Monday, February 27, 2017

No Free Ticket for Transit Safety

Opposing forces do not always create a positive outcome. Contradictions naturally occur, but when purposely thrust upon people, they result in anger and frustration.

On one hand, we're being told to drive safely and the schedule is secondary. Now we're being held accountable for being late. And finally, because abuse of operators has exploded the past few years, our agency is now addressing operator safety. (Of course it took two brothers petitioning our state legislature for stiffer penalties for those who assault us before the agency stepped in.) If you stress the schedule, you're not driving safely. If you concentrate on safety (which they repeatedly say is "our core value"), you save lives but are counseled about On-Time Performance. In this business, you can have one, but usually not both.

Rolling into a transit center on my route last week, I noticed a road supervisor sitting in his vehicle. I thought nothing of it. They're always out supporting us, taking care of issues that develop over the course of a transit day. Dealing with trouble-making passengers, investigating collisions involving our vehicles, and otherwise assisting operators, is their job. Later, I heard we're being scrutinized over schedules. Management is harassing operators who are consistently late. Of course, nobody's perfect. However, it's hard to fathom why we're being pulled by opposing forces, when the obvious end result is a figurative severing of our head from the body. We are held to unrealistic expectations by the public, police and our transit agency. Driving safely encompasses many concepts. Expecting us to risk tragedy to satisfy a largely ungrateful public borders on villainous.

There are numerous reasons for running late. It is nearly impossible for schedule writers to know exact ridership on any given day when addressing route timing. Some days are busier than others, so we are forced to drive slower. Traffic problems are not predictable. Thanks to January's Snowpocalypse, we have pothole-ridden streets that make a sleigh ride over a lava field seem smooth in comparison to a bus ride. Mechanical issues can pop up at any time, as can passenger misbehavior. Boarding people with disabilities takes time, especially when we employ protocols designed to ensure their safe transport. Passengers waste precious time who wait 10 minutes at a stop, then meander on board and begin fumbling for their fare. Weather can play a major role, especially when you drive into a dense fog bank and have to slow to a crawl because of... safety. 

There are many other reasons we can run late, but none of them warrant the agency berating operators for being human. Especially given that public transit anywhere is anything but perfect. Still, we pull the rabbit out of our hats more often than not. We work hard, sometimes cutting short a break to keep the wheels rolling. We know our regulars have connections to make. They are, after all, a lot like we are. They're working stiffs, and damnit, they want to get home. There are times when I've had a bad day that I'll just say: "to hell with them, I need a full break." Yet we deal with a myriad of guilt complexes. People depend on us. I want to do right by them, even though they rarely call in a compliment and are quick to complain. I have great affinity for many of my regulars. Most are courteous, and remember the challenges our winter weather threw at me a month ago. I didn't get stuck, kept all six on the road and hardly slid. I kept them safe and warm. However, I've only had ONE commendation called in because of all I try to do for my passengers. Their indifference makes it easier sometimes to make that decision to take a full break.

Transit's public face is much different than what we see on this side. A friend recently told me the agency asked her to complete a survey. It asked, among other things, if she feels safe at bus stops and on transit vehicles. She honestly told them no. If our passengers feel unsafe just waiting for a bus, imagine how operators feel at the end of the line. Some of these places are infested with humanity's roughest characters. We're constantly asked transit-related questions on breaks, as if we're supposed to have the entire system's schedules memorized. I'm often harassed for money, smokes (even when I vape), or a "free ticket," as if we just carry them around to pass out like candy. When you say NO, it often evokes a violently negative response from these not-so-lovely beings.

When I hear the big wheels spouting a rosy picture about our "improving" safety, I tend to stiffen. It truly pisses me off that our agency hasn't a clue what we face every day. If they walked even a few feet in our boots, they'd run crying for mommy. But hey folks, my Mom died a decade ago, and she taught me to stand up for myself. Too bad my employer doesn't allow that.


  1. Sad to say I liked your comments--but I think reality has to intrude sometimes. I used your system for several years--and I worked on top of the hill at OHSU and rode from Oregon City. Schedule was rotten for me, but I always made it to work--after three buses! Regular drivers were always courteous. I couldn't do your job. The idiot folks would make me too angry and I would quit! I admire your ability to deal with it all. And you are right--the "bosses" rarely actually know what it is like doing the "job".

  2. I spent 22 years working for septa in the suburbs and you are right about being held to a higher standard by the riding public they always have a complaint about something and have had company spooks who always are willing to report you for anything and everything.1 time I had to put a couple of passengers in they're place and it seemed to shut them up because of issues over the bus being late, breaking down etc......

  3. MALICIOUS MANAGEMENT MERCENARIES: "Management is harassing operators who are consistently late. Of course, nobody's perfect...We are held to unrealistic expectations by the public, police and our transit agency. Driving safely encompasses many concepts. Expecting us to risk tragedy to satisfy a largely ungrateful public borders on villainous." --The Deacon In Blue

    "GRRRrrrr..." --The Rampant Lion

  4. Where is the union? Where is OSHA? Where is DOL ? Where is the news media? No wonder they have to advertise on buses that they're hiring. With the economy better there are more choices for jobs than putting up with this crap !