Friday, February 5, 2016

Tips for (New) Drivers

Hey we all were newbies once upon a time. A lot we've had to learn on our own, but once in a while I pick up a tidbit from someone else, either a grizzled veteran or even somebody with equal or less time than I have on the job. Either way, if you don't learn something new every day, you're just not paying attention.

When I'm pre-tripping a bus in the yard, I'm always reminded of the basics. They apply to life on the road too. I've been meaning to write this one for quite a while. So here's a few things I'd like my fellow operators to remember.
  1. First and always, SAFETY first! Once you've stopped your bus, set the parking brake and put the transmission in neutral. Make it a habit, whether you're in the yard or at the end of the line. So many operators have been injured (one recently in our own yard), or sadly even killed, because of carelessly forgetting these basic procedures. 
  2. Next, turn everything electrical OFF before shutting the bus down. That way, the next driver to take the bus isn't met with a blast of air from the heating/cooling system, fans set on high blasting hot or cold air at you, or windshield wipers squeaking away on dry glass.
  3. Make sure the driver's window is closed. We've all had the bus where the previous operator left the window wide open, then Mother Nature dumped a few gallons of rain onto the driver's seat. Often times it could be sunny and gorgeous when you jump off the bus at the end of a run. In the Northwest, just wait a few minutes and the weather changes. No amount of paper towels can sop up a steaming wet and stinky seat. It's a bit embarrassing walking off the bus with a dark stain on your navy (or worse, tan shorts) pants and having someone say, "Did you pee yourself?" Unfortunately, some of your fellow operators have incontinence issues, and perhaps they have soiled their pants because they didn't reach a restroom in time. Operators don't normally think about things like this. Try walking a few steps in their shoes and perhaps you'll understand the significance of something as simple as closing a window.
  4. Early at the downtown transit center? Burn time before you arrive or at the last position of a shared stop, not in the first position. Recently, a few operators downtown were victims of an early brother who shared the same stops on the mall. He'd show up early, throw on his 4-ways, and let his clock burn down. Meanwhile, here I cruise in behind him, right on time, and pick up my passengers. I close the door and wait for my turn to take the first position. My bus is already full, and here we sit behind this operator who hasn't moved in two light cycles. Now I'm two minutes down. At the next stop, if the operator is still early and burns time in the first position, I'm four minutes late. The bus behind me is likely late as well, and we're getting a bit steamed at our brother in front. As operators, we all know schedules are imperfect at best. Regular operators quickly learn where the "bubbles" are on a paddle and the best spots to burn time. Extra board operators don't always have this luxury, because each day presents them with different work of varying lines and trains. If you're unsure where to kill extra time, ask other operators of the same line how they drive the route and you'll likely learn other valuable tips in addition to what you've asked.
  5. If presented with a situation that you cannot immediately decide how to handle, here's a simple solution that will help you safely determine how to proceed: STOP AND LOCK. Often, we're afraid we'll be thought of as a dumbass by our passengers or fellow operators, so we just plunge through a safety concern depending upon our lucky stars. This is when shit happens, folks. Bad shit. Whenever I've counted on my lucky stars, they've usually fallen. If you stop and lock up the bus, perhaps the delivery truck driver bearing down on you on a narrow street while he consults his cell phone will hit your mirror. There's a BIG difference here to the incident review panel, which is especially important if you're on probation. It doesn't matter what other people think if you stop and lock; what matters is you safely maneuver your hulk of metal and glass from Point A to Point B. Remember your trainer's first words: Don't damage the equipment. Using your best judgement requires a lot more caution than the average driver uses. We're not "average", we're professionals.
  6. If you've just started your run and you cross paths with an operator who is nearly done, yield to them in tight spots. Chances are good they're running behind. It's important etiquette to remember, as it shows respect to your brothers and sisters.
  7. If something is wrong with your bus, report it. Some things we fix ourselves because they're minor, or are not "mission critical" to waste time asking for a bus trade. But if you have a wobbly mirror that is hard to see out of, an "idiot light" on the dash even though the bus is running fine, or a burned-out headlight, send Dispatch a message. I once had a bus that nearly stalled as I slowed to a stop, but since it didn't quit running I didn't report it right away. At the end of the line, I took my break and just let it slide. On my next trip, it did start stalling at every stop, which is obviously problematic. Instead of blowing it off, I should have hit "Mechanical Rolling" and let Dispatch make the decision. My delay in reporting it inconvenienced passengers when the bus wouldn't start again and we had to wait for a replacement I likely could have had before they even boarded.
These are just a few tips, and I hope they help you. Of course, there is a lot more information I could have told you, but I'm feeling lazy tonight. A lot of it is just common sense anyway, and you'll figure it out as you go along. Some of you are seasoned veterans who don't need the Deacon nagging at you for stuff you've known for years. Besides, according to Bishop, I've only been operating for 45 minutes or so, a wet-behind-the-ears smartass in comparison to my respected elders. But hey, I'm also getting old, and according to the late, great Richard Pryor, "you don't get to be old bein' a fool".

Have a safe trip, ya mugs. 


  1. Great tips Deacon, and as always, a great read.

    I would add three things:

    1) As a mini runner, sign as many DIFFERENT runs (routes) as you can each signup. I know it's daunting and intimidating, but you will thank yourself TEN FOLD when you go full time and start working the Extra Board driving a different run with no advance warning, every day. It will also help you to find what routes you like or dislike, so when you get off the board (if you so choose; many stay) you can pick your work with knowledge of what you're getting yourself into. Which leads to number 2...

    2) No matter what the old farts tell you, as a mini and a new full timer, RIDE YOUR NEW ROUTE assignment(s) before you have to actually work it. The passengers already know you're new; you stick out like you have a big yellow beacon on the top of your head. Don't give them reason to be cross with you too. Ride the route with the Operator that's currently doing YOUR WORK that you chose for next signup; ask questions if you see issues, make note of landmarks, etc. Sure, you can drive it in your car, or just wing it on day number one and hope someone helps you you want that much MORE stress? Us old farts will that tell you to just ride it cold turkey. They don't have to face your customers watching YOU get lost and them getting pissed at you.

    3) finally- while pre-tripping your bus, you see fresh damage. You go to try and hunt someone down to "witness" that it was there prior to pull out so you're not blamed (you guys still do that?) but you're also up against your pull out time? Pull out that handy dandy cell phone camera of yours and snap a few good shots of the damaged area (with a far out shot showing the bus number) and the surroundings; anywhere it might appear it could have made contact. You can't fake a time stamp on your cell phone (well, not without rooting your phone) and so you just keep those pics with you in your phone for about a week or one comes inquiring...dump em if you want or just create a folder in your phone's photo file for minor scrapes. You still need to report it, but you have it documented AND time stamped, AND you are helping to maintain On Time Performance by pulling out on time. That said, if it's big damage, this doesn't apply. Tell them right away.

  2. Thank you both for all of your tips. Im in my last couple weeks of training before im on the road on mine own. I will use these to survive and thrive at Trimet!

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