Monday, January 30, 2017

Beep Beep! I See You, But Who Else Does?


What is a horn? It's activated on a bus by pressing the center portion of the steering wheel. But why is it there, and when should it be used? Apparently, some passengers think we use it for the wrong reasons.

An operator recently had a passenger exit the bus, then walk directly in front of it. She was, of course, legally entitled to use the crosswalk. Let's stop the tape right there. First, nobody standing on a curb in front of a 40-foot-long vehicle can see through or around it well enough to see the cars about to zip past in the oncoming traffic lane. Which of course they do any time a bus stops in front of them. People just don't want to be behind a bus, period. No matter if the bus zips along at the posted speed limit, with a red traffic light just ahead. Patience is evidently not an option. Even though today's buses are close to zero emissions and leave no little exhaust fumes in their wake, people are too impatient to remain behind them.

So let's use the eyes of the driver behind the bus. Can he see around the vehicle to note the person standing at the curb, or actually walking in the crosswalk? No. It's too big to see around, and it's certainly not transparent so he can't see through it either. In the worst case scenario, driver of car zips around the bus just as pedestrian clears the driver side of the bus and they have a fateful meeting. Pedestrian loses this argument every time, sometimes at the cost of their very precious life.

Now roll the tape again on this incident. Former passenger steps off bus, and without even hesitating to look for traffic in either direction, enters the crosswalk. Bus operator honks as a warning. Luckily for the pedestrian, no traffic is coming in either direction. A passenger still on the bus takes exception to this action.

"That pedestrian has every right to be in the crosswalk," he says, more than a touch of anger in his voice. "You should never honk at someone like that. They are legally entitled to be there!"

Exiting the bus, this second passenger never gave the operator the option of explaining his use of the horn. Feeling righteous indignation, the operator watches, stunned and speechless, as the passenger notes the bus number. A cowardly and ignorant excuse for common sense, this one.

Had the passenger asked nicely why the operator honked, the conversation most likely would have been:

"Well sir, the reason I honked was to warn the pedestrian to look for approaching traffic," the operator would have said. "Since she wasn't looking, my honk was a wake up call. If you watched her, you noticed she didn't hesitate and certainly didn't look for traffic approaching in either direction. She assumed the bus would protect her, but that's not right. Impatient motorists are always speeding around our buses, without looking to see if someone might be crossing in front of the bus. Since they can't see through or around it, there's always a possibility the motorist will hit the pedestrian."

Non-professional drivers usually assume a horn is used as an expletive. Most people use it as an anger outlet when somebody pulls a stupid motorist move in their vicinity. Bus operators are trained to use a horn for the exact reason it was invented: to warn people. It's usually a beep-beep rather than a five-second blast. Two beeps is considered a polite way of saying "Hey, watch out!"

The operator did have time to ask the second passenger to read the sign above the bus doorway which reads "Don't walk in front of bus." This didn't impress the guy, and the operator will likely receive a complaint in his interoffice mail. Another unnecessary insult from someone who doesn't understand how many lives we save every day simply by warning people of imminent dangers.

I've warned many people of impending disaster in instances just like the one described above. On a busy four-lane road a few years ago, a lady exited my bus and immediately walked in front of it. It was a dark corner without a crosswalk. She paid no attention and began to cross into traffic. Seeing cars rushing toward us at 40 miles per hour in the lane she was about to walk into, I laid on the horn, startling her. Luckily, she looked at me as I frantically gestured for her to stop. Right as she did, four cars zipped past. Her hand went to her chest in an "Oh my God!" gesture. I waved her back to the curb and opened the door to make sure she was okay, and reminded her that's exactly why the sign above the bus door says what it does, and to please wait until I left to safely cross the street. Judging by her expression, she realized she had nearly become a human hood ornament.

School kids are trained to cross in front of a bus because it has barriers, flashing red lights and a STOP sign that swings out. Motorists are legally obligated to stop in both directions when a school bus is loading or unloading its precious cargo. Some fools still ignore the law, and sometimes kids are injured or killed as a result. Although they've been trained to cross in front a bus, a city bus doesn't have these safety devices to protect people. A few years ago, an 11-year-old exited one of our buses, ran in front of it and was struck by an impatient motorist. She was seriously injured and nearly died.

