Sunday, July 23, 2017

Damn the Whole Mess

James Taylor in concert with Carole King
Portland, OR 2010
"Well I left the job about 5 o'clock
Fifteen minutes to go three blocks
Just in time to stand in line
With the freeway lookin like a parking lot
Dam this traffic jam
How I hate to be late
Hurts my motor to go so slow
Time I get home my supper be cold
Damn this traffic jam
I almost had a heart attack
Lookin' in the rearview mirror,
Saw myself, the next car back
Lookin' in the rear view mirror
'Bout to have a heart attack
I said Damn this traffic jam
How I hate to be late
Hurts my motor to go so slow
Time I get home my supper be cold
Damn this traffic jam..."

"Traffic Jam"
-- James Taylor

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

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 Bus schedules written a year ago are out-of-date within a matter of months because of passenger loads and changing traffic patterns.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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 17, 2017

You're In My Two-Wheeled Prayers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 16, 2017

You Left Two Seconds Early!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Tips for Newbies

It's not cool to rag on fellow operators, but there are a lot of newbies out there who are still learning. So instead of growling at them for things they may not know yet, I decided to turn this post into a teaching moment. Hey, I still learn things from time to time, as most of us do. The day I don't learn something is when it's time to quit driving others for a living.

This week, I saw a notice about the promotion of over 40 drivers to full-time. A few of them just completed Line Training! This job is hard enough on veterans, but newbies are under a finely-tuned microscope. More than two PA's (Preventable Accidents) in probation means bye-bye job.

First, we're constantly treated rudely by the driving public at large. They're not professionals, but it's a good thing we are or there would be a great deal more funerals going on. So especially when you meet another driver on a route, there is important etiquette to follow. If one end of a run consists of narrow streets, remember that if you're just starting your run, it's customary to yield or pull over and stop for your brother or sister who is nearing their break. Chances are very good they need to pee, stretch, pass gas and generally chillax. Give your fellow operator the right of way. It's also good practice to stop and look when things get too tight out there. Remember, if you get a PA, it's your butt in the ringer. The other operator might just be steamed at you too if you take unnecessary chances which ends in your both filling out reports. When in doubt, stop. A few extra seconds can save you major headaches.

If you share part of your route with other lines, remember to stop behind a bus ahead of you in case there are passengers at the stop who want your bus. Plus, it's quite annoying when the bus behind you flies by without checking. It's also rude of them to do this if there's a stoplight ahead. Wait your turn, Mr. Impatience. So many other motorists do this to us all the time. They whiz by and cut us off even though the light is red. Our Standard Operating Procedures cover this as well. Sharing stops is common, and you're not doing anyone favors by breaking the rules, least of all yourself. When passengers are at the stop on time (meaning before you arrive), they expect you to service that stop. When the operator ahead of you stops, figures out the passengers want your bus, and then you zip past before he can clear the stop, it makes us all look bad.

On my route, there are several stops that are far-side of the intersection. Every time I stop at a red light near one of these stops, I get the inevitable "Can you let me out on this side? The other drivers do." PLEASE, don't be that "other driver." Some might say it's not hurting anyone to just give in to the passengers' pleas. Just remember that if you make it a habit of allowing people to exit before you reach the stop, you are liable if they injure themselves getting off the bus where there is no official service stop. Plus, you're almost assured a PA if you let someone exit near-side of a far-side stop. It's your job to keep people safe even when it makes them angry. You're not doing them a favor by allowing this. We all know how motorists will zip around the side of a bus, and sometimes they use bike lanes as right-turn lanes. (Hell, they use left lanes as right-turn lanes!) People are inherently lazy, and will beg and plead with you to save them some steps. Too damn bad, I say. In fact, when approaching an intersection with a far-side stop, I will warn people as we approach the stop prior to the intersection. I tell them I do not give "courtesy stops" at the near-side curb. They groan and complain, but I'm firm on this point. Do I look like that "other driver" who gives in to their whining? Not in the least. I'm too damn ugly to be that guy.

This also applies to people leaving vision barriers and blinking lights on their bicycles. "The other driver doesn't care if that bag is in the basket, why should you?" Well ya goober, I care because it's dangerous and this is MY bus. Oh and that stroller too, please obey the rules and fold it up after taking Snoozin' Sally out of it. "But it's full of stuff, and she just went to sleep" I often hear. Bummer. Make your fat old man carry some stuff, or the baby bag full of the 1,303 items you need to tote around with you. Sally comes out of the stroller so she doesn't become a human projectile when that bozo up there decides to cut me off and hang a right just inches from my front bumper.

When you're parked at a bus layover, kill the freakin' four-way flashers, will ya? Especially at night. It's not necessary. The operator behind you might just be resting his eyes, and blinking lights in our face is visual noise we can live without. I don't know any supervisors who will give you a hard time for not having them on. This is truly annoying when you're in the first position of a long line of vehicles. Also, if it's a marked layover zone, motorists know why you're parked there. If you're the last vehicle in a line, it's acceptable, but not if you're in the first, second, third... etc., just leave them off, please.

If your layover differs from the first service stop of a route, do not allow people on your bus there. "But the first stop is four blocks from here!" they'll whine. Hey, walking is good for the cardiovascular system. If they start hoofin' it from your layover, they might just make it to the stop in time to catch you. I have allowed a few people to board early, but it was late at night and this cute elderly Australian couple was lost. They were tired, and visibly nervous to be in such a rough part of town. I would have felt terrible turning them away. But this is a very rare exception. Most people haven't a reason, they're just lazy. Be strong, be firm! Remember, if a supe sees you do this, they'll most likely write you up. Also, word travels fast if you're a soft touch. Be tough, be resolute!

Don't let all this hype about on-time performance stress you out. If you're new, you're supposed to run late. Concentrate on learning the job, becoming efficient at stops, scanning, learning traffic patterns and motorist behaviors, and just roll smooth. Do not EVER drive the schedule. Our management is creating unsafe working conditions by stressing schedule over safety. It's your job to drive safe, not to adhere to a schedule that is sometimes unrealistic.

