Sunday, April 30, 2017


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 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.


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.


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.

15,000 Hits In One Month!

New records smashed, and a new milestone set for the blog. Ol' Ma, RIP, would be proud of her boy today!

"Just keep writing," she'd mumble. "Just don't let it go to your head."

Thanks folks. I just took a break from the painful editing process associated with publishing my book, and saw the stat flash on my screen.

Let's just hope the book sells more than just a few hundred copies...

Monday, March 20, 2017

Do the "Right Thing"

It's been a busy few weeks for me, so I was sorely tempted to take the week off from blogging. Last night however, I heard that one our brothers was assaulted while he was on duty. Now I'm a bit steamed around my collar, so it's time to decompress.

Our good brother and stalwart defender of every union member, Henry Beasley, long ago introduced what he believes would be the decent response to any assault upon one of us. Out of respect for his steadfast insistence that management adopt this, my preference is to call this the Beasley Doctrine. It calls for our immediate removal from service to facilitate our healing/recovery as well as the safety of our passengers.

When an operator is physically assaulted, which happened 55 times in 2016, our soul has been forever altered. To continue driving afterward goes against the "Safety Is Our Core Value" mantra we're expected to believe. Unless the operator is super-human and can truly ignore what just happened, their thoughts are almost entirely centered upon the assault. It's infuriating, frightening, and psychologically injurious to be attacked. It's not beyond belief to imagine what would happen to a person in management if they endured an assault while on the job. Most assuredly, they would be sent home to recuperate. They wouldn't dream of losing pay while recovering from a terrifying incident. Yet a union driver whose job it is to safely transport any passenger aboard to their destination cannot expect the same treatment.

The other day, I had the honor of meeting a fellow driver who was sexually assaulted while driving a bus. This brave soul, in unwavering and strong tone, testified before an Oregon legislative committee in Salem in support of a bill that would toughen the penalties for those who assault transit workers. I marveled at her poise while describing her assault. She did every one of us an incredible honor by sharing her horror, in hopes the committee would be moved to recommend government do the right thing by us. What is that? To insist that transit operators be shown the honor and respect we deserve, by demanding that those who assault us in any aspect of doing our jobs be reasonably punished for their actions.

As I spoke with this brave lady whose courage I admire, she told me that it is still difficult to even ride on transit let alone operate a bus. This is obviously a sign of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. There have been times in my own career when my safety was threatened. Trapped in the operator seat, it was a 50-50 proposition as to whether I'd be beaten or worse. Luckily for me, my tormentor was apprehended before any possible assault could occur. In our sister's case, her assailant has never been found. She bears the emotional scars of a scene that will never leave her memory. Yet she had the intestinal fortitude to tell her story, in a powerful voice, with the hopes that her words would help convince that committee to do the right thing.

"Do the right thing," said another brother, one of two who spearheaded this plea to our legislature.

It is time for our management to do right by its employees. It insists we are a "family." How many of you would rest easy until the assailant of a family member was brought to justice? Also, wouldn't you insist that every available option be made available to help your loved one recover? Should they be penalized for taking time off? In our job, it is imperative that we operate with confidence in order to ensure our passengers are safely transported. When fear distracts us, concentration is affected. Without a reasonable expectation that we operate with the full support of those entrusted with our safety, self-doubt can lead to possible distractions. In my experience, distractions are counter-productive to the safe operation of a bus.

To be fair, it is encouraging that our agency changed its fare policy. This act alone is a positive step. But it's reactionary rather than proactive. I applaud my fellow operators for their input and full participation in a process which encourages our management to find innovative ways of protecting us. While it's a bit late, it is an encouraging step.

Whether we are caged, assured that we are valued members of the transit agency family, or left to our own well-being, we remain vulnerable. I understand management believes that by placing a barrier between us and our passengers this will protect us from attacks. It might, however, further induce an assailant to find a more creative way to wreak havoc. Hiding behind barriers might elude an attacker, but those insistent upon violence will find a way around it. Will that barrier stop a bullet? Will the enclosure create yet another vision barrier? Might it also offend those passengers who are kind and polite to us?

My recommendation is to lose the barriers and educate the public. How to Ride the Bus. What Is Acceptable Behavior? This is What Happens When You Assault a Transit Worker. How to Drive Near a Bus. Transit Mall Rules and Procedures. Considering our city is transit-dependent for a strong economy, it seems odd there isn't a focus on educating it. Our union should take the lead in this regard in the absence of management's doing so.

