Thursday, January 7, 2016

Now for the Frozen Truth...

Sunday night's icy conditions, with one bus having slid off the road.

My last piece being about what it was like "out there" driving on the ice, it's time to show the other side of the story.

Portland is a terribly-run city when it comes to inclement weather. The lack of planning is astounding. True, the freeways are the first to receive attention, but the rest of us have to wait. We're expected to be at work, ready to drive, no matter what the weather is. Where's our support? I've read a lot of Tweets ranting about how we "suck", but when there's icy weather, who is out there taking Portland to work and home? WE are. Operators, supervisors and maintenance crews are on the road, risking injury to serve an often ungrateful public. I saw no management out there spreading salt on platforms, chaining buses or making sure we were okay while they took credit for the invaluable service WE provided during this storm.

Our dispatchers worked tirelessly for us, and I am truly thankful for their incredible dedication. They were trying to get sand trucks to the worst spots. But I only saw four such trucks the entire day and into the evening. Two of them came to lay sand at a trouble spot just in front of me where a bus had slid off the road. I had stopped and locked my bus because I didn't want to slide into the bus ahead of me. My few passengers abandoned me, but I don't feel comfortable moving 40,000 pounds of glass and steel downhill toward a busy intersection knowing to do so would seriously endanger the driving/walking public around me. The sand trucks came and did their thing, slipping and sliding a little themselves. Only then did I feel comfortable proceeding.

A serene scene at Oregon City Transit Center, before the ice struck.
To the frustrated rider who Tweeted that they had seen buses sliding off the road and wondered "how much winter driving training do they get?": what do YOU think? You imbecile! We are taught in training what to do, but how to do it can only be learned on the road. We're professionals, yes. But to maneuver a vehicle that large without sliding on wet ice is an incredible display of driving skill. Keeping it away from fools on four wheels who shouldn't be out in the first place is nothing short of miraculous. Fools have a way of armchair quarterbacking what we do, when they have no understanding of operating anything more complex than a video game controller. In the real world, you don't just get up and get a "do over" or use another "life" after crashing. We're playing for keeps out there, folks.

When we have snow/ice storms, we're supposed to have a "Snow Line" available to us. Dispatch is so busy fielding emergency calls it has no time for questions or advice. When I tried to call this line, I reached a recording that said we were "operating on normal conditions" so it wasn't necessary. Wow. I felt trapped. We had two inches of snow on the roads, topped with another inch or two of ice. I had  a question I didn't think important enough to bother our brother and sister dispatchers. They were dealing with true emergencies and I didn't want to interrupt the process of someone in trouble getting help. So as many others of us did that day, I sat and thought it out. Logic, professional experience, and a ton of grit went into many of our decisions. Luckily for me, I didn't end up in a ditch somewhere. Nor did my bus make contact with anything or anybody.

Unluckily for some operators, they slipped and fell on icy sidewalks. One reportedly suffered a serious head injury requiring surgery. Other ops were surely bruised and battered from trying to keep upright in their quest to use a restroom at the end of their line. I nearly slipped and fell, and I had ice trekkers on!

Many of my passengers graciously thanked me for working that day. Conditions were terrible, and they were thankful to have a safe ride. But the ignorant masses are never satisfied. They say horrible things about us as we're doing our best to keep people moving safely. But I know one thing: we may not be perfect, but when the weather's so bad nobody should be out there, WE are. Bank on it.

3 comments:

  1. Sad that the one's who need to read this, won't. Very well written.

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  2. Keep on writing. I love reading your thoughts. You are also helping yourself by putting some of your frustrations down in writing to help get them out of your system. A great form of therapy.

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  3. Well done, Deacon. It's the troubling bits of your article that make me angry, "I saw no management out there spreading salt on platforms, chaining buses or making sure we were okay while they took credit for the invaluable service WE provided during this storm. I only saw four such [sand] trucks the entire day and into the evening. When we have snow/ice storms, we're supposed to have a "Snow Line" available to us. When I tried to call this line, I reached a recording that said we were "operating on normal conditions" so it wasn't necessary. Wow. I felt trapped. So as many others of us did that day, I sat and thought it out. Logic, professional experience, and a ton of grit went into many of our decisions."

    That's the kind of administration and management you pay for with billion-dollar annual TriMet budgets, taxpayers. Soon, when district officials will, once again, be decrying the cost of, "Rich, platinum-cadillac pension benefits-for-life bus drivers," remember these 6-figure bureaucrats get golden parachutes for submarine MAX trains, a billion-dollar bridge that cannot convey bus passengers over ice, and don't even have the decency to toss a little cat litter out the front door of the bullpen.

    All things considered, the excuse that, "Maintenance is short-handed right now," is unacceptable.

    Well, TRIMET non-transportation staff, including managers and administrators certainly are NOT SHORT-HANDED by any stretch of the imagination.

    In a severe weather emergency it's, "ALL HANDS ON DECK," or are we to understand that does not include managers or administrators or other office personnel?

    I'm just askin' 'cause a brother lays in a hospital bed after brain surgery from falling on the ice at a TriMet Transit Center. There wasn't some public relations or IT peon who might have been mobilized to deliver a cup full of cat litter to that walkway? Of course there was!

    When governing bodies place the cost of cleaning up the sand and gravel spread during a weather emergency above the risk to life and limb, "Public Safety," is NOT a priority for them, and that needs to become a contentious issue for the citizenry. Since TriMet's governance, management and administration is not accountable to any electorate except Oregon Governor Kate Brown, I urge everyone to contact the Governor's Office and demand immediate recompense.

    www.facebook.com/oregongovernor

    It is outrageous to realize this further evidence that TriMet's 2nd, 3rd, and 4th floors care less about what is happening on the ground floor than what happens to you when utilizing public transportation. If an operator cannot be secure in carrying out their duties the public we serve cannot be safe.

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