Talk to veterans on your route, ask for tips. Trainers are valuable resources, and they're eager to help you. We were all newbies at one time and most of us will be happy to assist any way we can. Find out how your leader and follower expect you to roll when you're all bunched together. If you catch your leader, you might want to let Dispatch know so they can put them on Drop Off Only mode. If your follower catches you, tell Dispatch then too, because when this happens it means you're really late. Maybe your leader or follower will just want you to skip stops for a while and let you catch up, or they'll pass you and pick up the passengers because their own bus is nearly empty while you have people breathing down your neck from the yellow line forward. Hey, we're a team out there. We know what we're doing, but management has a slow learning curve. Work with each other, and make sure you don't take advantage of your fellow operators.

Finally, and possibly most important, just try to remain calm. Your job depends upon this, and your ability to do so is one of the reasons you scored this job. If you see something you don't like, stop and lock. Observe and think about it. If you make a wrong turn or miss one, stop and call Dispatch. They expect you to. They can talk you through it most of the time. If you go too far and end up somewhere a bus truly shouldn't be, you run the risk of locals calling in to tattle on you. This can also result in a supervisor being called to help you out of that hole, when another operator in serious trouble really needs help. Use your brain. Be calm and thoughtful out there.

I'm always happy to answer any questions I can. So are union reps and fellow operators. Good luck!

Monday, July 10, 2017

Us vs. Them

Why do we put up with it? We certainly don't need management's meddling. Instead of finding new ways to harass those who do the real work of transit, why aren't they working harder to support us? We don't need their interference, but we could use some constructive leadership.

Transit operators have always worn uniforms. Until a few decades ago, it included a badge and an official several-cornered hat, with pressed shirts and ties required. There was respect for those who made the wheels roll from both the public and management. Back then, management consisted of people who had done the work previously, not corporate wonks who haven't a clue. There was mutual respect, and we mostly got along very well together. Not any more.

True, some operators don't take pride in their appearance. They refuse to tuck in their shirts, or they wear hats or other apparel not approved by the corporate number crunchers. It's a form of resistance, a statement that we no longer have confidence in upper management. So what's the solution? Management is pushing back, trying to force us to "respect" them by enforcing uniform policies. It's the classic macho pushback: my authority is bigger than your disrespect. The goal in this circus act is apparently to weed out the supervisors who refuse to enforce this antiquated expectation of military perfection from troops who have no realistic expectation that management will do the right thing by us. Our supes are mostly over-worked and stretched thin enough to worry about what we're wearing. The riding public won't respect us any more if we're wearing starched and pressed clothing or not. There's a small percentage of people who are going to spit, throw drinks and punches at us regardless of what we're wearing. (Most passengers are transit-savvy, polite and respectful.) If we dare to fight back in a biological response to protect ourselves, management doesn't back us. It's as if they dare people to assault us: if we fight back, we're suspended or possibly even terminated. This is outrageous and infuriating. It's a basic human response to not only protect ourselves, but to eliminate any threat to our safety.

We're frustrated daily with increasing traffic and the rude insults thrown at us daily by motorists who are in a hurry to get nowhere fast. It's a fine balancing act to stay on time. If you're really busy and running late, it's likely that traffic is heavy as well. You can only progress as fast as conditions allow. There are points in most runs at which an operator will run late, but there are also stretches where you can make up time and bank it for future points along the route where you know you'll likely to be late again. To expect operators to leave time points at EXACTLY ZERO is not only foolhardy, it's a guarantee they will be consistently late. It's also micro-management in its worst form. Of course, there are routes where this isn't true. On light traffic days, we might linger at a time point until we're 2-3 minutes late because we know that just a few minutes down the line we could be too early because there are usually no passengers boarding or exiting the bus for some distances. When you're too early, people can miss your bus. That's poor passenger service.

When you have people running a transit agency who've never been behind the wheel of a bus or operated a light rail vehicle, they come up with unrealistic policies. What they think might be totally legitimate policies make the operators shake their heads and say, "Wow man, that's some crazy shit. It's impractical and counter-productive, and management can kiss my ass. If they want me to do this, why don't they come out here and try it themselves? Maybe they'd learn the folly of their thoughts."

I've heard reports of some supervisors who have written operators up for leaving a stop three seconds early. I hope it's an exaggeration, because this is micro-management and harassment at the very least. It's downright nit-picky bullshit. There are other supes who live in reality, and know that expectations of this level of perfection are beyond the pale. They're too busy dealing with more important duties, including ensuring our safety and supporting operators in need of assistance. They don't want to play Hitler for micro-managers out there. They know our job because they've done it themselves. Our safety and comfort are their main concerns. They realize what we face on the road, and beside basic rules of the job, they're understandably unconcerned with nitpicky bullshit fed them from above. Upper management needs to take a cue from our dedicated and professional brothers and sisters in white shirt uniforms.

There was recently a comment on FaceBook where someone complained that I offer no solutions in my writing. I tend to disagree with the need. This blog is an exercise in describing what it's like to do my job. Period. It's my personal therapy, and it tends to resonate with operators worldwide. Everyone who reads it has their own ideas about what should or could be done to properly address the issues we face. If you have an opinion about solutions, please feel free to offer them in comments. I'm not a genius. I don't know all the answers. We all need to work together anyway, in order to send clear messages to those who run the works (often without a clue) as to how they should do it. We know how to do our jobs; perhaps they should study a bit harder as to how to do their own. Management is surely a difficult job, and I don't profess to know all the solutions. I just tell you how it feels to be me, to be us, at the controls of a transit vehicle. The rest is open to interpretation. Don't expect me to know all the answers. I'm "just a bus driver," for crying out bleepin' loud. The pain we're feeling due to this over abundance of ridiculous management interference is counter-productive to the agency's fallacious mantra "Safety Is Our Core Value."

Get a grip on your own issues, management. We know how to do our job. Let us do it, and quit meddling where you shouldn't tread because of your lack of understanding. We constantly provide excellent service to the riding public. Why don't you trust us?

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Dear Bus Hating Motorists and Others

Man. Though I do it for a living, I sure hate to drive here. It's become so bad in Portland our 12 bridges have voted to go on strike; it was a 6-6 vote but Russia hacked the results and broke the tie.