We should expect management to do everything possible to keep us safe, but also to ensure that when attacked, we are given every opportunity to recover. I have no doubt my own family would automatically afford me this benefit. It's time for my transit agency to become a protective partner in our safety, rather than reactionary and punitive. Our fellow brothers and sisters are a collective family, and when one is hurt, we all feel the pain. It would be comforting to know management shares this bond. When we feel safe, it's a given that the public is further assured of a safe ride.

Slogans make management feel as if it's doing the right thing by its employees, but positive action comforts those who make the big wheels roll. Hopefully, we're headed toward a more meaningful and productive conversation than we have seen in the past decade.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

A Fare Extension

Our current fares are fairly inexpensive for the service provided.

Not really wanting to beat an already fatally-stricken horse here, but a conversation with a beloved brother who has nearly five times the experience I have on this job has me needing to take another stab at it. The severe tests this job already presents my razor-thin patience are multiplied dramatically with the transit agency's recent change in fare policy. In a way, I might add, that I didn't truly realize until said brother explained his own predicament regarding the change.

Years ago, he told me, transit here adopted a fare policy that basically amounted to an "honor system," where passengers either paid for a ride or did not. It didn't go well, evidently. Then, they reverted to a stringent collection policy that basically forced operators to make passengers toe the yellow line and pay up. They hired fare inspectors who weeded out the violators and cited them for not having valid fares. Even regular riders who may have forgotten their passes at home were fined for fare evasion, along with the poor who just couldn't afford it or the pathetic few who simply refused to pay. A few years ago, they eliminated this position and put the onus on operators and road supervisors along with transit police to enforce fare. The result was a marked increase of fare-related confrontations which led to an increase of assaults on transit workers. Now, the agency has reversed itself again, due to lobbying from those who believe low income residents are prosecuted more frequently than others.

According to the new fare policy, we are not allowed to refuse service to anyone refusing to pay a fare. Sure, we've been beaten up and bloodied over fare, and I understand part of the logic behind this move is reportedly to protect us from assaults. However, it is a hard pill to swallow for an honest rider to pay their fare and then watch some slacker board without being required to pony up a few bucks. These fare evaders are getting the same courteous, smooth service that the honest folks have paid to acquire. So which is better? Fare, or not fair?

What's wrong with this new policy? For starters, many who have avoided fare payment in the past have been subject to an operator having the authority to refuse them a ride, which is actually a nod to the paying passengers. Or, upon being given a ride, these people have been informed that they ride at their own risk, subject to citations if fare inspectors actually board the vehicle. Now we have neither the authority to require people to pay a fare or suffer consequences, nor the agency's support when doing so. So why should people pay anything for this service if the transit agency doesn't care either way?

This brings up an interesting point shared by my fellow blogger and great supporter, Al Margulies ( We usually agree on most points regarding transit. But Al believes that since transit is supported by local taxes, it should therefore be a free service. Well, I believe (as does my brother who raised this point with me earlier tonight) that those who pay for a service are invested in the ride and are therefore entitled to a safe, smooth and efficient one. Those not required to pay are less likely to have respect for the operator or their fellow passengers than those who do. Also, it takes a lot of money to provide transit services, and removing fares altogether would place an unfair tax burden on an already multi-taxed economy. Even though our fares are truly an outstanding deal, it's still a valuable service we provide the local populace, and nothing of value should ever be "free." Somebody always pays an additional fee for the misleading price of nothing.

Most trouble on transit, in my experience and that of many of my fellow operators, is attributed to those who are professional trouble-makers. They brazenly refuse to pay fare, board intoxicated on the drug of their choice, and spend an entire trip giving people grief. They know that once the operator calls for help, they can escape before help arrives. They mostly have no moral conscience, and certainly don't respect the operator who has spent years as a professional driver. They have no cognizance of what it takes to maneuver a 20-ton vehicle in traffic. When they cause a disturbance requiring the operator to stop-and-lock in order to deal with their troublesome antics, they're interfering with transit operations. Not only don't they understand this concept, they don't care either. All the paying passengers are therefore delayed because some goofball gets a kick out of making others miserable.

In addition, with the focus on our On-Time Performance, we'll now be further delayed when we have to explain to our honest fare-paying riders why they should pay at all since Freddie Freeloader didn't even put a dime in the fare box. It's an understandably-perplexing policy to explain. We can't be expected to do so while driving, because having conversations with people, especially if they can get heated, is distracting. Distracted driving is not conducive to safety. Safety is Our Core Value, they say.

Our transit agency is flailing under management that is trying to be "everything for everybody" while entirely missing the point. It's supposed to stand behind every operator, but it enacts policies that are misguided and illogical. This makes it even harder to do our job as "fare informers, not enforcers" because now we have to attempt an explanation for their policy reversals.

