Monday, March 6, 2017

I'm Early! Oh No, Don't Shoot Me!

So who is this new guy blasting us from "on high?" Has he ever driven a bus? I doubt it. Here's my side of this "gotta be perfect" schtick.

Sometimes, we run late, others we are hot. Why? Depends on the run. I chase a break sometimes, and while it may not be the best way, it can be the only way. It takes a lot of stamina to be a good bus driver. Our bodies take a beating every time we take the wheel. My foot presses that brake pedal a good 700 times every day. It's not an easy push. It takes power and thrust, along with precision and timing. My right foot's big toe controls the fine motor control on the brake pedal to ensure my passengers get a smooth stop. Not once or twice, but every damn time. I don't open the doors until the bus is stopped, or there's a big jerk. When someone's out of their seat and waiting for the door to go green, I'm careful to make it smooth. Otherwise, it's a heartless "thump" and paperwork waiting on the other side because they can fall if I'm not careful. Not only do I care about my passengers' well being, I do treasure being a smooth operator. It's a pride thing. Throughout my life, I've taken care to be as good at what I do as humanly possible. Otherwise, why do it at all?

Back to being early. We're being written up by the bean counters if we're early or late. What a bunch of crap. Like they've learned what we have... how to run a bus route. Every schedule is written on averages. Every run is different in many ways. Rush hour traffic balanced with risk-taking motorists in a hurry to their own funeral happen to weigh in heavily. We're trained to drive safely, schedule be damned. They look at numbers, we deal with traffic and numerous other factors on the road. We don't always have the luxury of staring at their precious time clock. Too many things on our radar at once to give one damn about schedule. On my route, it's usually "ding" for every stop. If I can zip past one, it adds a luxurious 15 seconds to my time. When you're down a few minutes, that's a valuable bonus. If I leave a stop more than a minute early, there's a reason. I know, from experience, that the next three or seventeen stops will need servicing. That will delete the extra time and make me late. If I leave a time point early, there's a damn good reason. I don't need some overpaid corporatist making a judgment on my driving. Running late means I lose time on my break. I gotta pee at the end of the line, if you'll excuse my crudeness. I also have to stretch my middle-aged legs, back and shoulders, and maybe even catch a bite of lunch here and there. A few puffs of nicotine take the edge off. They don't have to deal with society's throwbacks. I do.

The past two weeks, I've heard from several drivers complaining about being pulled into a manager's office and counseled about being early or late. They're splitting hairs because some upper yuckety-yuck is trying to impress the brass by stressing our "on-time performance." At the end of a sign-up, when we've all learned the route. Its "bubbles" and trouble spots. Where we'll lose time and how to make it up. Sometimes the "rules" lose out to common sense. To be disciplined for this is utterly asinine, especially when we know our jobs better than those trying to analyze what we've done for years.

People love to complain about our being late. These are the same ones who wait several minutes at a stop, pecking away at their phones. When we roll up, they're headphoned or stoned. Then they rush up to the door, trying to enter as passengers exit. They come on board, fumbling in their pockets. "I have a pass in here somewhere, lemme find it," they say as they clog the entryway. I usually wave them back, not giving a tinker's damn if they have fare or not. I just want to make the wheels roll. But until they're clear of the almighty Yellow Line, I'm delayed. The precious seconds they waste add up, stop after stop. Exponentially. Then the riders waiting down the line wonder (then later complain) why I'm late. It's pouring rain and they are waiting while drenched. They give me a ration of excrement by the looks in their hooded eyes, even though the pot stench from the joint they burned in the bus shelter reeks in the entryway minutes after they've boarded. People who are unprepared to board are the biggest time-wasters, but if you mention this, it's as if you're the biggest asshole since Noah forgot the unicorns.

If I roll up to a time point under a minute early, it depends on the nature of the stop as to how long I'll wait there. When traffic is piling up behind me because I'm too concerned about management's push for perfection in an imperfect world, I will roll as soon as that clock clears one minute. Why? Because to do otherwise is impolite and extremely unsafe. It risks people passing me on a double-yellow line to get around the slowpoke bus in their way. If I wait until the clock strikes triple zeroes, I'm more concerned about kissing management's pampered derriere than paying attention to what matters most: safety. I'll sit at a stop and kill time a few stops prior to a time point to avoid this, but there are only certain places this is safe to do so. If I don't have to service stops prior to the time point, I can be early when I get there because bubbles are often placed so you gain time just before you get there. So I'll burn the time prior to my arrival in hopes I'm in "the green" at the time point. But once again, transit is not perfect. Sometimes I miscalculate and arrive just a wee-bit early. Woe is me. Do I deserve punishment for this? Certainly not.

Our brains are always performing calculations. How much pressure should I apply to the brake to avoid colliding with the bonehead who cut me off then turns right in front of me? Do I injure passengers or total the car? Is the green light up there fresh or stale? Am I too late prior to arriving to a normally-busy stop, or should I push it up a mile or so above the speed limit to get there on time? There's a fog bank up ahead, so I need to slow down to drive safely; is this going to make me late? How deep does the fog extend? Will I make the sweet lady's connection to that bus she needs to take to complete her trip home? When I'm driving 20 miles-per-hour below the speed limit because of the fog, do I stop for that person I see at the last minute who is running hell-bent for leather to the stop I'm already two minutes late for? (I usually do, because I remember what a bummer it is to miss a bus and have to wait in freezing weather another 15-30 minutes for the next bus to arrive.)

Sometimes our leader is doing most of the work. They're late for any number of reasons. My bus is nearly empty, and I know from experience it should be fuller than a pregnant rattlesnake. If I catch up to them, I will call into Dispatch and suggest they be put into Drop Off Only mode. I know what it's like to be so late your follower catches you. This means you are in jeopardy of losing what little break time is allotted at the end of the line. I'm willing to pick up their passengers because I'm on time or even a bit early. It's normal procedure for us to help each other. Besides, it gets monotonous sitting at a stop burning time. Your passengers get restless because they don't know you're early. They just want to get home as quickly as possible, so why is that bus driver just sitting at a stop when he could be rolling?

If we're early, it's a bonus. It all works out in the end, because other times during the week we're often late. Our regulars are professional riders, and know to be at their stop a few minutes earlier than the schedule says our bus will appear out of a swirling fog bank. I shouldn't worry what some manager might think. Most bus operators play by the rules, and each route has its own code. We work together, sort things out amongst ourselves. Sure, some operators might bend the rules, but we know how things are out there. Managers sit in an office and stare at computer screens without the benefit of knowing what we do. Unless of course, they've actually driven a bus before. Most of the new ones, however, don't have the benefit of that experience.

Transit is an imperfect beast. Even if the machines ran themselves, they'd be early or late. When we're lucky, things run our way and we roll in on time. But never are we so perfect at every stop. Get over it. We are a transportation industry, not a customer service machine. Too many factors determine our timing. Our main goal is to deliver our passengers safely to their destination. If I've done that without a scratch at the end of the line, nothing else matters. It shouldn't matter to management either.

End of rant.


  1. Portland's mass transit rocks. In the 15 yrs I lived there I had only one isolated complaint. Some folks have no clue how good they have it. St Pete FL has suck ass public transpo.