Traffic has increased steadily the past 10 years due to an influx of people moving to this beautiful forest of a city. They bring unwelcome driving habits with them. Every motorist here puts their bad driving skills on display daily, and I see the danger play out before me every trip. Oh sure, bus drivers are human, and we also make mistakes. But folks, for every one screwup of ours, you've missed the past 100 times we successfully avoided crushing people who take incredible chances with their lives. We truly save thousands of lives every day just by watching, predicting and instantly reacting to whatever you throw at us. You're welcome.

I've compiled a list of pet peeves bus operators all over the world face each day. As you read this, some bus driver is diligently watching your antics, and preparing for your worst possible move. It doesn't matter where you live, bad driving habits are prevalent everywhere automobiles exist.

We've been trained, but you haven't. Not since high school anyway. And still, most of you still drive as if you have something (other than your intelligence) to prove. So let's explore what you're doing, and find ways to improve your chances of survival, because it's only going to get worse out there.

Dear People Who Drive In Portland,

Yes, that includes those of you who live in Washington. Especially you. You are the most impatient, reckless and inconsiderate drivers I see every day. Please, invest in Driver's Education, because you truly need it. And no, that middle finger you raise at everyone who honks at you for cutting them off or refusing to yield to a transit vehicle doesn't mean you're number one... it's more likely your driving IQ score. It's also a temper tantrum in sign language. Grow up people. Yeah, my rig is big and slow and you're in a hurry to buy another 18-pack of cheap beer. But you will get to your destination safely if you follow some simple rules of the road. Perhaps you've forgotten (most of) them, so let's review.

Green means it's okay to proceed through the intersection. Carefully. You don't know if Granny has finished plodding along with her walker safely through the intersection. It's a good idea to look up from your phone long enough to scan the scene ahead before proceeding. Just hugging car's bumper ahead of you doesn't ensure safe passage. Besides, if that car ahead brakes suddenly when they see Granny has only succeeded in traversing half the crosswalk, your airbags will knock the phone out of your hands and into that impossible-to-reach spot between the seat and console.

Yellow means slow down and prepare to stop, because the next color is actually a command you need to obey. It doesn't mean to speed up in hopes you'll zip through the intersection the light changes. It's also not an invitation to squeeze between a bus and the turn lane so you can get ahead of my cumbersome beast when the light turns green. Watch pedestrian counters for a clue when the green light might be stale. A vehicle on the cross street might take the opportunity to turn right onto your street at this moment, causing you to either slam on your brakes or have close encounters with emergency responders and insurance agents.

Red means you should seriously consider stopping your vehicle. It's a sign that cross traffic will be in your way if you continue, which can result in catastrophic consequences if you fail to obey this color.

Stop signs mean you're supposed to actually stop the forward movement of your vehicle. At this time, it's best to scan around the area for other vehicles. It doesn't mean to slow to almost a stop and keep going. When you do this, you miss the bicyclist who decides they're also above the law and roll right into your path. You might also come into contact with the pedestrian who thinks his Twitter feed is more interesting than possible dangers in his immediate vicinity.

Yield signs are found on the street or yes, even on a bus. You are legally required to obey them in Oregon. When you see the flashing yield sign come on at the back of my bus, that means I'm done servicing a stop and need to merge back in. It applies to you, third or fourth car back, not the fifth through 10th vehicles. We realize that the cars coming up immediately behind us don't have time to slow down enough or stop before reaching our vehicle. Yet the rest of you speed up so that your front bumpers are kissing the rear of the car ahead of you, as if to say "Ha Ha Bus, screw off!" This is all done without any regard to what's ahead. Could be a pedestrian breaking another rule by exiting the bus and walking right in front of it, expecting cars to stop for them as if they're kids getting off a school bus. In your haste to beat us to the red light ahead, you're endangering someone's life and risking blood on your hood plus a possible jail sentence. You can't see through or around our 40-foot-long vehicle. Chillax! Wait for us to pull out, and you'll arrive safely at your destination. Besides, it's very likely that you'll have the perfect opportunity to pass us within 100 yards, which is about how often this city places our service stops. If you miss the first pass, just think of your next chance as the second down with inches to go.

(It's fascinating to me that our state has flashing yield lights on our buses, but no decal signs to inform motorists of ORS 811.167. The opposite is true in Washington; they have the decals, but no flashing lights. I think that instead of spending so much money on newfangled fare systems, our transit agency might invest in some signs. Instead of the smarmy, trying-to-be-funny ad signs like "We Need Some Space Right Now." What, did a clever fifth grader write that? It would also be nice that if the agency would hire more officers to patrol the transit mall and actually cite people for disobeying the signs. Oh wait, I forgot... they're so small as to be virtually invisible to the motoring public! Oh yeah, and the City of Portland refuses to enforce the laws on the mall, and cops ignore violations that occur right in front of them. Silly me, expecting a municipality to do its best to keep its streets safe.)

Center Lanes are usually bordered by a solid yellow line. Let's review again: a solid yellow line means Do Not Pass! This doesn't mean it's your chance to downshift that noisy little Honda junker and blow exhaust at us as you speed past us. It's not a passing lane, okay? It's clearly marked as a lane in which you can make a left turn.

Left Lanes are not right-turn lanes. That bus is blocking the right-turn lane a few seconds longer than your attention span will allow, so you zip around and turn right in front of a bus that is preparing to leave the stop you couldn't wait for him to service. Do you realize that legally, you will be cited for two infractions if you do this? First: failure to yield to a transit vehicle, and second, illegal right turn and failure to avoid being a dumbass.

Emergency flashers approaching means you're supposed to pull over and STOP. Immediately, if not sooner. What if they were en route to save someone you love? Wouldn't it considerably piss you off if people didn't get out of their way in time to help them? Yeah. It isn't your chance to zip past that bus ahead and then stop. Nope, not the right thing to do. (Thanks Al, and all your brothers and sisters in the big reds for racing into danger to save us every minute, every day.)

Bus brakes have a delay, and a 20-ton vehicle can't stop on a dime. Cutting us off and then slowing or stopping to turn right can have disastrous results. Luckily for you, we avoid crushing you nine-point-zillion out of 10 times. The worst I've seen is a school bus doing this in front of me, with a full load of kids aboard. Damn, people! (Thanks JuneBug, Jimmie and countless others!)