It won't be long before the riding public rises up and refuses to pay at all. Why should it? This flip-flopping fare policy makes us all look silly, from management to operators. I cannot explain it, nor can I even justify using the "Fare Evasion" button on my on-board computer, if fares are no longer necessary.

What do I propose? Hire back Fare Inspectors by the dozens. Instruct them to frequently ride the high-evasion lines. Cite the bad guys, but use basic human decency and offer leniency at their own discretion. Lower the fines to a more reasonable level so the working poor aren't unfairly targeted. District attorneys should mete out strict punishment to those who assault transit workers, and our agency must permanently exclude chronic offenders. When people are arrested, their photos are published in a tabloid. Public shaming our trouble causers isn't exactly necessary, but distributing photos of our assailants and excluded passengers amongst transit workers might help us be safer out on the road. Transit management should take to all media outlets to make our policies known to the public. Further, there should be public service announcements on how to ride transit, how to drive on the Transit Mall, and recommended driving safety around transit vehicles.

This mangled web we're weaving is an honest spider's nightmare.

Monday, March 13, 2017

I Won't Pay, And You Can't Make Me!

Our transit agency has some serious problems with fare evasion. On my route alone, I press the "Fare Evasion" button at least 10-20 times every day. Now local district attorneys are further eroding transit operators' authority by saying they will no longer prosecute fare evaders, except for various repeat offenders.

It's a great deal these days to ride the bus or light rail here. A mere $2.50 gets you almost anywhere in the Portland metropolitan area, good for 2.5 hours from the time of purchase. Try getting a cab ride at that rate. You'd grow gills and swim there faster. Given the extreme rainfall totals we've amassed this winter, I wouldn't be surprised if some residents had so evolved.

The economy is still a bit rancid in these parts. Yet what rankles me most is the guy who can be seen smacking down a new pack of smokes at the shelter, looking at his cell phone while sporting the latest pair of athletic shoes, getting on the bus with a poorly-concocted story as to why he doesn't have fare. "I'm just going a few stops anyway, can I just have a 'courtesy ride'?" Now what the hell is that? If he was 88, pushing a beat-up walker and too broke to afford a raincoat, I'd feel pity. I'd stop for the old guy in between stops just to help him out. But the young slacker who doesn't have a job, borrows $50 from Aunt Peggy every week for smokes, and causes a ruckus on the bus? Why shouldn't he have to pay? Now evidently, he doesn't even have to fear prosecution for theft of a public service.

There are scores of people who need to ride the bus and actually can't afford it. I accept this reality; once upon a time I was one of them. But they are much fewer in number than those who just don't want to put transit fares in their budget. They get on reeking of the local pot shop's finest strains, theatrically patting their pockets in the comical "I just had my fare, where did it go?" dance, then shrug and take a seat. When you inform them of our fare policy, they just shrug. "I'll take my chances... just drive, asshole."

Some are calling for transit to provide free rides to the "poor." If it has value, it shouldn't be free. By not charging people even a minimal fee, it severely devalues the exemplary service my brothers and sisters provide Portland's populace. Operators can tell the cons from the honest, hardworking people just scraping by. Most of us are willing to help out the honest folks, but we occasionally let the cons slip through. Sometimes regulars forget their pass, or they truly lose it. I give them a ride without a second thought because I know they're truthful. Now we have no authoritative threat. We can't even say, with a straight face, "If a fare inspector gets on, you're on your own."

We already have a pseudo low income fare, called "Honored Citizen." It's half the price of a regular Adult fare. It is enormously abused, because people don't have the identification card required or fail to show it when paying fare. Asking them to prove their status can, and has many a time, lead to an argument at the fare box. This is something we're trained to avoid, in an effort to increase our safety.

The district attorneys and our agency are proving soft on transit crime. The court system allows violent assailants to plead down their charges, and all transit can come up with is caging operators like monkeys. No wonder we suffer a massive lack of respect from the community we serve. Now we're pressured to make transit a free ride to anyone without requiring basic common decency to rule their behavior.

On Friday comes "Driver Appreciation Day." It seems more of a theatrical con job to make transit management feel better about its poor treatment of us by putting on a big media event. Put your money where your verbal jabs blast forth, fellas. I get more appreciation from my daily regulars than from your once-a-year dog and pony show. They at least have a better understanding of my job than management does. I take them home or to work, safely and smoothly with a welcoming smile on my face. It's better than some cabbies would give, and it's a helluva lot cheaper.

We Fight Or Die!

Contract talks have resumed. According to a fly on the wall, probably located nearest the source of bovine excrement, a few odorous surprises were hurled at our union officers. It seems our employer has come up with some innovative propositions.

