Portland "zipper", where merging vehicles are allowed in one at a time in a show of solidarity in our steadily worsening traffic. Yes, there are many good things we see out there too. Somehow the good balances the tougher moments of our everyday toils.

Just like any job, it's hard sometimes. Often, it's extremely difficult. It's also physically demanding. By the last day of my work week, it seems each joint of my aging body has been subjected to a triathlete's training regimen. One night I recently counted how many times my foot depressed the brake pedal to stop the bus. In one 80-minute ride, the busiest of my shift, I stopped 90 times at service stops, traffic lights, pedestrian crossings or stop signs. Since that's on the high end of things, let's say I average 65 stops an hour for a total of eight hours of driving. That means I stop the bus 520 times each shift. When you consider how many muscles in your lower back, hips, thighs, knees, calves and feet are used to perform this maneuver, you get a better idea of why we might be a bit grumpy at the end of the line. Our brake pedal isn't as soft a touch as a car's; it takes a few hundred pounds of pressure, plus intense fine motor control of our legs and feet, to smoothly stop a bus. By the end of our shift, it's best not to piss us off. Multiply 520 by five nights and you'll see I stop 2,600 times a week. Ouch. Yeah, our parts can wear out quickly, especially those of us who've haven't seen our 30s in quite a while.


Repetitive motion injuries are common in transit operators. Resisting claims for these injuries is common among transit agencies. It's an ongoing battle sometimes to get compensated for them. Contract negotiations in which the agency bemoans our "Cadillac health benefits" tend to irritate the hell out of us. Especially when those doing the moaning make six-figure salaries and golden parachutes await their retirement. Any operator who makes six figures is a working madman hell-bent on retiring into a wooden box, maxing out their hours of service for as long as their body holds out. In short, we earn every penny we fight for. It's harder to keep our job than it is to get fired from it. Too many complaints get us "counseling sessions" from managers. If we're involved in a collision, even if it's not our fault, our actions prior to the collision are studied by panels to see if we did everything reasonable to avoid it. If not, we're assessed a PA (Preventable Accident). Get five of these in any two year period, you're done. We're constantly on the alert out there as a result, and that's usually a good thing. However, the mental combined with physical make for stressful working conditions. The rigors of the road age us 2-3 years for every one in the seat. Our health insurance was once covered 100%, as agencies realized the toll this job has on the body. Since the recession, we've been paying a small percentage of our premiums but we're still getting beat up out there. Something's got to give soon, but chances are it'll be my knee joints before the agency grants us any healthcare concessions.

So if you're in the general bus-riding community, hear my prayer. Call in with compliments more than complaints, recognize your particular bus operator's humanity, and remember that when we begin negotiating our contract again this year we're not the spoiled brats we'll likely be made out to be. He who smelt it usually dealt it. Or something like that.




2 comments:

  1. Absolutely TRUE Deacon, I drove 23 years, experienced repetitive motion injuries back in late 80's before agencies decided they weren't job related....W H A T?????? The job itself is demanding in hours of a day consumed to put in your 10 or so paid hours, wIth split shifts, and travel for "road relief " then top it off with demands of increasing traffic, pax conflicts amongst themselves, that may escalate to include Ops, or endanger other pax.
    IT CAN BE A REWARDING JOB, BUT WE DO PAY FOR IT IN THE JOSTLING RIDE OF DETERIORATING STREETS, STOPPING AND STARTING, SCHEDULES, MANAGEMENT, AND PRAYING YOU CAN KEEP THIS JOB LONG ENOUGH TO RETIRE WITH A FEW WEEKS OF LIFE LEFT IN YOU!!!!
    (KEEP 'EM COMMIN' DEACON, AS RELATING TO AND EMPATHIZING WITH OTHERS IS WHAT HELPS US CONTINUE TO SURVIVE THIS CIRCUS! !!!)

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