Thursday, September 1, 2016


Millions of people around the world ride public transit each day. As with any time somebody is transported somewhere for money, there is a tendency to be hyper-critical of the driver. Ask almost anyone about their prowess behind the wheel, and they will most likely say they consider themselves a skilled driver. (Even those who have lost their driving privileges believe they are more skillful than bus drivers.) We're all quick to criticize these days, but slow to compliment. The problem is, people will complain even if they don't understand the nature of a given situation.

Passengers are not "customers." Public transit is a public service, a privilege rather than a right. The difference between the two is, privileges can be revoked, while a right is inherent and supposedly inviolable. We provide this service with pride, and are expected to follow the rules set forth in our Standard Operating Procedures. When we enforce these rules to someone refuses to follow them, we expect any complaints to be ignored by management and for the passenger to be instructed as to their appropriate actions in the future. What often happens however, is that many false complaints go into our personnel file. It's like charging someone with a crime, even if they're obviously innocent, just because you don't know what else to do with the complaint.

If its employees were truly vital,the agency would totally re-vamp this "customer service" nonsense. Sure, if a complaint is found to be justified in that we have made an error, the operator should expect a courteous correction. We're not perfect, we're simply human. The pressures of this job can turn the most decent human being into a jaded one in just a few years of service. It's not something we consciously try to do. Yet we are constantly bombarded with news of other operators getting the shaft for no good reason. Too many complaints disqualify us for hard-earned rewards for being safe drivers. And yes, we are the safest damn drivers on the road, bar none.

Many operators are notified of complaints against them that are unquestionably F-A-L-S-E. Perhaps those who field the calls simply don't have the tools (or the time) to examine the facts prior to sending complaints on to management. There are also several times when management has failed to fully investigate whether the operator in question was actually operating the vehicle the complainant was actually riding. I've certainly had a few instances where I had to make them remove a false complaint against me simply because I wasn't driving the bus when said incident occurred. Sure, humans are fallible, but our complaint system needs an entire overhaul.

When we're driving a bus, we're expected to follow Standard Operating Procedures. For the great majority of us, this is exactly how we operate. We're also told that while we're behind the wheel, we are Captain of the Ship, and our decisions should be upheld as long as we operate under the provisions we are bound by. Just because Mad Mommy doesn't want to fold up her stroller and hold Screaming Lil' Cindy on her lap while riding a bus does not give her the right to lodge a complaint against us that remains in our personnel files. By enforcing this rule, we are following procedure. Mommy can piss up a rope, and she should be told just that. Many complaints such as this should end up in the trash. Instead, our reputations are trashed.

We all hear tales of the horrible bus driver. However, these tales are usually told by passengers who are woefully ignorant of the rules of transit operation. When a passenger starts bitching at me about their previous operator, I try to get to the real story. People have a tendency to stretch the truth, to put it politely. Many neither care about the rules and responsibilities of being a passenger. Too many are pushy, rude and think only of themselves. On several occasions I've been told "Just drive, asshole. You don't have the right to tell me what to do." Well folks, it seems our transit agency thinks the same way. Problem is, they're both wrong.

I've made it a habit to only check my interoffice mail at the end of a shift. If I get a passenger complaint, I don't want it to piss me off while I'm driving because it's a distraction. Management says it's concerned about distracted driving, yet it doesn't seem to mind being the cause of said distractions. By allowing so many complaints to filter through to us, many without merit or having been fully investigated prior to being thrust upon us, management is not providing a stress-free working environment.

Instead of "thank you," I would assume.
To be a productive part of the transit system, passenger complaints should be properly vetted prior to making it to a manager's desk. Was the driver following SOP's? Who was actually driving the bus where the incident occurred? During investigation, was a follow-up call initiated to ascertain the validity of the complaint? So many complaints we're assaulted with are not only blatantly false, they're often invalid because the operator was simply following protocol. If we stray from our expected path, then yes, perhaps a well-worded and informative note to the operator is in order. Still, these complaints should simply fall off after a year if we do not consistently make the same mistake. 