The brain of a human up to their mid-20s is not quite capable of discerning possible life-threatening situations. They harbor the false belief of invincibility. Adults however, should have acquired enough firing synapses to apply common sense in dangerous environments. City streets certainly qualify, because many motorists are in a hurry to get to the next red light.

The second passenger was correct. The lady who exited the bus does have the right to be in a crosswalk. He fails to acknowledge that rights come with responsibilities. It is our responsibility, as professional bus operators, to keep people safe who ride the bus. By honking at her, the operator wasn't in any form denying her any rights; nor was she taking responsibility for her own safety.

Yeah, we use our horn. We use it for the reason it was invented. So don't walk in front of a bus unless you appreciate the sound of a loud horn section over the music in your headphones. You might just live long enough to take another bus ride.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Post Snowpocalypse Notes

Gnash it, melt it, blast through it!
(Thanks to Tom Patterson, Artist)
A few final notes on Snowpocalypse '17 before leaving it in the gutters.

* First, even though the overtime will help my bank account, I'm damn glad it's over. (For now, anyway. No telling what more Ma Nature has in store.) Some people take for granted what service workers in this city endured to keep things running, but I've traveled that messy street in previous posts.

* For those who did not appreciate our efforts and berated us for being late, let's take a moment to examine your rectal-cranial inversion. When city streets are not maintained during a snowstorm, it takes massive effort to maneuver a 40-foot/20-ton bus around the obstacles left behind. The chains on our rear tires require us to travel no faster than 25mph. In many areas, going even close to this speed can result in a ghastly demolition derby. Considering our schedules are tight under normal conditions, it is logical to assume your expectations of our running on time are simply ridiculous. Even though you've waited for a bus in 20-degree weather for an hour, it is not cool to berate us when we finally arrive because you had to walk to the bus in the street. Mind your poor manners snow-weevil, and just be glad we made it at all. Don't stand there whining, pay your damn fare! Yeah, it costs a whopping $2.50 to purchase an extremely slippery ride across our icy city. Oh okay, we'll wait while you continue your tirade whilst searching your pockets or purses, only to find out you're even less-prepared than most. No, we don't give change for a $20 bill. Not since the days of Jackie Gleason, anyway. You didn't think to use that phone to figure this out before hand, but you're going to use it to send in a complaint. Fine. Sit down, shut your rude mouth, and count your blessings. We delivered thousands of passengers safely to their destinations in the worst of conditions. I'm sure you wouldn't get such a great deal with a taxi service. (Whew! That felt good to get off my chest.)

* Hey homeless dudes, yeah we care about you too. You're outside in harsh conditions, and it's sad. But when one of my brothers took pity on you and gave you a ride on his deadhead after completing yet another treacherous shift, you weren't very grateful. This operator, who does his best to be kind to all, left his backpack in a seat for the deadhead back to the garage. You grabbed it as you bolted out the door. Of course you probably threw out his logs, papers relating to his job and tools useful only to him. And you wonder why bus operators hesitate to go out of their way to do nice things for people they really don't have to? This despicable act merely qualifies the thief as a waste of precious oxygen.

* Thanks to the many professional transit riders with caring souls and the will to do good deeds. I saw so many helping others in trouble out there the past few weeks, it renewed my faith in humankind. Strangers helping people with disabilities get on the bus. Residents shoveling snow away from bus stops in front of their homes, or offering stuck bus operators a rest room and a warm refuge while awaiting rescue. Those with 4x4 monster trucks pulling stuck motorists out of drifts, flashing their lights at me and allowing me to leave a bus stop after servicing it, your actions are greatly appreciated. To the countless passengers who gave me a friendly pat on the shoulder, thanking me for doing my job, I truly appreciate your kindness. In fact, kindnesses and kudos were so plentiful it helped me ignore the rudeness of others.