Parallel parking is best done behind a bus, not suddenly in front of one. If you stop in front of a bus with the expectation the operator can read your mind, usually you're right. But if you think we're going to back up and allow you to attempt to parallel park, you're on some pretty good hallucinogens. Can I have some?

Driving someone who needs my bus? Proceed a few stops ahead of where I am, drop them off, then get the hell out of the way. Zipping past me and stopping just a few feet ahead of my bumper to discharge your loved one is taking the chance I won't be able to stop fast enough to avoid slamming your trunk up to your dash. A 20-ton vehicle travelling 20 mph can crumple even the larger SUV's into an accordion in the blink of an eye. (Thanks, Teri!)

Put the phone down and drive! Some of us have newer vehicles which have Bluetooth enabled. Others are not so lucky. They tend to text, play stupid games, and talk while driving. This is suicidal! It's illegal and distracting. Your attention should be 110% on the road, not what someone wrote on Twitter or FaceBook. I often see cops doing this too, which is extremely annoying.

Put the phone down and LOOK! "Pedestrians under the influence of cell phones" are truly playing with fire. It's their fragile body vs. thousands of pounds of vehicles bearing down on them, yet they cross streets watching a tiny screen instead of being vigilantly aware of their surroundings. If you honk to let them know they're directly in the path of thousands of pounds of rolling mass, they usually flippantly flip you off. That's the thanks we get for saving them from being dismembered under our 20-ton low riders. Also, those in the car ahead of you who are so intent on their phone they don't see the traffic ahead of them has proceeded through the green light, then they look up and see the light turn yellow and zip through, leave you sitting for yet another light cycle. Punks. (Thanks Robert!)

Don't be selfishly non-observant. Your lane on the far side is full and the light is yellow, but you creep up and block the intersection anyway. Stop first, wait until the other side is clear, and then proceed across when there's room for your self-entitlement-mobile and the light is still green. You're not more important than the long line of vehicles to your right. You seem annoyed that they're honking at you because the green they've been waiting for through three light cycles is now going red again because you couldn't wait your turn. Thanks, jerk. May the fleas of one thousand camels infest your nether regions.

Look Ma, no hands! That bicyclist who hogs the entire lane, "because I can," while texting with no hands on the handlebars, going 10mph. He glances over his shoulder, sees a bus creeping along behind him with 10,000 cars behind him. No worries, he has every right to be on the road too. The rest of Portland can go to hell, he has to tell his girlfriend (who is likely buggering his ugliest best friend while texting him back) to grab a 200-pack of brewskies because he's almost home. Hey bubba, there's a bus stop ahead. Pull over and ride so the 50 folks on my bus and the hordes of vehicles behind me can proceed at the legal speed limit. (Thanks Kelli!)

Construction flaggers, we're on a schedule! Thanks for stopping the bus after allowing three cars at a time ahead of us to proceed before making us wait another 250 minutes. (Okay, so sometimes I exaggerate a little.) I'm sure your co-workers ahead who have been bullshitting forever really need to cross before we're finally allowed to roll, but really. Really? Aren't you supposed to give transit priority when flagging vehicles through construction zones? We always wave in respect to your job as we roll by. Can you please just let us pass? The 10 minutes we just sat patiently waiting comes off the top of our short break awaiting at the end of the line. Please? (Thanks Sam!)

* * *

I could go on and on. But you have things to do and I've kept you long enough. Thanks for patiently reading through this diatribe. Hopefully you can empathize with the many drivers who contributed their peeves via FaceBook. If you don't drive a bus, please take heed to these examples and exercise more patience. Remember, the 20-50 people on my bus represent that many cars not on the road with us all. If we work together, rush hour doesn't need to be as frustrating as you make it. Peace out, and be safe out there!

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

We Can (Self) Manage

Unskilled labor. A rather derogatory term for just about any type of work. Sure, ditch digging might match this term. But even the most menial job takes some type of skill that others could find difficult. Transit operation certainly does not fit this category.

Since I was a lad, every job I've had (except ditch digging, which I did for a while until I uncovered an angry colony of ants which brutally attacked The Boys, resulting in a hasty and possibly illegal shedding of clothing and my immediate resignation) required certain skills to competently complete. These former occupations included intense training and a mastery of each aspect, even though most were classified as "blue collar" labor.

When I was laid off from a highly-technical corporate job after 11 years, my search for a new career led me to bus driving. "Hey," I thought, "anybody can drive a bus." With apologies to my fellow operators worldwide, I quickly realized the folly of this statement. Desperate for gainful employment in a recession economy, I applied for the job. After psychological testing, drug/alcohol screening, panel interviews and a background check, I was offered a position as a trainee, with no guarantee that I would pass the rigorous training regimen. Through hard work and intense concentration, I made it through. Now I have some years on the road, I can personally attest to the level of professionalism and skill required to operate a transit vehicle. It isn't easy, and it's certainly not something anybody can do.

It truly requires no education past high school, yet many of my brothers and sisters have college degrees and impressive resumes from careers prior to this one. They are by no means unskilled. In fact, each day we make the big wheels roll, we learn something new. Those who do not evolve usually don't last long. It takes years of constant self-evaluation and meaningful contemplation to successfully (and safely) negotiate thousands of miles behind the wheel. Most large cities would not have robust economies without mass transit to transport their workforce. Yet there is a stubborn misconception that we are no more valuable than burger flippers.

I strongly believe that transit management today is no more "skilled" than its operators. We could, given the vast amount of experience many operators have gained in other careers, run the entire operation without those currently in management. Most of them have never driven a bus. Many wouldn't pass the training regimen, and others would likely run screaming from the seat if ever required to operate in service. These folks may believe what they're doing will improve local transit, but they cannot empathize with our problems. Conversely, I know many fellow operators who could lead the agency with a high degree of competence, while retaining our confidence they would lead us back to the top. They would manage with the knowledge of what it actually takes to do our job.

This isn't a corporation, it's a government agency that provides a valuable service to the communities in our metro area. Its Board of Directors are political appointees, rather than elected public servants. We've slid from the best transit agency in the nation to just above average. It's certainly not the fault of the hard-working professionals who operate buses and trains here.