First, they want to scrap our retirement plan altogether. Since management is reported to have avoided funding the pension for decades, the obligation is too high to ever fulfill. They replaced it with a 401k option a few years back, but now they're balking at paying for that too. It might cause more financial difficulty, and this would evidently interfere with building the Brown Line from Gladstone to Oregon City.

To alleviate their financial woes, they now intend to scrap all pensions in favor of the Fools' Upward Creative Karma Initiative Tomorrow (FUCKIT) plan. Included with our paychecks would be three Scratch-It and two Powerball lottery tickets. Given the strong possibility of a future stock market crash, management is touting this new plan as safer and more easily funded. With its attack on retirement benefits, our chances of winning a lottery seem congruent with the possibility we'll be financially stable in retirement.

Second, all insurance plans will be replaced by a single octogenarian nurse (with a dirty sock fetish) at each garage. Their office hours will be from 3:00 a.m. to 4:30 a.m. An operator marking off for the day must have a valid excuse from the nurse or risk termination. Anything more than a scratch or slight sniffle will no longer be covered. Everything else will be considered a pre-existing condition. No further workman's comp claims will be paid, as they believe any injuries suffered on the job are our own damn fault. Safety is after all, "our core value." Getting sick is no excuse for time loss.

Traditionally, if we are one second late to work, we lose our pay for the day. So they've decided that any time we're even one second late or two seconds early at any point on our routes, our pay will be cut in half for that shift. This is to ensure our passengers get the best service no fare payment can buy. These funds will automatically be added to the GM's retirement bonus.

If a state arbitrator approves the agency's "last best offer," all union activity will be strictly prohibited. All new hires will be required to sign a letter promising to trust the agency to provide the best possible terms of employment. There will be no promises made so none have to be kept. Our jobs will be to drive a bus or light rail vehicle until the coroner pronounces us no longer of this world.

* * * 

It sounds a bit far-fetched to you? Of course. Management would never do anything this extreme. Would it? Each contract negotiation, its demands approach ridiculousness. It's a vicious time in the media, during which we're denigrated as greedy monkeys demanding far more than we deserve. It chips away at promises one at a time. For instance, our retirees were promised long ago that in lieu of regular raises, they'd get free healthcare the rest of their lives. Pretty expensive, indeed. Considering the years of being pounded up and down and all around in an unforgiving operator's seat, their bodies were all used up by the end of a career. Their service was more valuable "back in the day" than it is now. Transit operators commanded more respect in decades past. In addition, they were promised a pension of x-amount of dollars per month multiplied by the years they served. We found out a few years ago that the agency hadn't fully-funded this pension. Instead of heads rolling after a full investigation of these shenanigans, we heard excuses. The blame shifted to our supposed "greed" while management found a secret way to increase non-union salaries. To add further insult to injury, retirees were suddenly charged a percentage of their insurance premiums... another promise broken. Considering the pension amounts have remain relatively unchanged for decades, many retirees faced financial ruin when the agency was permitted this grievous sin.

So I ask again... given what has happened in the past, is this truly an unbelievable scenario? I believe it could, in some altered state, become our future reality. Unions don't seem to have the respect and power we had while building the incredible superstructure and ferocious military might that gave us superpower status in the last century.

It is up to US to rise up and fight this battle on the vanishing middle class. We do the work, the uppity uppers collect the gold. We've now seen a billionaire gain the White House, who seems hell-bent on the continued upward redistribution of wealth rather than horizontally across the mid-section of our great country. It is up to each hard-working person to rise with our brothers and sisters against this gradual weakening of the masses who made this country "great" to begin with. If we don't win this war, there will be no more crumbs for us to fight over. Chaos will reign, the rich will only become more so, and we'll have nobody but our apathetically pathetic selves to blame. With numbers come strength; division breeds apathy and consensual weakness.

I don't need to be rich, only to be rewarded sufficiently for a lifetime of brutally-hard work just to survive. Help me, raise yourselves, lift us all.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Now Just Let Us Do Our Jobs!

Having covered both the early and late issues of driving a route, let's see where the added pressure to perform perfectly comes in on the perspective of safety.

"Safety is Our Core Value," our transit agency boasts. Operators and supervisors know that's not exactly true, defined by its recent push on us to perfectly execute pressure-cooker schedules. Safety is the key function of our jobs. Not this pie-in-the-sky "customer service" key phrase management hisses as an afterthought. Public transportation serves a major role in any city's economy. Its job is to safely and efficiently transport people to and from their destinations. Sure, it's an added bonus to have your operator be kind and courteous, and that we are a majority of the time. But management's dangerous belief that we should drive the schedule is something Risk Management should be wary of.