The melting, is the longest part.
* Oh city and transit agency leaders, this one's for you. Why is it, that storm after storm, you are consistently unprepared? We expect action, not studies. Yes, salt is corrosive and can damage vehicles and in some cases, the environment. But how often do we get such a storm? Every 2-5-10 years. It washes off. Yet every time, I see the inevitable query on news station websites: "What Can We Learn From this Storm?" First, you could learn from the past 20 of them. Snow falls on streets and accumulates. It makes travel nearly impossible if not properly plowed and treated. (See Seattle, our sister city to the north which gracefully loaned us equipment to deal with our leaders' ineptness.) Get a grip on reality, city leaders.

* We have a transit mall downtown. When snow or ice accumulates there, it takes days or weeks for it to go away. The result is a hairy mess for the 40+ transit routes which service it. How is it that we can spend $1.5 billion on a new bridge and seven-mile light rail system, brag that it came in under-budget and on time, without a hint of preparation for snow and ice conditions? Is this a good use of that money if you have to re-route the two bus lines which use the bridge whenever we get more than a few inches of white fluffy stuff? Street signs giving motorists directions on how to use the transit mall are blotted out in the snowfall, along with the pitiful street markings which often read "_US O)LY." As I've stated many times, this area deserves a major design overhaul. Your failure to clear this vital area results in a horribly dangerous nightmare not only for transit operators but also the thousands of people who share the roads with us. The rest of the streets can be (finally) clear, but the transit mall remains a mess long afterward. But wait, I forgot. "Safety is Our Core Value." Not quite yet, folks.

* Hello Portland Pedestrians! You love to wear our official city color: DARK. We can't see you standing near a tree with your hooded-head bowed as you peruse the many abusive transit Twitter feeds. Look up! Wave a light or your phone at us. Be seen! It is also advisable, knowing cars cannot always stop on icy streets, to use marked crosswalks AND obey the signals. Several times during the mess, I had passengers exit, walk right in front of my bus looking down at their phones rather than checking for traffic, and nearly get hit by a startled motorist. Not only is it impossible for the motorists to see through or around my diesel beast, but if you don't even check to see if someone is ignoring my YIELD signal, as they do 90% of the time, your chances of becoming road kill are magnified a thousand percentage points.

Finally, released from our chains.
* One last tip: If you don't absolutely have to be somewhere when snow hits, don't go out. Especially don't drive if you have inadequate ability or lack proper equipment on your vehicle. That's a great time to ride transit. We're chained professionals. (That last statement is meant to inspire creative interpretation.) When you do catch our ride, use that precious phone of yours and be prepared. Need to be somewhere on time? Leave much earlier than you think is necessary. When we do stop in the street, be glad we didn't pull to the curb at the last stop and get stuck, or you wouldn't see another bus for perhaps an hour or so. Be informed and have your fare ready. Be nice to us. You're welcome.





Friday, January 20, 2017

Our New Snow Bus Design!

New "Icinator Snow Bus" Design.
(By Tom Patterson)
It's time for a major re-design of our buses for snowy weather. Let's have a look.

Instead of tires, let's scrap the wimpy chains and have flatter and fatter rubber bases with iron teeth to bite into the snow and ice Portland decided not to plow or salt. Ignoring the non-flammable liquids rule, we'll retrofit flame throwers shooting out from the undersides to melt the crud the tires churn up. Notice the snow plow on the front of the bus. And for moving those little cars spinning around in front of us, a spring-fired boxing glove.

A few more ideas that would be helpful might include a longer ramp for starters. That way, passengers who are forced to boogie across 15 feet of icy moon craters to board can simply sashay up into the bus. This is in answer to snowplows making bus stops impassable by shoving road snow into the pullouts. I'd also like a boxing glove at the front door, to handle passengers who whine about our being late. (BAM! Next, please?) Winches with hydraulic slappers in the front would allow us to free stuck cars from the ice, and fling them up onto the sidewalks to clear our service stops.

The PA system could be updated as well. "You stood in the snow for 30 minutes and you're just NOW getting your fare ready? You're early for the NEXT bus, moron! Please exit this one."

Oh, we can dream, right? If you have any additional design suggestions, please feel free to let me know so we can incorporate them.
*****

(Stay tuned for my next blog post this coming weekend. I'll have lots of fun stories to tell by then. Well I have them in my cranky old head right now, but I'm going to bed. Gotta rest for the next day's fun now that Snowpocalypse 2017 has finally died.)