Since I've worked here, I've seen enough incompetence to support my beliefs. Management has reneged on decades-long promises to retirees and hidden the fact it didn't fund pension obligations for decades. It jacked fare prices up considerably during the recession, putting operators on the front lines at risk due to the riding public's anger and frustration. Then it eliminated fare inspectors and put the onus on already-stretched-thin road supervisors to perform this job. It gave management a raise, while hiding this fact from its own board. It regularly finds new ways to harass operators, employs union-busting tactics and refuses to allow media to cover contract negotiations with our union. It touts the slogan "Safety Is Our Core Value" while failing to protect operators from assaults, and suspends some operators who rise up in self-defense when attacked. It has no policy to ensure operators who have experienced assaults to properly heal, instead allowing them to operate with severe cases of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; this puts passengers at risk when a union member operates a vehicle with "diminished capacity." There are many other instances which reinforce my belief that their safety slogan is nothing more than a catch-phrase rather than a serious mantra.

The past few months, we've been scrutinized for On Time Performance to the point where safety and customer service have suffered. You can have safety first (as in a "core value"), but being on time depends on many variables that cannot be factored into statistical data sheets. If we're to remain close to on-schedule, we can no longer wait for passengers or answer the many questions we're asked every day. To think it's possible to have all three is pure folly, and anyone who's ever driven a bus knows this. Sure, you might be early on a Monday or Tuesday afternoon, but later in the week all bets are off when traffic piles up. Unless you find a logarithm which accurately predicts traffic patterns and any number of other possible disruptions to a schedule for each day of the week, it's impractical to expect perfection. Corporatists look at numbers, we experience the reality of transit.

State government has hinted at its dissatisfaction by discussing the possibility of outsourcing transit. Perhaps it should consider ways in restoring dignity and respect for this profession by entrusting us with our own management. Since corporatists basically took over many industries in the 80s, we've watched the slow and agonizing death struggle of the middle class. This transit agency needs new management, and should be rebuilt from within. We could certainly do no worse.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Important Book News!

I know, I know. Deke's gonna publish a book. Blah blah blah. Someday. Sure, Deke. We'll believe it when we see it.

But hey. It's gonna happen folks. And soon. Please be patient. I'm working out details with my publisher, which is just getting started. I'm the first writer to be published by this new company! So many details to iron out. But it's going to be published. I promise. I'm hoping to release "Just Drive -- Life In The Bus Lane" sometime in August, and it will be available through Amazon and Kindle Direct.

When it does happen, I'll need your help. No matter where you're from, if you read my blog, you know what I write strikes a chord with you and your fellow operators. We all deal with the same issues, no matter where we live and drive. I'm here to let the public know what it's like to sit in the seat, to deal with the public and management. This blog is read from Australia to Japan, from Ireland to Canada, and from Russia to South Africa. We're a worldwide fraternity, and I appreciate your taking the time to read my humble attempts to describe our job. This blog is my greatest achievement as a writer, so far. I have other projects ready to work on as soon as this one is presented to you.

If you enjoy what I present here, please spread the word. On FaceBook, Twitter, Instagram, or even that lovable yet antiquated "email." Word of mouth advertising is always the best. Like this blog? Tell your fellow operators! Pleas share my posts, get the word out. I'm hoping the book will appeal to not only my operator brothers and sisters, but those who ride and others who enjoy first-person accounts of everyday life of one of the most interesting and challenging jobs in the world today. I'm also working on how to get autographed copies out to those who request them. Since I use a pen name, this will be tricky. But many of you have been with me since the start, and I hope to say thanks with a personalized note.

I've been a writer my entire life, but reality has always necessitated my having a "real job" to provide for my family. Many of you are nodding as you read this, because you too have artistic talents you yearn to share with the world. My advice is to take Nike's advice and JUST DO IT! I've met so many operators who are extremely talented outside of the job. With management working hard to strip us of a comfortable retirement, we have to resort to other ways to ensure our golden years aren't spent in poverty.

So thanks in advance. If you would like to help, please email me at I will respond to each of you. Once again, I appreciate you and what you do. We're in this together. Stay safe out there, may peace always be with you, and keep all six on the road.

With love and respect, I am
Deke N. Blue

Nasty Bus Bugs

Flea meds, please? You drive a bus, remember?
Had a not-so-pleasant chat with a 70s-something gal last week. My bus was pretty full that rush hour trip, and I asked if she wanted a seat. I'm pretty vocal when young folks crowd the Priority Seating area when a (truly) Honored Citizen boards.

"I prefer to stand, thank you," she said.

"Been sitting a while today, have you?" I asked. It had been a quiet day with passengers, and I hoped to spark some conversation. My day had been quite boring to that moment.

"No," she replied. "It's just safer for me this way. The last time I sat on a bus I got bugs on me. They came into my house with me, and I had to have it sprayed to get rid of them. I'm sorry, but your buses just aren't sanitary enough for me to want to sit down."

I was lost for words, and couldn't argue. It's painfully true.

What a scathing rebuke to a transit agency that can spend billions on boondoggles yet can't find a penny or two to regularly clean its vehicles. Just a day before her statement, a cockroach met its death by my hand when it skittered across a seat as I was scouting for trash and lost items. There is so much scuzzy filth on our buses it's amazing the health department hasn't shut us down.

We seem to be top heavy these days. There are plenty of $100k-plus management positions worthy of the axe in exchange for about six full-time bus cleaners. It's the least they could do for those who make transit work. I'll bet their offices are spic 'n span, clean smelling. Antiseptic even. But we drive thousands of miles each day in bacteria-ridden cesspools. And people wonder why we're not "happy just to have a job."

"Back in the day," one of my brothers told me, "we had a cleaning crew. They mopped and washed each surface in the bus." He sighed. "Those were the good old days. Before the current management came in and said they could do it cheaper and better." Hey, I've heard those words before, when I worked in Corporate America. That phrase failed to produce promised results there as well.

I wash my hands thoroughly after either riding in or driving any of our buses. It's just safer that way. When you consider how many people have bed bugs, lice, or any number of hangers-on in their tighty-whities, it's enough to make your skin crawl. Which reminds me... I have a date with a lye-based bath.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

We're All in Danger on Transit

A month ago, two brave men were brutally murdered and another seriously injured by a knife-wielding maniac on a Portland MAX rail car. The lives of several families were instantly derailed in the span of those few minutes. The aftermath finds everyone who uses, works for, or otherwise comes into contact with transit profoundly affected in some way.