We're trained as newbies to A) Show up to work on time (meaning 15-30 minutes early, without pay); B) Not damage the equipment; and C) Develop and utilize a skill set enabling us to think and act quickly to keep our passengers and everyone else around the vehicle free of harm. I could write an entire book on safe operation. It takes a cooperative effort between the agency, an educated riding public, and the operator to keep the wheels rolling smoothly. The most important part of this system is the mental and physical health of operators. It takes a management team that is dedicated to the people it can't function without. With this in mind, you'd imagine management would be diligent in its efforts to make our jobs easier. A happier operator is a safer one. Harassed, insulted and violence-fearing drivers are distracted, and therefore not entirely focused on safe operation.

How many times have you been angry behind the wheel of your car? Maybe someone has insulted you, an argument at home has you keyed up and/or emotionally unbalanced, or you received some news from another source that monopolizes your thoughts. It's not that easy to put it all behind you and focus entirely on driving safely. You're distracted, not on top of your game. Other motorists' actions, even those minor infractions you can usually ignore, suddenly infuriate you. Road rage ensues. You become involved in a collision that's as much your fault as the other guy's. We can't do that. Once we get behind the wheel it's imperative we leave personal issues behind in order to safely transport our precious cargo.

Imagine your own company throwing down policies that may look good on paper, but thoroughly disrupt the normally-efficient routine of your work. A new rule that you immediately recognize as ridiculously disruptive is handed down from a management that is out of touch with what you do. You haven't been consulted on the rule's viability or long-term effects on those who must comply with it. Many, when faced with this situation, feel insulted and left out of the decision-making process. It's simply not efficient to change something that works well, replacing it with a concept that cannot ever be successful. This is why it's wise to have managers step down a few levels and actually do the work they oversee. It gives them a unique perspective of what their employees deal with. Unfortunately, it rarely happens.

Worker bees are the backbone of any economy. They're paid less to do the hardest work. They are easily insulted by those who are routinely disassociated with the very people they manage. Truly team players, they consult with each other and learn how to most efficiently perform their jobs under the conditions provided. With practice and teamwork, they become a smooth-running machine. Until something breaks, the machine can run very well for a long time. When the machine is deliberately altered without considering the function of related working mechanisms, it can remain broken; sometimes indefinitely.

We diligently strive to ensure our passengers' safety and timely arrival to their destinations. After the first few weeks of a new run, the operator has discovered the many factors which dictate how they will drive the route. Certain days are busier than others. Some stretches of the route allow for making up time lost in others. Many passengers are regulars, and we learn when their connecting buses will arrive at a shared stop so we will wait for them as long as possible. Those with disabilities require extra time to ensure they are properly secured for safe passage. We learn traffic light sequences, traffic patterns, and pedestrian behavior. If our routes cross light rail or freight train crossings, we discover when to expect them and are prepared for delays. There are some days when several things can go wrong, throwing our strategies to the wind, and nothing we can do will bring us back on schedule. Traffic accidents, road construction, protests, sudden changes in weather... they all can throw a lug nut into the works. No amount of mathematical calculations on the part of schedule writers can accurately predict these anomalies to produce the perfect schedule. They do come eerily close to perfect sometimes, but we all know what happens when things run smoothly a while.

When you watch an operator drive a bus, you don't see the many things he or she is watching for. You cannot read their minds as they calculate their next maneuver, predict motorist/bicyclist/pedestrian behaviors while instantly devising plans to safely avoid the worst-possible decisions others make around the vehicle. Our ears listen for anomalies in the vehicle's normal operating sounds. We keep one ear on passenger activities to ensure a conflict-free ride for all. Our eyes are always moving, our minds are constantly planning and rationalizing, our bodies always manipulating some or many controls, and our nerves on edge because we have to be prepared for any eventuality.

Now comes the "efficiency" deficiency I hinted at earlier. An operator, no matter how many years behind the wheel they may have, is not a machine. For management to arbitrarily begin to harass its operators if they're "consistently late" or "too early" is not only disruptive, but also short-sighted and unprofessional. I'm not saying that we're all above correction, but we are very good at our jobs. If you haven't been "in the seat" then it's logical to say you cannot fully understand the enormity of what safe operation entails. If an operator is worried about being counseled about running late, it's possible they could miss an important detail or safety protocol that could result in a collision. That's not safe operation, and management's meddling is a contributing factor to disrupting that operator's method of driving. Many of us have spent years perfecting our craft while parrying management's collective thrusts to tinker with machinery that isn't broken.

If we're pressured on this "on time" business too much, it can lead to operators being so afraid of discipline they let safety slide. More collisions could happen. If this is the result, then management should be assessed the Preventable Accidents their short-sighted actions cause.

