Sunday, April 23, 2017

Just Yield Already

Oh gee, let's just cut off that bus before he gets to the stop. No big deal.

Deke's Note: I'm interested in hearing from bus operators all around the world on this subject. Please let me know your area's laws regarding yielding to transit vehicles. It's interesting to know how you all deal with this issue.

I found an interesting post on FaceBook yesterday. An operator shared a photo of our Yield signal along with the law regarding motorists being legally obligated to allow a transit vehicle to merge back into traffic (ORS 811.167). This post brought about some road rage against us, so I've decided to address this issue... From the Driver Side of a bus.

First, the law itself:

"A person commits the offense of failure to yield the right of way to a transit bus entering traffic if the person does not (do so) when: A) A yield sign is displayed on the back of the bus; B) the person is operating a vehicle that is overtaking the transit bus from the rear; and C) the transit bus, after stopping to receive or discharge passengers, is signaling an intention to enter the traffic lane occupied by the person."

There was a lot of anger directed toward bus operators. One comment stated, "within .02 seconds of turning it on (yield signal) they pull out." Of course, this person was using exaggeration to make a point. I say "touché!" Let's explore traffic patterns a bit.

On heavy routes, let's say the 33 for example, since the post in question was from a driver on that line, the bus runs much of the way on McLoughlin Blvd. It is also known as State Highway 99 East, and is heavily traveled all hours each day. At rush hour, thousands of motorists inch along between downtown Portland through Oregon City. Not only are there cars, but factor in tractor-trailers, motor homes, buses, delivery trucks, skaters, motorcycles, pedestrians and bicycles, it's a very dangerous road at any time. Of any 100 vehicles at any given point, approximately 10-20 percent are operated by professional drivers. (Professional meaning a driver who is heavily trained in safety procedures and must hold and maintain a Commercial Driver's License with current medical certification. They receive regular training and evaluation. Private motorists are trained as teens and rarely have further training.)

Another 20-30 percent of motorists are inexperienced young drivers who are often the most impatient. They take outrageous chances with your life, and their own. The rest are most likely people who have driven between one and six decades. Many are not focused on the task at hand. They employ tunnel vision, not taking the time to fully scan the road around and behind them, let alone 12-15 seconds ahead. When you don't keep your head and eyes moving, your peripheral vision virtually disappears within three or four seconds. This is a very dangerous, sometimes fatal, mistake. When accidents happen, one of the most common things people say is "I never saw them!" Sadly, if they had been scanning their surroundings properly, they would have seen and probably had enough time to avoid the collision.

Only a small percentage of motorists are safe and courteous. They see potential hazards before they need to react, and take appropriate actions to avoid disaster. Of course, this annoys people behind them, who don't even realize the guy they just honked at saved another's life. My hat is off to those people who get what safe driving is all about.

A bus operator's job is one of the most stressful of all positions, just below firefighters, police officers, and air traffic controllers. We're constantly watching around us for possible dangers. It's not nearly as easy as many think. Giving rides to people is only one part of the many facets of this job. My eyes are constantly scanning. See that kid up ahead on the sidewalk? What if the ball he's tossing around rolls into the street, and both he and his dog chase it directly into my path? I'm watching him, the bicyclist charging up on my right side, the traffic ahead of and behind me, my time clock, passengers within and waiting just past the kid, and the intersection immediately ahead. I'm making calculations on braking distance for the possible kid's actions and the bus stop while keeping watch over the bicyclist. Once I've let the cycle past, I can ease into the bus stop, load passengers and wait for them to sit or hold on before I put on that left turn signal and the annoying yield light.

This is where it gets tricky. Imagine scanning traffic in a rectangle and determining speeds and distances of approaching vehicles of various sizes while also keeping track of the scene ahead and all around the 40-foot rig you're captain of. The yield light warns motorists to avoid colliding with us. It's a motorist's responsibility to watch for our signals and react responsibly and lawfully. We stop and then merge hundreds of times a day. When others do their part it becomes a finely-tuned symphony and a time-lapse video would show a harmonic flow of cooperation. When motorists don't cooperate, we can get frustrated. We're trying to do a job, but Junior is just headed to Fred's for pancake syrup and Fritos. Is it really important for him to zip past us just because he can? That traffic light ahead is turning red... why race around a bus to get there first?

If we're late, especially lately as management pushes us to put on-time performance ahead of safety, it adds enormous pressure to an already intense job. Every time a long line of vehicles blatantly ignores our yield light, it adds up in time lost on the run. This, along with passengers not having fare ready upon boarding, bicycles going on our rack, people who use mobility devices needing assistance, and traffic jams all contribute to our being late. So it's not surprising those who complain about us pulling back into the road in front of them would have plenty of time to facilitate these merges, if they were paying proper attention to what's happening ahead. Maybe some operators push the limits, but they're infinitely more patient than 95% of those with whom we share the road.

