Friday, April 7, 2017

You Want Us to What?

Avoiding potholes is a new road sport here lately.

Sometimes, people are hired to do a job they know little about. They look good on paper, have degrees and have held positions in which they've done well. Then they're hired to do something totally foreign to anything they have ever known. With a vengeance and good intentions, they burst onto the scene ready to implement innovative ideas and offer a new vision to old standards. In some industries, this can improve working conditions. In transit however, new management hires don't see far enough to avoid the potholes we already know are there.

We are suffering the effects of contradictory policies. It's confusing and frustrating to insist we be perfect in safety, schedule, and customer service. The three cannot all align in transit. It is certainly our goal, but from training onward we have been instructed that safety comes first. Always. Next, in no particular order, the other two follow. The best we can do is come close to weaving them all together, but it is basically impossible to have all three in harmony.

Transit agency management has a penchant for treating these entities as corporations. They crunch numbers and study trends while implementing policies which look good on paper. Everything would be perfect, in their minds, if operators would just run on schedule. Every run, each day. Oh but don't sacrifice safety, because "it's our core value!" Whatever you do, be nice to those 350,000 people who use our system every day. Oh sure, some of them will assault you, but we'll soon have you locked in cages so don't worry about that. You're here for them after all, to treat them as fragile daisies no matter what happens. Management wants the public to admire their constant improvements to the system. Operators? Oh they're overpaid, "undereducated" (a popular term coined by a local radio host) and greedy pucks who are only necessary until buses can drive themselves. Besides, driving a bus is so easy even a monkey could do it, right Lars Larson?

What these number crunchers don't realize is how much skill is required simply to move a bus or light rail vehicle, let alone do it safely. While middle management employs former operators to some degree, the majority of upper management is staffed with people whose only experience with transit is as passengers. This creates a major disconnect with those of us who roll the wheels.

In order to reduce assaults, management decided to "de-criminalize" fare evasion. While I applaud their intent after several years of rising numbers of transit worker beat-downs, it's like applying duct tape to a broken axle. It may hold for a few moments, but the weight is too extreme for the fix to be effective. When you tell a public it no longer is required by law to pay a price for a ride on our extensive transit system, eventually a majority of passengers will simply stop paying. They are no longer invested in the service. Revenue will fall, and when corporations lose money, they cut services. Some industries follow with salary cuts. This is not how you improve morale.

Next, tack on our agency's latest push: being on schedule. Management sees numbers. We see trends in traffic and passenger flow, and how to work with a schedule that benefits both ourselves and the riding public. After driving a route for a week or two, we know where the passengers will be at any given point in the route. If we're a bit early at one time point, we know how long to wait before taking off again so that we're not late to the next one. We know that if we're late at Point A by a few minutes, chances are good to excellent that if we play it right, we'll be right on time at Point B. We're also aware that Jimmy Hardhat gets off work precisely a minute after we're due at the stop he boards from, and if we're too early he has to wait another 15-20 for the next bus. If we hang out at the time point a few stops prior until we're late a few minutes, Jimmy gets to his connecting bus on time and we're still a bit late but will soon make up the time. If we're too early for him yet exactly on schedule, Jimmy will call Customer Service and lodge a complaint against us. Even though we're on schedule by letting Jimmy wait, we're not providing him the service he's accustomed to. Too many complaints result in disciplinary action. We don't like to leave Jimmy behind, and he hates standing in the pouring rain for several minutes hoping the next bus isn't late or broken down. He always has his fare ready when boarding, and is kind and polite to the drivers. He's the kind of passenger we enjoy driving home. He always thanks us on the way out the door, and has helped calm unruly people to keep us rolling.

Due to management's push to make sure we're on schedule, our ability to provide personal service declines. In order to please the bean counters, we feel pressured to not leave that time point  "late" so the schedule metrics match management's unreasonable expectations.

Management swears they don't expect us to ignore safety in favor of schedule. But when they pull an operator into their office to "counsel" them on being a few minutes late every day, they're not giving credit for everything we do out there. Many transit passengers have been riding for years, even decades. They help us understand our own version of "metrics." When is that lady who uses a mobility device going to be at this stop as opposed to another? When does that connecting bus leave the transit center? If I leave a time point just a few seconds early, I'll help them make that connection. If there's a supervisor parked watching us at this time point and we leave early, we risk being disciplined for helping our regulars. Waiting out the time makes the passengers miss their connections but hey, at least management's happy.

Operators also communicate with each other about transferring passengers. Often, several bus lines will converge upon a transit center at the same time others are leaving. It used to be that operators would wait if we gave them a polite "beep beep" of the horn upon arrival. Now, we're too afraid of the schedule masters, and I've recently noticed some drivers refuse to wait. This causes tension between riders and operators. We've seen the results of this too many bloody times. Not all assaults happen because of fare disputes.

Which leads us to the most important of all our goals: safety. If we're expected to be on time every damn time, how are we supposed to do this? While I drive the same way whether I'm on time or late, some newer operators are feeling pressured. They're not experienced enough yet, but they might press that accelerator a notch or two over the speed limit to make up time. Each mile per hour over the limit exponentially increases the chances of disaster. Experienced, safe operators won't sacrifice safety for unreasonable expectations of management. No matter how they try to spin it all, their recent insistence on perfection is just plain reckless.