Thursday, January 12, 2017

It's Snowing and I Have No Chains?!?


Sometime early last fall, I warned my wife the upcoming winter months would be active and cold. She asked what led to my prediction. "We're just due for one," I replied. Rarely have I been this accurate in my forecast.

Evidently, Mother Nature heard me. Several times beginning prior to the winter solstice until this week, the Portland area has seen snow flurries. Sometimes it stuck, other times it just swirled around. Ominously. As if to say, "You ain't seen nothin' yet." (She can be brutal, but her grammar sucks.)

A few weeks ago, she gave us a tease. A dusting, perhaps an inch or two in some places. Next came freezing rain, providing local traffic with an icy sheen to every roadway. Then she just blew cold wind at us and teased us with days of sunshine. Brittle cold sunshine. (Okay, for people from icier climates, please mute your chuckling. Portland is a very mild, if not extremely wet, climate zone. Our winter weather normally consists of temps between 35-45, with rain. "Sun breaks" are rare and welcome.) Our lows on a few occasions dipped well into the teens, with highs struggling to rise above freezing. Wind chills added to the misery, especially close to the Columbia Gorge, where sustained winds can average 30-40 mph with gusts over 50-60 mph. I nearly cleaned out my coat closet adding layers to my uniform, dress code be damned.

Maybe I was wrong, I thought one sunny day last week. It could very well be next year we'll see the "big 'un" my bones believed was coming. My phone's weather app stubbornly kept popping up a snowflake for Tuesday, January 10. It would disappear one hour, but return the next. I thought it was just another tease, but then those confounded East Winds came roaring in to confront a powerfully-wet cold front approaching from the Pacific.

It started as just another cold, wet day. On my first run, I saw rain, sleet and a few flakes. No big deal, not to worry. Our new buses have those really cool drop-down chains, and by the looks of things at my first layover, I might not even need them. When it's 37 degrees and raining, it's just another Northwest winter's day. As long as the windshield wipers were working, it was no problem.

Then I started back toward where I had begun the run. A few more flakes as I passed the transit center, nothing really sticking. About five minutes later, I started up a small hill and WHOOSH! It seemed as if I had driven a few states eastward into a full-fledged blizzard. Seemingly millions of huge white ice pillows began pounding against my windshield as if they were pissed and I was to blame.

No worries. Streets started to turn white, but I'd seen plenty of these flurries blow away faster than a desert monsoon. But it was no flurry. Ten minutes later, I pulled into the end of the line transit center to find a sea of white. No more lane markers, cars appearing out of nowhere in ghostly fashion, pedestrians dashing to their cars like raccoons to a tipped-over trashcan. It was dry, not slippery. Still no cause for extreme concern, only added caution.

After my 20-minute break, the storm had intensified. As I left the transit center, the back end slipped a little. Okay, I figured it was time to test the drop downs. I flipped the switch. Eerie silence, except for the normal sounds of a cruising Gillig. At a stop sign, I glanced down to see the indicator light hadn't come on. Strange, I thought, but not surprising. The chains had been subject to a heavy workout, the most usage this feature had seen since the new buses entered the fleet a year ago. I tried the switch again, mindful of traveling between 5-10 mph. Still nothing. Since I was still early into my run with the storm in infancy, I decided to inform Dispatch of this dilemma.

The dispatcher listened and replied with "Yes Deke, we know of the problem. For some reason, the drop-down chains have been disabled."

I had pulled over to speak when Dispatch called, and it was a good thing. I was stunned.

"Did you say," I asked after a moment of silence, "that the drop-downs are disabled?"

Lady Dispatch sounded sympathetic and nearly as incredulous as I was. "I'm afraid so, yes, that is correct. They are disabled on many buses."

I chewed on this for a few seconds. Why had this happened? Hadn't the powers-that-be been privy to the same weather forecasts I was?

"Okay," I replied. "It's getting pretty white out here. Am I on snow route on the other end?"