This blog has chronicled the feelings of bus operators who have been threatened or assaulted, but transit safety encompasses all Portlanders and those who visit. We expect others to adhere to commonly-accepted behavior most would say is "normal." The past decade has brought about a riding public that is increasingly withdrawn. Most of my own passengers tend to find a seat and immediately enter the technology zone which I call "plugged in and tuned out." As one who rides transit to work each day, I've joined these ranks. It's easier for me, in full uniform, to ignore what's going on around me. I don't want to be bothered, so I retreat into a Do Not Disturb zone. People ask me the strangest questions, as if I'm always on duty or have the entire transit system's schedules memorized. They get angry, often insulting, if I don't have answers to their queries. I've even gone so far as to fake incoming phone calls in hopes they'll... just... leave me alone.

This behavior I once scorned is now how I conduct myself as a passenger. This has me feeling guilty and somewhat ashamed. Had I been riding that fateful MAX line, I might not have paid any attention to the scene around me. Yet what if I had jumped up, feeling duty-bound as an operator in uniform to join those three men who tried to stop the harassment of two teenage girls? Poor behavior is something we see every day, and to a point we're expected as employees to intervene. Signs on transit vehicles implore riders to "report any suspicious activity" to transit workers. Wearing a uniform qualifies me as a bona-fide transit official. Had I been riding that fateful train, it's likely somebody would have pulled me out of my protective shell, directing my attention to the offensive rant taking place. And yes, I would have felt compelled to intervene. As a transit worker, one who tries to be protective and sympathetic toward others. Also as a son, brother, husband, father, uncle, grandfather, friend and membership in this odd affliction known as humanity. It is also likely I wouldn't be sitting here writing to you today. Instead, you might be remembering me with the other victims. Like those men who unknowingly risked their lives to help, I too wouldn't have recognized any imminent danger. Nobody could have.

We all know life is fleeting. Loved ones have been snatched from us without warning, leaving us stunned and grieving. One moment you're having a fun conversation with someone, and the next you're in shock, wondering how they could just be so suddenly... gone. Our hearts beat out a rhythm that can and does, stop without warning. Very early in life, I lost someone so special to me her death shocked me into a years-long mourning. Her laughter lifted me, her love helped nurture my soul. As years dropped away, I began to adopt her sunny outlook. Thanks to her, I try to help people smile, to laugh, and feel comfortable in my presence. I know she would have jumped up and tried to calm the aggressor in that attack last month.

Our society has allowed violence to blossom. We're politically divided to such extremes it's often too volatile to debate issues which face us all. If you don't agree with one or another rigid political platform, you can be verbally and physically abused. The days of debate, compromise and cooperation seem a dream of long ago. We're divided and argumentative to a point not seen since the American Civil War began in 1861.

At this point in 2017, local transit workers have been assaulted, threatened or menaced 35 times. Last year, we experienced 55 such incidents, so this year's total-to-date is on target to reach 70. We're all wondering if one of us will be murdered before somebody in authority stands up and takes serious action. Simple signs on vehicles aren't enough. Mild media rebukes and sensational reports only tend to encourage violators to take their violence to new heights. Assailants don't care about penalties, because some charges can be plea-bargained. If it were up to me, an aggressive act toward any of my valuable employees would result in the harshest of penalties. Evidently, we're not valued enough for this to happen. We've seen operators punished for biological responses to threats, blamed for passenger misconduct, and generally portrayed as poorly-trained and greedy nincompoops.

Even though I'm not superhuman, I continue to perform my job as best I can. I've been highly-trained and re-certified every year. My safety record is good, and I work hard to keep everyone around me comfortable through my smooth driving and calm authority.  But we're in a state of emergency that worsens every week. It makes me shudder to write this, but I believe one of us will die before drastic measures are taken to ensure a safer ride for all.

I honor the sacrifices of those who stepped up on that MAX train last month. As transit workers, we mourn with our city and the world for the two who died so violently. As members of this community, we plead with our union, transit management and legislative bodies to heed our call to take a stand for the protection of all. As a bus operator, I pray for everyone's safety and pledge to keep doing the best job I can. It's all I know to do.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Internal Clocks and Virtual Speedometers

When your body is strapped into a driver's seat, it undergoes many changes. Mine certainly has. The human's normal perception of time is warped into what I call... The Transit Zone. Compared to how I felt and believed at the start of this career, I'm a radically-altered person. This blog was meant to describe what it's like to be a transit operator, so here's a look at how I've evolved.

Keeping in touch with your body's needs and changes is imperative if you plan on living past this career. I've not gained any weight since I began driving a bus. In fact, I've beaten the odds and actually lost some extra pounds. The methodology however, isn't as healthy as my weight maintenance stats sound. There are many factors which determine this outcome. First, I just don't eat as much as I once did. I'm not a kid any more, and my portions are smaller I believe, because my metabolism is slower. While it does take physical energy to drive a bus, now that I'm a few years into it, my body is acclimated to the job. My diet consists of a hearty breakfast, several snacks during my route, then dinner when I get home. I found that if I eat a meal in the middle of my shift, I tend to get sleepy. This is not an ideal state when you're operating a 20-ton vehicle with precious cargo aboard. So I eat nuts or chips as my body asks for fuel. I drink copious amounts of water, and I bring soda along too. Sure, it's not the healthiest of diets. But it works for me. When I'm hungry, I eat. If things work right, I get enough fuel every day. Hopefully I burn as much as ingest. After I've been home a few hours, I strap on the snore inhibitor and snooze for nine hours before I rinse and repeat.

Time is a category that all bus drivers find is a major focal point, but one we treat differently than people in other professions. We have to be punctual (early) to work, and are expected to remain on time during our entire shift. It's a stressor we gradually adapt to. Yet as the years accumulate, time becomes something other than what we've been accustomed to. Days of the week change names depending on what days off you have. Some people take Tuesday/Wednesday off, so Monday is actually their Friday. When somebody asks me what day of the week it is, I have to think before answering, because my interpretation of the work week is entirely different than that of most folks.