It's nice, yet very rare, that passengers call in to tell us what a great job we're doing. In fact, out of 100 calls to our agency, 99 of them are complaints. We're out there 365 days a year, in all kinds of impossible conditions, taking people safely to their destinations. You'd think they'd be a little more thankful. People love to complain, but are loathe to compliment. I don't know why that is. Someone is highly likely to want to complain without even considering their own behavior. Yet we treat thousands of people decently, go out of our way to ensure a smooth and safe ride, and rarely hear about it. We're expected to do that, many say. It's our job, say others. Well, yeah. Of course. But turn it around on someone and they most assuredly would say they're also woefully under-appreciated. Our society has become a bitchfest, and it's sad.

Humans are fallible. Bus operators are human. Managers are as well. We all work very hard, are mostly sincere and honest people who want to do a good job. We should be rewarded for improving, not have minor incidents follow us constantly and hinder our possibility of upward mobility. This job is hard, and we have a right to expect management has our back, rather than having them on our backsides. In a just world, it's a valid expectation. But hey, we're just bus drivers, eh?


  1. I agree with much of what is said here but as for the part of considering riding the Bus as a privelege.. That attitude will not serve a driver well.People dont like to complain directly to the driver but will compliment them directly rather than calling it in. If you have a good rapor with your customers, you will hear compliments daily. Of course we wish they would call alot of those compliments in so the powers that be understand how well we do our jobs but what do you do Ask them to call it in? I wouldl be embarassed to ask that unless the compliment was about another driver. Yes many complaints make it to drivers that should be tossed beforehand and that is puzzling because we expect those above us to know they are bogus.

  2. The funny this is that 'back in the day' it was very rare for operators to get complaints and managment rarely forwarded any complaints to drivers.

    People were told "it's public transportation and nobody is forcing you to use it, what do you want for $1.50". No lie

    Now everything has reversed. I can't believe how much life has changed in the last 40 years

  3. TriMet also Back in the day used to Mail the person who called in a complaint a "Day Ticket" for their troubles.. think of those days! also now they can use complaints NOT EVEN VETTED to cause the operator HARM, if you want to strive to be a MASTER OPERATOR well guess what you get to many complaints your Progress for your SPA is RESET back to ZERO! even if they are unfounded, so we have to defend ourselves, some do diligently and out of the mouth of Powell Manager Lyle P "If you are the operator listed in the SIP the SIP Stays in your file" you can add your SIDE of the story. so where is the incentive? I am no Penguin and just SMILE AND WAVE.. screw that, I do my best to be professional and respectful and compassionate, but if you violate my space or threaten passengers I bring my MAD DAD Voice to the game and you may get put off the bus, remember "THIS IS YOUR STOP".

  4. When my very first complaint was handed to me 10 years ago, I scaanned it, then rescanned it again, then asked the manager of they had screened it to ensure it was indeed touted to the proper operator. "Oh yes, I checked it myself". As I handed it back to them, I commented that I wasn't aware of having a sex change, because this complaint was littered with SHE this and SHE that throughout. The manager never did apologize; stating they must have handed me the wrong complaint in error; my complaint must be on the desk (that they couldn't locate AND my name was stop the one they handed me in ink.)

    My very next one at least had it down as a male driver (we're making progress), but included the phrase "every time this driver drives this route". Well, see I was on the extra board at this time, and I kept a small calendar daily, listing what my work was each day, the bus(es) I drove and the hours I worked. I STRONGLY RECCOMEND THIS TO JUNIOR OPERATORS. I simply pulled this calendar out and showed the manager that it couldn't have been me. For starters, I was the bus BEFORE the one the rode AND, being on the board, I had NEVER driven that Line and Train before that day, so I couldn't be the "this driver always". I then looked at the manager and said "You know, that's two in a row that you SWORE were mine and I proved, with very little evidence and leg work on my part needed, that you were wrong. I'd say that even IF the next one or two complaints that come in for me ARE legitimate, I've earned a pass. Have a good day"...and walked out. In certain I should have had one or two come in due to bad days on my part right after that, but didn't know anything about them until about a year later when I went in for something unrelated. New manager. Two CSI's, unsubstantiated. NEVER got a call on them.

  5. And they wonder why they're having trouble hiring new drivers...