It's a matter of perception. When we look in the mirror and see a car far enough behind for us to merge, with the yield light signaling our intentions, then notice the front end of that car lifting in acceleration rather than lowering in a braking maneuver, we might just go anyway. It's called being "politely aggressive." It's something every professional driver knows as an unwritten code. We have to be this way sometimes or we'd always end up an hour late. The following car is being "recklessly aggressive," because by speeding up to overtake us, they're risking not only their own safety but also the other obstacles they might encounter by attempting such a foolish move. A car can slow and stop much faster than a bus. Unfortunately, motorists are annoyed by buses and increasingly adopt a "me first" attitude. We see this attitude magnified on Black Fridays in big box stores around the nation.

Another point motorists largely fail to consider is the guy who just left the bus. If he's a few pennies shy of a nickel, he'll bounce right out in front of the bus and walk right into traffic. If you zip past thinking "I'll show that bus driver to get in front of me!" while a pedestrian pops right in front of the bus despite my honking to alert him of this horrible choice, you might hit him. Think of how late that will make you. We have a sign over the front door that reads "Do Not Cross In Front Of Bus." Guess how many people ignore it? That's right, most of them. I'm constantly warning people about this who have just left the safety of my ride. Just last week a guy almost got bumper-checked this way. They think the bus will protect them, but motorists cannot see around or through a 40-foot monster. Kids just out of school have been taught it's not only safe, but legal to cross in front of a school bus; they have signs too. How many motorists reading this can honestly say they always stop for a school bus with signs and lights activated?

We have limited time to do a route. Efficiency in boarding passengers is vital to keep on schedule. Most of our time servicing a stop is spent merging back into traffic. If everyone works together, we all arrive safely at our destinations in a timely manner. A few seconds lost to yield to a larger vehicle than yours is not only logical, but practical too. You'll make up those few seconds the next time the bus stops and you zoom past it. Make the wrong decision, and you (and others) could die. Pretty simple choice, right? Obey the law by doing the right thing and you're safe. Challenge it, and you're looking at trouble.

When you're coming up on a bus that is pulled over to the stop, ask yourself these questions. Did it just pull over and people are boarding? Which turn signal is activated? Is the yield light flashing and is the bus moving? Is that traffic light red ahead? A truly attentive motorist asks these questions automatically and makes proactive decisions based on the answers. This person is keenly aware they are in control of a potential deadly weapon, and drive safely. People who "just don't care," like one who commented on the FB post, are collision magnets.

It would be great if police departments actually enforced ORS 811.167. Milwaukie is aggressive when it comes to speeding. Sure, speed kills. But so does inattention, recklessness and outright rudeness. Put yourself in my seat, and you'd see things From the Driver Side. Until then, please just give us a "brake." It might just save your life, and someone else's too.


  1. Thank you! Rode 33 to upper OC from Milwaukie last week after 4 p.m. Drivers need lightening fast reflexes after turning on YIELD signal and merging back into 99E traffic as right lane traffic ignores the signal. You keep us safe, get us home on time, in spite of the oblivious idiots not sharing the road.


    If I may, our instruction for use of the Yield light is very strict. It is only ever to be used for merging back into the lane of travel from a non-travel lane, parking lane, or bus-only zone or pull-out. It is only to be used if and when our bus is largely, if not completely outside of the traveling lane, and needing to merge back into the flow of general traffic. It is not to be used inside a transit center, on the downtown transit mall, or when the bus is necessarily blocking a lane of general travel.

    Then there is a point to be made about general traffic passing a bus that is blocking or partially blocking the lane of general travel. Passing such a bus that is conducting normal revenue service (letting passengers board or elite), is unlawful if the passing vehicle must cross a double-yellow line. If the passing vehicle can change lanes, over a white skip-stripe, this is legal and changing lanes to pass must be done with caution. Again, it is never legal to pass a transit bus with which you share a single lane delineated by a double-yellow, or no-passing line.

    Be patient. Allowing a single intending passenger to board, show their pass, and take a seat takes as little as 10 seconds. Allowing said passenger to safely elite after riding takes a little as 6 seconds. The price of sharing this civil commons is mere seconds - you can wait that long.

    And, may I add, it is your prerogative to question the practices of public employees. It is not your right to put other citizens at risk for your preconceived notions.

    This city bus driver, and all the professionals I know, take public safety very seriously. Sometimes more seriously than do our managers and district administrators. This city bus driver starts every workday with a full and proper pre-trip inspection. Those of us who relieve mid-route will verify the first operators safety inspection upon their arrival at the end of the line.

    Again, please exercise some patience and understanding with us. We are your friends and neighbors, we share your church pews, and our kids go to the same schools as yours do. We are the eyes and ears of the communities in which we work and live.

    Transit workers. Shepherds of public safety sacrificing daily for the common good.

  3. Excellent writing, as usual, and you hit the nail on the head!!!! THANK YOU!!!!