"Sure," I replied, "if you want to risk a citation for 'theft of a public service.' "
"Well then, can I have a transfer?"
"No, a transfer costs $2.50."
She gave me one of those 'are you kidding' looks. "If I'm only going two stops, then it's only worth a dollar."
If you go into a sandwich shop, order a full-size sub with everything on it, then tell the cashier you only plan on eating half of it so you're only paying a third of the price, they will laugh you out of the store. Likewise, if you go into a grocery and choose 20 items but tell the clerk you really only need 10 of them, you still have to pay for every item. Why do people consider transit fares different from any other purchase?
I'll tell you why. Because we don't command the public's respect. They think we're a joke. Criminals assault us, and our agency blithely offers a thousand bucks for someone to rat out the suspect. Later, a judge accepts the plea bargain while slapping the offender on the wrist. Gently, as to not injure the poor baby's sweet blood vessels. Hey, it's only a bus operator, after all. The media insults us, telling its audience how a monkey could do our job.
Our own transit agency, which should be our biggest defender, instead offends us with regularity. It hires union-busting henchmen while whittling away at retiree and operator benefits and hiring as many people it can under a contract that screws them. It seems they're out to replace us once they have successfully murdered a benefit package that was once commensurate with the job we do. It sees how many of us are being assaulted, and instead of lobbying the legislature for stiffer penalties for those who commit the crime, they find another way to waste money by caging us into an already-cramped operator seat. This not only separates us from the decent passengers we ferry to and from work, but it also says "We give up; you're going to assault our operators anyway, so there's nothing we care to do about it except cage them in." Well guess what? We have to get out of the driver seat eventually. Even monkeys have to pee.
Any other agency, when busted for not funding a pension for 30 years, as it promised and was legally obligated to do, would have been hung to dry. Yet ours is lauded for doing so, and encouraged to keep finding ways to pare down those "greedy" union benefits packages. All this while management is pampered with golden parachutes awaiting their cushy retirement. I'd have to work until I'm 90 to bring home what some upper managers can expect, yet I'm the greedy one. Hmm...
It's insulting to know that if I fight off an attacker with what I consider "reasonable defense", I could be fired by my agency over any interpretive discrepancy of this purposefully-vague term. It enrages us that we can face stiffer penalties for defending ourselves than those who commit the assault. It's also maddening that fare inspectors were eliminated and operators became punching bags because the public realized fewer would be checking to ensure they're obeying the law.
No, I don't want an unreasonably-high salary, even though we deserve it. Of course I realize there are limits to how lucrative our benefits can be. But I should be able to expect our lot to get better, for our management to have found a way to reward us for weathering the economic storm and performing feats many of them have never attempted. Instead, we're told we ask too much and that it's time to be "more realistic in our expectations."
Well I know something we should realistically expect and deserve. It's called R-E-S-P-E-C-T, and as Aretha Franklin put it, they should find out what it means to me. I won't hold my breath or think about it too long, because it's infuriating. I have a job to do. One which our local economy depends upon my doing without distraction. It takes skill to whistle a tune while I drive. And I've never seen a monkey do it.