I sign runs for about 10 hours a day. Anything more is too demanding. Already middle-aged when I signed on, it's important to pace myself. Years on the Extra Board added to the aging process. Other than that, the word "time" is broken down into "runs." One run, from one end to the other, takes "x" amount of time. I know the route is just over three round trips. The run is broken down into "time points." These are geographical locations along a route where the transit agency expects us to arrive as close to "on time" as possible. Between these points, I'm oblivious as to the actual time of day unless someone asks me. If you do a run long enough, you can pretty much tell someone what the time of day is without looking at your watch or onboard computer screen. I've developed a system for getting through a shift by breaking it into runs. Halfway through my day, I know there are two round trips left before the garage-bound deadhead. During a break, I may consult my watch to make sure I don't overstay my allotted time, but after a while I can tell when a break is about over just by my internal clock.

Speed is something I've come to feel without glancing at the speedometer. I'm too busy watching the scene in front of and around me. I check air pressure when I'm stopped, and other gauges as well. But when I'm rolling, I can feel when I've accelerated to just under the speed limit. My foot just automatically eases off the pedal. I watch the traffic lights and know when they will change. A line trainer once told me to keep my foot covering the brake unless I'm accelerating, and this advice quite often saves my posterior aspect. A stale green light is something I can predict changing about 90% of the time. Considering Portland's antiquated light synchronization system, that's pretty accurate.

One of our trainers told us that eventually, the "good" operator will be able to judge how long to stay at a service stop with a red light ahead. I am never in a hurry, unlike many other motorists on the road. I'll sit tight, and just when I see the left-turn arrow go green, I'll shut the doors and roll up to the intersection just as the through traffic light changes to green. I pass by all those busy bees who were frantically passing my bus as I patiently sat back and enjoyed a refreshing sip of ice water. This also adds to the comfort of my passengers. If I'm not racing to each red light and slamming down on the brakes as I get there, they are spared the forward-backward momentum swings this kind of driving produces. A smooth roll is part of my daily mantra, and I take pride in my ride.

Turning is another function that becomes routine, but no matter how experienced you are, this requires special attention. Veterans have become one with the bus, and know exactly when and how much to turn the wheel. Watching mirrors while simultaneously checking activity in front and to the sides is automatic. If we see something that isn't right, we stop. I've stopped a bus in the middle of an intersection for a good 10 seconds, blocking cross traffic that has the green light, because somebody has entered my safety zone. Doesn't affect me now, but it scared the hell out of me when I was green. Now I just stop and stare at the offender. Once they figure out how to get out of the way, I proceed. Usually these days it's fun to roll past people (with inches to spare) who have pulled up a bit too much, but not too far that I can't complete the turn. Their eyes get as wide as saucers, but if they just stay put, a professional can maneuver a vehicle safely around them.

Yeah, I can be cranky sometimes. I honk at danger, shake my head at everyday foolishness. Various parts of my body hurt, so I change my posture in the seat. When something scary happens, it's easier now to let it slide off my shoulder. Hey, I perform a vital function to Portland's economy. Gotta keep the wheels rolling. As long as my mind and body are in harmony, I'll get a thousand of you each day where you need to go. Safely, smoothly and all with a smile. That's how I roll.

Thanks for riding.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

I'm Gonna Honk at Ya

Somebody asked today why I haven't posted lately. "You've been quiet," he said. Ayup. Sometimes it's best to give it a rest. With all we've gone through the past month, I needed time to reflect. Now I'm feeling a bit ornery again, so let's see where my fingers go today.

To honk, or not? 'Tis the dilemma we face. Management says DON'T. Veterans are of differing opinions, and probies are just plain nervous about it. I say, if it needs doing, HONK THE HELL OUTTA THEM. It's a teaching moment. It's warning people of impending doom. If you've driven a bus long enough, you know when that happens. If you've never driven a bus before, you're in upper management and your opinion will sway in the direction of what the public wants. Here's my take on it.

If you run into the path of a bus hoping it will stop in time to avoid making Imbecile Tartare out of you, but to actually think that driver will give you a ride, I'm gonna honk at you.

If you ride a bike without hands on the bars while you text away, then swerve in front of my bus, I'm going to definitely honk at your foolish ass as I brake to a stop to avoid hitting you. Count on it. No, BET on it. Maybe next time you'll attempt to think before performing such duh-worthiness.

If you're too impatient to wait behind my bus for 10 seconds while I drop off a passenger, then zip around me as I'm closing the doors to make a right-hand turn from the left lane as I start to roll, I'm not only gonna honk at you, I'm going to push the horn button so long and hard it damages the steering column and hopefully also your hearing. You might think this rude, or even aggressive. I think maybe my reaction might make you realize that waiting an extra 5-10 seconds could someday save your life, and that my honking wakes you to this fact.

If you pass my bus while the YIELD sign is flashing, and you're speeding up to close in on the 3, 4, or 5 cars who have already ignored it, then honk and flip me off when I lumber into the lane before you get there, then yeah, I'm using my horn. You don't have the right to endanger the safety of the 50 people I'm giving a ride while you rush to the next red light.

If you exit my bus, ignoring the sign above the door that reads "Don't Cross In Front of Bus," then do just that, even though the impatient fools behind me are racing around me across the double-yellow line, for your safety and my sanity, I'm certainly going to activate my loud warning device. Oh, and you're welcome for saving your life after you look up from your phone long enough to see Freddy 4x4 shredding rubber where you might have stepped a moment earlier when you heard my horn over your headphones.

Even though Portland is evidently so broke it can't re-paint lines and BUS ONLY on its transit mall (and too wishy-washy to enforce its own laws), if you disobey the still-legible (albeit ridiculously high and small) street signs warning you to stay the hell out of the two right-hand lanes, rest assured you will hear two mighty blasts from my horn. You'll most likely also hear an even louder horn from the 100,000 lb. light rail vehicle bearing down on you.

If you're an Uber/Lyft driver who insists the transit mall bus lane is the perfect place for you to pick up fares, I'm definitely gonna honk at you. Not only is it rude and against your company's rules to conduct business there, but it's extremely dangerous to your passengers. Expect to be honked at by MOST bus drivers if you make a habit of this foolishness.

