Our management these days tends to constantly err on the side of who knows WTF. The more they put the screws into the operational staff who make the wheels roll, we find a great many of our most-experienced operators throwing up their hands and shouting: "ENOUGH! I'M OUTTA HERE!" Perhaps, and most likely, this is by design. The "old days" of transit are being pushed further aside each day as a new brand of corporatists trample hundred-year-old traditions which have been built upon the notion that Safety Comes First. In the mouse-pushing new style of management, numbers come first... not people. Gone are the days when operators were celebrated for not only keeping their passengers and other motorists safe, but were given great latitude when doing so. Mess with an operator, watch out. Now, it's "mess with a passenger, even the most whiny or misbehaved, and the operator is not only put under the microscope, but poked and prodded until they are angry and stressed. As we all know, this is a dangerous game. Given the amount of stress this job provides without any further provocation, our current harassment level can lead to serious safety issues.
When I was a new operator, even though I had driven many types of vehicles in my life including tractor-trailers, I still was not prepared for the intensity faced by public transit operators. Not only was I guiding a 20-ton behemoth through narrow and treacherous streets, but I was faced with being a Customer Service Representative while doing so. Being well-versed in the latter, it was stressful having that mixed with safely operating a vehicle of that size. As a perfectionist, it took me a few months just to get to know how to drive a route, let alone how to deal with such a demanding and often-unforgiving clientele. I'm glad it took me nine months before being promoted to full-time. Many Line Trainees will testify to the fact that driving a 10-hour shift is much more demanding than a split shift of a couple mini runs. A gradual transition from rookie, to mini-run, then to full-time is a longstanding tradition in transit that needs to be strictly-adhered to; not only for safety's sake, but also for the sanity of the new operator.
|Help will come from all directions; all you need to do is ask.|
So to the newbies who either by financial necessity or managerial pressure, find themselves full-time not long after their last diaper is changed by Training, please heed these vital Codes of Conduct:
1) RESPECT YOUR SENIOR OPERATORS. We've learned through thousands of miles of experience. Just because you're driving a bus doesn't mean you know what's expected of you. Study the rules, live by them, and only then will you earn our respect. Watch what we do, and think about what you see. It will come to make sense. If it doesn't, maybe we did something wrong. Perhaps, we did something right and you failed to see it. Either way, ask someone to explain.
2) WHEN WE TELL YOU SOMETHING, LISTEN. If an operator comes to your door or window, open and listen. If we're polite, but visibly pissed off, be humble. You likely did something wrong. If you are respectful, we might teach you something that could later save your ass.
3) REMEMBER TO LEARN EVERY DAY; WE STILL DO. My father once told me, "The day you stop learning from your mistakes is the day you make your biggest one."
4) FOLLOW THE DAMN RULES! Especially on the Transit Mall. They are to be followed without question. See that cross-street pedestrian timer ticking down? Once it hits 3 seconds, close your doors. Whoever comes to your door at that point is late. When your light goes green, GO!
5) IF YOU FEEL CONFUSED OR UNSURE ABOUT ANYTHING, STOP - CALL DISPATCH! It's much better to ask a question than to become lost. When Dispatch has to send a Road Supervisor to your rescue, it costs the District needless time and money, but they will gladly do so to save injury or damage. Regardless, when you're new, Dispatch expects you to make that call. That's why they're there: to help you. We all know you're new just by your badge number. Don't make things worse thinking "I got this" when there's any shred of doubt in your mind. Best to ask for help before a problem arises than needing it when trouble finds you after lacking to heed this warning.
6) BE VIGILANT. You're on your own "out there," like the rest of us. Don't daydream when you're new; there's plenty of time for that once you've learned the ropes. Scan like you never have before. Learn to predict what other motorists will do, and be prepared for their worst actions. This has saved me many a time; thanks Dad! Practice in your own vehicle. Teach your children to drive like bus operators. Life is precious. We save more than we take. This is an honorable profession, and you're expected to be an example for all who roll Portland's streets. There's a reason it takes three years to reach top scale: you have to earn it.
7) TAKE CARE OF YOURSELVES... FIRST! Gotta pee at the end of the line and you're already late for the start of that piece? That's what "Restroom Delay" is for. Make your bladder gladder. Once you piddle, hit "Ready for Service." If Dispatch sends a "Thank You" in reply, that means you're starting out late. Just roll the same way as you would as if you're on time. Be Safe! Be Healthy! No Worries! It all works out in the end... just make sure you feel 110% while you're behind the wheel of The Beast.
8) BE COMPASSIONATE, BUT FIRM. Yeah, you're the Captain of the Ship. Don't take yourself too seriously, or too lightly either. Whenever I've thought I was "all that," bad shit happened. Still, you need to maintain control not only of your vehicle, but what happens within. Learn, but be cool while in control. Tammy Teenager lounging across the back seats with her feet upon them? Call her on it. Nobody wants to sit in the dog shit on her shoes. Someone drunk and passing out, bobbing and weaving in an aisle seat? They could fall over and hurt themselves, and you might be assessed a Preventable Accident even if you did nothing wrong. Why? Because you didn't notice and take actions to prevent it. Stop and lock. Notify Dispatch "Sleeper Check." Argument happening as you drive? Pull over at the next bus stop and alert Dispatch. Just rolling while trying to watch both the road and the confrontation is perilous and unnecessary. Someone apologizes for not having full fare? Smile and thank them for what they put in the fare box, and print them a transfer. Life's too short to squabble over pennies. Even further: someone saunters past you without showing fare or offering to pay, just hit "Fare Evasion" on the CAD and keep rolling. It's not our job to enforce fare. JUST DRIVE! Too many assaults upon us in the past came from arguments over fare. Do you really care whether someone pays? Nah. Not our job to give a damn. That's for the Fare Inspectors to rule over. Your job is to safely operate your vehicle.