"Not at this time," she said. "We will, of course, inform you the moment that changes. Please continue your normal route. The other end is reporting just rain at this time, and the roads are clear down there."

I thanked her and headed the beast into a world that had radically changed since I came the opposite direction not 30 minutes before. Trees were holding a new white coat; they swayed in an angry dance, crashing into one another as if they could shake loose their new layers and make it the next conifer's problem. Yet as I cruised into the second third of the run past the transit center, all seemed normal again. Wet streets, only a dusting on the ground, mostly chunky rain on the windshield. Hey, I thought, this too could pass. No big deal.

At the other end it was just as advertised. Cold, windy and rainy. Typical Portland weather. I sighed a short-lived breath of relief. Then my follower arrived with a mixed coat of iced-over white.

"Freezing rain down the road a piece," he glumly reported. "Take it slow, you'll be okay. This will probably blow over."

Doubtful, I opened my local news channel's radar site. A large swath of blue was already covering the city, and a band of precipitation approached from far off the coast. The weatherman was waffling. "Either a few inches or more than that. We're not sure yet."

My groin tightened. What if we got a foot? I had no chains, and there wasn't a chaining crew in sight at either end. Having fought back spasms the past hour, I popped a few Ibuprofens and did some stretches. I tend to tense up a bit when Old Man Winter flexes his muscles, and I needed to have my body in fighting shape. Dealing with two people off their meds who tested my patience to the extreme added to my back's discomfort. My mood was shifting south in a hurry.

The next run was fine. Until I found the snowstorm had expanded its boundaries a few miles deeper. By the end I was 15 minutes late. I had charged up a hill sans chains that normally scares off the toughest 4x4's and felt pretty good. This storm was a monster, and as I returned to where it first started, there were already ruts in the road and it was snowing harder than I had seen in years. Still no chaining crews, and I had two more round trips to complete. Cutting my break short, I charged back into the howling whiteness. Still no snow on the other end, but it was sleeting. When I returned to the epicenter, there were five more inches to greet me, but the crews were feverishly chaining buses. Already late to leave by five minutes, several intending passengers demanded to know when I'd leave again.

"As soon as I'm ready," I replied as patiently as I could. Charging outside into the storm to avoid their whining, I checked my phone and tried to ease my back with stretches.

After a few puffs of nicotine, the storm chased me back to my invitingly warm office. Running on pure adrenaline, I picked up a few more folks who stood shivering and assured them I'd complete the entire route. Then I released the parking brake, threw the tranny into second gear and eased back onto the road.

When you drive in a snowstorm, it's amazing how passengers watch the road more than their phones. It's about the only time this happens. I felt under the microscope, but I drove confidently and avoided getting stuck. As I dropped each passenger off, they thanked me for "driving safely." I always try to do that, but it's nice they noticed. Nobody wants to get stuck and wait. People always need to get somewhere, even during a storm.

After my run ended, I had to re-route my deadhead to the garage down the same street I had serviced all day. Not knowing when the next bus would come, I stopped for a lone passenger. He'd been waiting about 20 minutes and was as snow-covered as the Abominable Snowman, so I invited him onboard. I picked up a few others who had been waiting even longer. It's hard passing people who are a degree or two above hypothermia when you're in a warm bus. It felt nice to do good deeds for my fellow citizens. Hell, I was going their way, so why not help them out? As I started off empty again, a lone fellow trudged through the foot-deep powder with his thumb out. Picked him up too, to his surprise, and took him as far as the garage, where he hoped to walk up to Powell and hook up with the last Line 9.

Finally, I pulled into the yard, safely stopped and shut down my bus. No hits, several runs, and no errors. Most of it without chains. I had merely been lucky. Many of my brothers and sisters, driving in parts of town harder hit than my route, had to wait hours for help. Supervisors were chugging through the wintry mess to help, dispatchers pointing them every which way. Once again, the worker bees prevailed, and as far as I can tell, no injuries were reported.

More than a sigh of relief escaped me (more like a Troutdale wind gust) as I set the brake. I shook my fist at the still-erupting sky and stuck out my tongue. Hmm... diesel-flavored snow isn't very tasty, but it was still satisfying to express my displeasure to the spitting sky.