We're taught from the first day to safely operate the district's vehicles. We dedicate our working lives to doing so. If management wants perfection, I dare them to come down and work in the trenches with the worker bees. It's an easy bet to make that they would become so frustrated with their own edicts they'd go running back to the safety of their cubicles before the day is done. So quit messing with us, folks. Let us continue to work with fellow operators and schedulers to make things better. You depend on us to make it all work. Stay out of the way and let us roll. People depend on us, and you should too.

95,000 Hits

I'm Early! Oh No, Don't Shoot Me!

So who is this new guy blasting us from "on high?" Has he ever driven a bus? I doubt it. Here's my side of this "gotta be perfect" schtick.

Sometimes, we run late, others we are hot. Why? Depends on the run. I chase a break sometimes, and while it may not be the best way, it can be the only way. It takes a lot of stamina to be a good bus driver. Our bodies take a beating every time we take the wheel. My foot presses that brake pedal a good 700 times every day. It's not an easy push. It takes power and thrust, along with precision and timing. My right foot's big toe controls the fine motor control on the brake pedal to ensure my passengers get a smooth stop. Not once or twice, but every damn time. I don't open the doors until the bus is stopped, or there's a big jerk. When someone's out of their seat and waiting for the door to go green, I'm careful to make it smooth. Otherwise, it's a heartless "thump" and paperwork waiting on the other side because they can fall if I'm not careful. Not only do I care about my passengers' well being, I do treasure being a smooth operator. It's a pride thing. Throughout my life, I've taken care to be as good at what I do as humanly possible. Otherwise, why do it at all?

Back to being early. We're being written up by the bean counters if we're early or late. What a bunch of crap. Like they've learned what we have... how to run a bus route. Every schedule is written on averages. Every run is different in many ways. Rush hour traffic balanced with risk-taking motorists in a hurry to their own funeral happen to weigh in heavily. We're trained to drive safely, schedule be damned. They look at numbers, we deal with traffic and numerous other factors on the road. We don't always have the luxury of staring at their precious time clock. Too many things on our radar at once to give one damn about schedule. On my route, it's usually "ding" for every stop. If I can zip past one, it adds a luxurious 15 seconds to my time. When you're down a few minutes, that's a valuable bonus. If I leave a stop more than a minute early, there's a reason. I know, from experience, that the next three or seventeen stops will need servicing. That will delete the extra time and make me late. If I leave a time point early, there's a damn good reason. I don't need some overpaid corporatist making a judgment on my driving. Running late means I lose time on my break. I gotta pee at the end of the line, if you'll excuse my crudeness. I also have to stretch my middle-aged legs, back and shoulders, and maybe even catch a bite of lunch here and there. A few puffs of nicotine take the edge off. They don't have to deal with society's throwbacks. I do.

The past two weeks, I've heard from several drivers complaining about being pulled into a manager's office and counseled about being early or late. They're splitting hairs because some upper yuckety-yuck is trying to impress the brass by stressing our "on-time performance." At the end of a sign-up, when we've all learned the route. Its "bubbles" and trouble spots. Where we'll lose time and how to make it up. Sometimes the "rules" lose out to common sense. To be disciplined for this is utterly asinine, especially when we know our jobs better than those trying to analyze what we've done for years.

People love to complain about our being late. These are the same ones who wait several minutes at a stop, pecking away at their phones. When we roll up, they're headphoned or stoned. Then they rush up to the door, trying to enter as passengers exit. They come on board, fumbling in their pockets. "I have a pass in here somewhere, lemme find it," they say as they clog the entryway. I usually wave them back, not giving a tinker's damn if they have fare or not. I just want to make the wheels roll. But until they're clear of the almighty Yellow Line, I'm delayed. The precious seconds they waste add up, stop after stop. Exponentially. Then the riders waiting down the line wonder (then later complain) why I'm late. It's pouring rain and they are waiting while drenched. They give me a ration of excrement by the looks in their hooded eyes, even though the pot stench from the joint they burned in the bus shelter reeks in the entryway minutes after they've boarded. People who are unprepared to board are the biggest time-wasters, but if you mention this, it's as if you're the biggest asshole since Noah forgot the unicorns.

If I roll up to a time point under a minute early, it depends on the nature of the stop as to how long I'll wait there. When traffic is piling up behind me because I'm too concerned about management's push for perfection in an imperfect world, I will roll as soon as that clock clears one minute. Why? Because to do otherwise is impolite and extremely unsafe. It risks people passing me on a double-yellow line to get around the slowpoke bus in their way. If I wait until the clock strikes triple zeroes, I'm more concerned about kissing management's pampered derriere than paying attention to what matters most: safety. I'll sit at a stop and kill time a few stops prior to a time point to avoid this, but there are only certain places this is safe to do so. If I don't have to service stops prior to the time point, I can be early when I get there because bubbles are often placed so you gain time just before you get there. So I'll burn the time prior to my arrival in hopes I'm in "the green" at the time point. But once again, transit is not perfect. Sometimes I miscalculate and arrive just a wee-bit early. Woe is me. Do I deserve punishment for this? Certainly not.