9) THE ONLY "STUPID" QUESTION IS THE ONE YOU'RE AFRAID TO ASK. We all sometimes feel stupid when asking what may seem the "obvious" question. You know what? Maybe THAT one question could someday save you from making a horrible mistake. ASK IT. It could be the answer that saves your job, even someone's life. We have all asked questions of our brothers and sisters that at first seemed silly. Even if it is, we're happy to help. We may chuckle while answering, but we will do so anyway. We've all asked the same question at one time. Hey folks, believe it or not, that operator who has a 27-year Safe Driver patch on their sweater is most often all-to-happy to help you. That's why they display that patch. It's a symbol of pride gained over thousands of miles of safe driving, as you'll someday learn the importance of. They have sweated appeals over ridiculous first-glance Preventable Accident decisions, only to have them overturned on appeal. I can personally attest to this edict: ALWAYS APPEAL. Even an incident I thought I was doomed to have hang over my head forever was overturned due to some wise counsel from a revered senior operator/line trainer/union rep (especially our retired Brother Dan Martin... thank you Dan!). You are part of a brotherhood that may be fallible at times, but is always willing to help. Take advantage of your union brothers and sisters, and at all costs, please DO NOT "opt out" of your Amalgamated Transit Union 757. You'll gain more benefit from union fellowship than not, guaranteed.
10) RESPECT ALL OF YOUR CO-WORKERS. You are now part of a fellowship that encompasses many different levels of the Portland Metropolitan Area Transit. Your Station Agents, Road Supervisors, Trainers, Maintenance Workers and fellow Rail, Streetcar, C-Tran ops and ALL Oregon Bus Operators are your new brothers and sisters. And that's a relationship you should take seriously. We work together, we know each other over years of service, and we value our relationships with one another. No matter which garage we work out of, or level of seniority, or rank of position, we're all doing our jobs to provide a valuable service to our fellow Portlanders. Get to know people. You'll find we're all much the same. We love, we live, we all have the same troubles and joys in life. Just because you're new doesn't mean we care any less. We've all been you once upon a time. Welcome to our world. Learn from us, laugh at our common experiences, share what you've come to know. The good among us will help you celebrate. If you find someone who won't listen, give 'em a break; maybe they've had a bad day and the next they'll treat you like a pal. Whatever you find, please just treat each of our own as your family, because we truly are, even though we may be dysfunctional at times. In transit, we are all you have. Management could care less, no matter what they say.
Yeah, I'm a wordy sumbitch. It comes from six decades of hard living and years of learning on-the-job. I want you to succeed; your fellow operators agree. We're not "the enemy," but valuable allies you can learn from. Additionally, I want us to get along. I've clashed with many of you as of late. Needlessly. Our Trainers are awesome, but there's no way they can teach you everything you need to know while successfully navigating this perilous journey. It's up to your senior operators to pass along the wisdom gleaned from our millions of combined miles to guide you to where you need to arrive... safely.
YOU are OUR future. I will be long-retired when you reach the point where I am now. It's imperative you learn that our union depends on you for future leadership. Given management's dim and disconnected view of its operators, please don't be fooled by its portrayal of sweet roses and fine wine if you toe their unrealistic line. Reality shows us how roses wilt and wine sours with age. Even an Operator of the Month can be brought down with one missed scan, or an altercation with a difficult passenger gone wrong. Don't be swayed by bullshit; it surrounds us like the stench of a tightening noose. Hopefully our common plight brings us even closer together. Management is hell-bent upon replacing US with automation in the coming years. The more we can prove our value, the better our argument AGAINST this humiliating ridiculousness of replacing humans with machines. Even George Orwell would shiver at the thought of what management proposes for the near future. Hopefully, this chill of our collective forever-winter induces the same in you.
Transit operators worldwide will heartily-agree with this statement: You are a newbie, but you are now one of US; it's time to act like it and learn how to do what's right. We've all been where you are now. It's hard, very hard. We understand. As such, I will do my utmost best to be patient with you, to bestow my knowledge as needed while continually learning what I need to remain sharp. It's up to you to realize when to listen, to heed, to learn. Also, to be gracious and thankful, even when your seniors may teach during a heated moment. The more you listen and remain thankful and respectful, the more you'll grow. As the years roll by (and they do very quickly, mind you), you will come to appreciate your seniors. We were taught a bit more harshly at times, and may come down hard on you. But in the end, we're all the better for it.
With that, I wish you Newbs all the best. Roll safe, my new brothers and sisters.
My final wish for you: May all your ups and downs be in bed.
Deke N. Blue
Transit Blogger and Author
P.S. Anyone just starting out in this job will benefit from reading my book, "JUST DRIVE - Life in the Bus Lane," available on Amazon in print, eBook and audio. It describes my life from before I became an operator, through the hiring process (you remember THAT fun) and the first 4.5 years as a bus driver. It retains a 5-star rating, was featured on Oregon Public Broadcasting's nationally-syndicated "Think Out Loud" radio program, a piece of Portlandia forever. Hey, I'll toot my horn as my own best publicist... I'm all I have. Oh, and thanks for reading!