To my relief, my beloved wife and son awaited in the parking lot. How she had made it to my garage amazed me, but I have great faith in her abilities. She's put up with me for decades, so she's no sissy. Our car is a new front-wheel drive that has performed admirably this winter. No chains or snow tires. Just great engineering and patient drivers. And comfy, even more importantly to my screaming lumbar muscles.

We made it home an hour later and crawled into bed. After four winters, I'm finally feeling comfortable driving a bus in all kinds of weather. It doesn't mean I'll never get stuck, but I'm learning new lessons each year in how to avoid trouble.

It ain't over yet, folks. But I promise to not moan about the heat this summer. We deserve a good thawing out!


Monday, January 9, 2017

You Rock, We Roll

Before the ice began to rain down.

Snow. Freezing rain. Ice. Wind and bitter cold. This has been the story of our lives in Portland the past month. Today began a slow thaw for some parts of the city, but other areas haven't been so lucky.

While many have the luxury of staying home during a storm, your bus and rail operators along with supervisors, mechanics and trainers do not. Lift drivers are also braving conditions to help those with mobility challenges get where they need to go. While icy weather is a challenge, it does not stop vital services from operating.

Transit is a vital part of any city, but there are many others who risk their own safety to ensure that of others. Police, firefighters, paramedics and ambulance drivers, electric power company linemen, freight train workers, snowplow and de-icing drivers, long-haul truck drivers, doctors and nurses, trash collectors, airport personnel and even people in the hospitality business brave storms to serve the community. We all are the worker bees who get the job done, no matter the risk involved. You'll find the least-paid are the ones who put in the demanding work to provide the most-needed services no matter what Mother Nature throws at us.

Passengers see their operators as the face of the transit agency, but there are many working behind the scenes supporting us in our jobs. Dispatchers and rail controllers are our first line of communication, and get bogged down with multiple calls for assistance. They have to coordinate many different functions simultaneously to ensure the operators get needed support in stressful situations. I could not do that job, and I commend each of them for a superb performance each day. Road supervisors often zip from a stuck bus to rail fatality and many other situations in the blink of an eye. Trainers work in shifts around the clock to help free stuck buses. I also saw a manager in the garage the other night with a worn expression and an obviously sleep-deprived slump in his shoulders.

All these people, along with those I probably haven't listed here, have to make it to work every day of their week. If not, we're given "time loss." We sacrifice our own safety for the common good. It's our job, one we're proud to do regardless if we're properly recognized by our community. Hey, our driveways and community streets are icy and treacherous too, but we still manage to make it into work.

Professional transit riders do recognize us, and are very grateful. They thank us profusely for stopping in an ice storm between bus stops, just because they look cold and tired. Residents bringing stuck operators coffee and offering the use of their warm home as a refuge while waiting for a responder are immensely appreciated. Then there are those of the ignorant variety, who berate us for being late, even though our wheels are chained and they've watched thousands of vehicles creep by them while they wait for the bus. Once they are on the warm bus, they sometimes see the error of their behavior thanks to other passengers they've annoyed with their rantings.

The signature of drop-down chains.
One day during an ice storm, I stopped for a guy who was in between bus stops, waving me down. He looked angry when I opened the door and immediately started in on me about how buses are always late and he had given up waiting on mine. Gently reminding him of the weather, he cut me off. "I'm tired of your excuses, just shut up and drive asshole." (This reminded me of a time when I invited every other passenger to exit, so I could just "drive asshole.")

As I began to steam and my Irish temper began to boil, another passenger stood up for me. "Sit down and shut up, or I'll personally throw your ass off this bus. That driver is a nice guy, and he saved your sorry ass from walking any more." I could have hugged him for that. I did, mentally. He made sure to stop as he was getting off, pat me on the shoulder and thank me for getting him home safely.

There's no other message in this post except to thank everyone who braved the recent weather to keep Portland moving and working. My hat is off to you all.


Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Name Change

In order not to get into any possible legal trouble with a certain band, I've decided to change my pen name.

How does Deke In Blue sound? I kind of like this play on words. Hope you do too. Should make it easier to sign books too.

;o)
Deke