Our brains are always performing calculations. How much pressure should I apply to the brake to avoid colliding with the bonehead who cut me off then turns right in front of me? Do I injure passengers or total the car? Is the green light up there fresh or stale? Am I too late prior to arriving to a normally-busy stop, or should I push it up a mile or so above the speed limit to get there on time? There's a fog bank up ahead, so I need to slow down to drive safely; is this going to make me late? How deep does the fog extend? Will I make the sweet lady's connection to that bus she needs to take to complete her trip home? When I'm driving 20 miles-per-hour below the speed limit because of the fog, do I stop for that person I see at the last minute who is running hell-bent for leather to the stop I'm already two minutes late for? (I usually do, because I remember what a bummer it is to miss a bus and have to wait in freezing weather another 15-30 minutes for the next bus to arrive.)

Sometimes our leader is doing most of the work. They're late for any number of reasons. My bus is nearly empty, and I know from experience it should be fuller than a pregnant rattlesnake. If I catch up to them, I will call into Dispatch and suggest they be put into Drop Off Only mode. I know what it's like to be so late your follower catches you. This means you are in jeopardy of losing what little break time is allotted at the end of the line. I'm willing to pick up their passengers because I'm on time or even a bit early. It's normal procedure for us to help each other. Besides, it gets monotonous sitting at a stop burning time. Your passengers get restless because they don't know you're early. They just want to get home as quickly as possible, so why is that bus driver just sitting at a stop when he could be rolling?

If we're early, it's a bonus. It all works out in the end, because other times during the week we're often late. Our regulars are professional riders, and know to be at their stop a few minutes earlier than the schedule says our bus will appear out of a swirling fog bank. I shouldn't worry what some manager might think. Most bus operators play by the rules, and each route has its own code. We work together, sort things out amongst ourselves. Sure, some operators might bend the rules, but we know how things are out there. Managers sit in an office and stare at computer screens without the benefit of knowing what we do. Unless of course, they've actually driven a bus before. Most of the new ones, however, don't have the benefit of that experience.

Transit is an imperfect beast. Even if the machines ran themselves, they'd be early or late. When we're lucky, things run our way and we roll in on time. But never are we so perfect at every stop. Get over it. We are a transportation industry, not a customer service machine. Too many factors determine our timing. Our main goal is to deliver our passengers safely to their destination. If I've done that without a scratch at the end of the line, nothing else matters. It shouldn't matter to management either.

End of rant.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Union First!

(This was featured in Labor Press recently. Decided to share it with you in case you missed it.)

OUR job is to safely operate a bus in this district, and I am proud to be part of a century-old tradition here in Portland. It takes a gritty spirit and nerves of steel to persevere in this profession. Our livelihood depends upon presenting a united front. Otherwise, we are as vulnerable as summer’s fat and lazy housefly, slow to react and easily squashed.

We are often an unfocused and cantankerous group, prone to debating sometimes insignificant issues while neglecting the most vital. In order to achieve successful bargaining, it is important we aim toward a common goal. That is, to ensure fair compensation for this vital service we honorably provide our community.

What constitutes “fair compensation” is a hotly contested point. The District acts as if we’re overpaid and greedy. They inject this propaganda into a largely unsympathetic public mindset via local media. The last time, this tactic was successful for them. Most of those whose valuable support management hopes to secure however, have not endured hours in the seat. They haven’t been screamed at, spat upon, threatened at gunpoint, punched or stabbed. Their bodies have not been subjected to the repetitive motions which gradually wear us down. Numbers and innuendo are management’s game. Yet upper management isn’t as vital as we are in competent transit operations. We could still efficiently do the job without them; they could not do our duties and simultaneously manage themselves.

We negotiate from a collective strength earned by safely operating transit vehicles thousands of miles each month. Comparatively, humanity benefits from honey, yet rarely are bees given credit for their crucial role. Instead, industrial humanity destroys them to the brink of extinction. Upon the bees’ final exit, politicians will “study” what happened while we slowly starve in the absence of sufficient pollination. We are now being pushed toward the first stage of extinction. Remaining strong we can push back against this attack upon our livelihood while also improving the lot of retirees. If management is allowed to gradually pick our bones dry, someday only ash and dust will remain.