When you see a bus stopped ahead for no apparent reason, but decide you're going to pass it anyway, I'm going to lay on that horn until even the dimmest of lights come on in your empty skull. Perhaps you didn't see my hand frantically waving out the window, or the 4-way flashers activate in a desperate attempt to get your attention. The pedestrian or bicyclist who was just creamed in the roadway doesn't need your wheels adding to their pain. Slow down and stop. I don't just stop for no reason. We see things most people don't. You look 10 feet in front of your vehicle's nose; we scan a 180+ degree view 12-15 seconds ahead of us. Pay attention, or yes, you will be honked at. Somebody's life could be at stake; maybe even your own.

If I pull over because an emergency vehicle with lights and sirens is coming in the opposite direction, and you plus five more bozos behind you decide it's the best time to zip around my bus before pulling over, I will honk at you. What if someone in your family is the one in need of help? Just do the right thing and get the hell out of their way; I will be out of your way soon enough.

When traffic is inching along at rush hour, and your light turns yellow, don't just roll into the intersection anyway and end up blocking traffic which has just been awarded the green light. You selfish punk, didn't your mommy teach you any manners? If I've been sitting through three light cycles only to finally have my progress delayed by your me-first impatience. Yeah, you'll get a special helping of Horn Swonkle.

If you just bought your nightly 120-pack of Bud at the 7-11 and expect me to allow you to inch into traffic when I've been waiting several minutes to make the light, don't just pull out in front of me while expecting a smile, a blown kiss and a bouquet of flowers. Nah. I'm gonna honk as a warning to keep your precious Prius pristine. Besides, I'm already late and letting you in when your wait time has been zero means I'll miss yet another green. Sorry, but I've already smoked your cigar, and I hate paperwork.

If you weave on your bike from sidewalk to bus lane, to auto lane back to bus lane and sidewalk, you'll hear a hearty honk. And when you flash that sign language temper tantrum for daring to alert you of the folly of your behavior, I'll add a polite little beep-beep. To me, it is the perfect response to your gesture; it sounds a bit like "ass-hole."

No, I'm not horn-happy. I typically have to honk every day, but if I didn't, there would be a lot of messes to clean up. It's a warning device. For those who politely co-exist with transit, I truly appreciate you. When you show me kindness and patience, I wave my thanks. With all five fingers.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Newbies, Listen Up!

I've met a few "newbies" lately. They remind me of what it's like to come into this job, a tad nervous and learning from those who have been here a while. I encourage them to ask me anything, because any question they might think "stupid" can't be anything as foolish as my initial inquiries were. The only "dumb question" is the one never asked.

Just to get where they are is an accomplishment. A trainer once told me that of 50 applicants for an operator's job, only one is hired. Of approximately 20 hired for each class, only 15 make it past probation. We're screened and vetted more thoroughly than a politician, and this job pays considerably less. An applicant's personality and ability to deal with the public is more important to management than driving skills, although a clean driving record is obviously a must. Our trainers can take a new hire from terrified behind the wheel to confidently rolling the wheels of these 20-ton beasts. Line trainers show them the "real world" scenarios they'll be experiencing, and how to safely maneuver through six months of intense probation.

Transit operators are some of the most intensely-trained drivers in the world. Once we leave the nurturing guidance of trainers, we glean reams of information regarding our job just by doing it. We're also required to attend annual recertification classes. I've also heard now we'll all be evaluated once a year by trainers who will be giving us "check rides" to ensure we're maintaining safe driving practices. No other professional drivers are scrutinized or trained as thoroughly as we are, yet our agency rarely trumpets our professionalism. All they hear is what the media's talking heads want them to, which is negative. Whenever there's a collision, major injury or incident, someone is always muttering about how we "need more training." Actually, the texting motorists not paying attention who mostly cause these collisions are those most in need of instruction.

Life at Center before the remodel.
With the exception of some people who begin this career at an early age and continue through their retirement, many enter this field later in our working lives. Many have led successful careers in radically different professions. Strike up a conversation with a "newbie" in his/her 50s, you'll often find they've had amazing paths in life prior to working in transit. I've spoken with some operators who earned PhD's to find themselves as bus operators, simply for the benefits.

This is an intensely-more difficult job than most think it is. Transit operation is one of the most deadly professions today. It takes an immense toll on a person's mind, body and soul. Just a few years into the job, my physical health has quickly deteriorated, making me feel about 10 years older than my actual age. I've felt pain in parts of my body that have until recently were fine. An operator's seat may appear comfortable, but it is truly a torture device. After just over an hour at a time in this seat, I often leave it limping like an octogenarian who is leaving his bed for the first time after hip replacement surgery. In one 75-minute stretch, my right foot depresses the brake pedal at least 250 times. It takes a lot of finely-tuned pressure to smoothly stop a bus, and when you perform a physical operation over 1,000 times a day, it tends to ruin body parts. Tell that to a Workman's Comp doctor and they'll insist it's from a "previous injury." Do yourselves a favor and indulge yourselves in regular massages and trips to a chiropractor.

New drivers who read this might think, "this guy should just retire, he's just another bitchy old-timer." Seriously, I'm simply a realist with a few years in the seat. There are things I need to be doing to offset the damage this job causes my body, and I'm working on exercising and stretching more often. It's too easy to become complacent and not listen to the body's needs. Unless you want to retire into a casket, heeding these warnings is crucial. You need money when first starting this job, because the initial pay is dismal. You tend to work more days, sign the Extra Board, and find other ways to chase that first paycheck comma. After a while however, it will catch up to you.

Pre-remodel brothers enjoying a game.
These days, I just roll over and go back to sleep when I see a phone call from my garage in the middle of the night. They're just begging people to work their days off. Sure, I could use the extra money. The government gets a big chunk of it, and this guy just wants to live long enough to spend what he already makes. That's usually just enough to cover the monthly essentials.

Take care, you newbies. Congrats on making it this far. Stay safe, don't take unnecessary chances, and never be afraid to ask a veteran driver that question you might be embarrassed to ask. It might just save you a shitload of grief. Just remember we've all been where you are. If you're smart and cautious, someday you'll be where we are.