It is up to each union member to collectively form a united front. Elections are over. Our internal bitterness needs to stop. It is time to cleanse our collective palate, spit, and fight in unison. Let us leave politics behind and work together toward our common goal. There are many strong minds amongst us which could be valuable assets to the cause. We have lost much over the years, yet we still provide exceptional results from our labors. If we regain the public’s support, our chances to prevail improve considerably.

None of us expect to live in grand mansions, but we do deserve a decent living without fear of poverty in retirement. We can’t win if we’re collectively holding each other back. When we fight amongst ourselves, we become weaker and management gleefully rejoices.

In nature, the strong survive. Often, the weakest of the herd is executed by its own. We’re in danger of not only losing forward momentum, but also of being replaced by non-union outsiders.

Peace be among us, brothers and sisters. Together we are strong, divided we become a memory. Let our efforts become legendary and victory an enduring legacy.

No Free Ticket for Transit Safety

Opposing forces do not always create a positive outcome. Contradictions naturally occur, but when purposely thrust upon people, they result in anger and frustration.

On one hand, we're being told to drive safely and the schedule is secondary. Now we're being held accountable for being late. And finally, because abuse of operators has exploded the past few years, our agency is now addressing operator safety. (Of course it took two brothers petitioning our state legislature for stiffer penalties for those who assault us before the agency stepped in.) If you stress the schedule, you're not driving safely. If you concentrate on safety (which they repeatedly say is "our core value"), you save lives but are counseled about On-Time Performance. In this business, you can have one, but usually not both.

Rolling into a transit center on my route last week, I noticed a road supervisor sitting in his vehicle. I thought nothing of it. They're always out supporting us, taking care of issues that develop over the course of a transit day. Dealing with trouble-making passengers, investigating collisions involving our vehicles, and otherwise assisting operators, is their job. Later, I heard we're being scrutinized over schedules. Management is harassing operators who are consistently late. Of course, nobody's perfect. However, it's hard to fathom why we're being pulled by opposing forces, when the obvious end result is a figurative severing of our head from the body. We are held to unrealistic expectations by the public, police and our transit agency. Driving safely encompasses many concepts. Expecting us to risk tragedy to satisfy a largely ungrateful public borders on villainous.

There are numerous reasons for running late. It is nearly impossible for schedule writers to know exact ridership on any given day when addressing route timing. Some days are busier than others, so we are forced to drive slower. Traffic problems are not predictable. Thanks to January's Snowpocalypse, we have pothole-ridden streets that make a sleigh ride over a lava field seem smooth in comparison to a bus ride. Mechanical issues can pop up at any time, as can passenger misbehavior. Boarding people with disabilities takes time, especially when we employ protocols designed to ensure their safe transport. Passengers waste precious time who wait 10 minutes at a stop, then meander on board and begin fumbling for their fare. Weather can play a major role, especially when you drive into a dense fog bank and have to slow to a crawl because of... safety. 

There are many other reasons we can run late, but none of them warrant the agency berating operators for being human. Especially given that public transit anywhere is anything but perfect. Still, we pull the rabbit out of our hats more often than not. We work hard, sometimes cutting short a break to keep the wheels rolling. We know our regulars have connections to make. They are, after all, a lot like we are. They're working stiffs, and damnit, they want to get home. There are times when I've had a bad day that I'll just say: "to hell with them, I need a full break." Yet we deal with a myriad of guilt complexes. People depend on us. I want to do right by them, even though they rarely call in a compliment and are quick to complain. I have great affinity for many of my regulars. Most are courteous, and remember the challenges our winter weather threw at me a month ago. I didn't get stuck, kept all six on the road and hardly slid. I kept them safe and warm. However, I've only had ONE commendation called in because of all I try to do for my passengers. Their indifference makes it easier sometimes to make that decision to take a full break.

Transit's public face is much different than what we see on this side. A friend recently told me the agency asked her to complete a survey. It asked, among other things, if she feels safe at bus stops and on transit vehicles. She honestly told them no. If our passengers feel unsafe just waiting for a bus, imagine how operators feel at the end of the line. Some of these places are infested with humanity's roughest characters. We're constantly asked transit-related questions on breaks, as if we're supposed to have the entire system's schedules memorized. I'm often harassed for money, smokes (even when I vape), or a "free ticket," as if we just carry them around to pass out like candy. When you say NO, it often evokes a violently negative response from these not-so-lovely beings.

When I hear the big wheels spouting a rosy picture about our "improving" safety, I tend to stiffen. It truly pisses me off that our agency hasn't a clue what we face every day. If they walked even a few feet in our boots, they'd run crying for mommy. But hey folks, my Mom died a decade ago, and she taught me to stand up for myself. Too bad my employer doesn't allow that.