We're very good at what we do: safely transporting passengers to their destinations in huge and heavy vehicles. I try not to run late, and I avoid being too early. We all have our own metrics. They mostly deal with learning a route and its intricate details, passenger habits and behaviors, and squeezing just enough time out of tight schedules to enjoy a decent break on either end. It takes many years to learn this fine balancing act, and helps us remain happy and healthy in the seat.

As I've said before, people working in management should be required to drive a few miles in our seat. Maybe then they would learn true respect for what we do and how it's accomplished. Otherwise, they should respectfully back off and let us do our jobs.


  1. Me thinks Deke needs a different job !! I know it's hard maneuvering a 40ft bus, crappy hours, crappier customers. The negativity that Deke is publishing lately makes for a morose read ! I can only take so much negativity ! If it's that bad why do you do it? Economy is better get another job ! I used to love to read what Deke had to say not so much anymore ! Never a good word always bitch, bitch, bitch ! I recommend a new profession and quick for Deke's physical and mental health. The money Deke makes driving bus isn't worth it. I for one will give Deke another chance but if the bitching keeps up ............. see ya !!

    1. Sorry you feel this way. I'm not "bitching" but rather venting. I love my job. Thanks for reading.

  2. Keep up the good teachings. The public could use some of the education you put forth. If more of them knew of the bus driving experience from a professional driver perhaps we could see less attacks and more understanding. As to management having to drive a few live miles on a live route, I think it should be State Law and fully enforced.

  3. Holy shit man were you dissing CMBC . Wow , you got balls my man but I believe there is no one that has ever put it in these words before . Now I spent 38 years of this management big boys crap and what you state is more than dead on and if I were as gifted as you I would have probably would of named names , incidences to prove it and use a few or maybe a lot of expletive names in my rant. I only had respect for one Road/ Office superintendent in my career . A man that was always there for the drivers who eventually was pulled off the road into office job . He was very politeand fair and would tell yoy when something came down above stronger than he could refuse , so you always knew he was a gentleman and ruthful man and you could see when he was troubled . I remember once he blew up at me but in the next few days he came looking for me , not for disciplanary action but to beg forgiveness and apologized for his actions and you knew his hands were tied in what happened a few days before but he was an honest guy and he had to explain the reasons and why his apologies were important to him . Always admired that man and that was afar. I did not associate with him but in a way I hoped I could have been in as a circle of best friend . It would have been honorable, but as far as the other backstabbing office personel that were just so terrified of upper management , they woul dumped on you constantly and you paint a damn good picture here and Im sure you could have added more , but this was diplomatic material in getting the punches in .. Thank you sir for you colun , and althought Im retired now , my feelings are much of a results of lack of management support . I''ll always be on the driver's side because I know from 38 yeras experience , this is true . Albeit , it took me two years to realised what I got myself into. Ive told newbies that had a glow on their faces and were so appreciative of a job and were happy what was happening and were fearful of rocking the boat , I would tell them , ahh that's just your introductory Phase. You see with this company , The Dr. Jeckle and Hype lives on . You just haven't seen the other side yet but as I stand and breathe here today if , I come back in Five , Ten , Twenty , thirty, Forty years for now , will you still have that same feeling. I say you wont, because middle management will never change, as they fear loosing their employment from their superiors and will always bow to the people because they don't have the spine to stand up to them , throwing you, Yep You Guessed it , under the wheels of the bus! bad driver , bad driver !!

  4. I read your above reply Anonymous. Since there is no name , perhaps one of those spineless management want a be or is Like Deacon in Blue , I too loved my job and making many friends along the way , but it was the way Management and company dealt with serious matters. If it werent for my injuries , I would still be driving of this date , 49 years from May 1975, and before you accuse me of being a problem , I have only had one bad notification on my file because I joked to a passenger across the other side of the street about where and why the asshole driver hasn't showed up. I just said , ah heck he still in the bar so when I looped and came back about 15 minutes later , traffic delay due to accident , when I got ther , he was still cussing ans , I said , look , I took his shift so that you could stop swearing at drivers and you are complaining . If I hadnt taken the run you would still be here but that didnt go over well he and he wrote in a complaint and the office supervisor that I wouldn't pick up one day because he was mid block wrote me up . We had all been told we were not to pick up if not at bus stop and that included bus drivers coming to depot, so I followed procedures with him and forced him to wait for next coach and that was my payback , so all in all I have a clean career but no love for management , Curious, are you hoping to become a supervisor one day . Looks like you already qualify for the next opening. and Deke its only the second time I see your article .. Spot on my man

    1. Hi Rene, thanks for your comments and sorry it took so long to reply.

      No, a supervisor's job is not for me. I have a lot of respect for what they do, but not the temperament necessary for that position. In my life, I've been a manager and a worker bee; I'd rather buzz around the lower rungs of the ladder. I've noticed that the higher you climb, the less oxygen there is at the highest reaches.

      As for your first comment, my work is in the Northwestern U.S. It seems, by your own words, that management everywhere is pretty much the same.

      Hope your retirement is treating you well. I appreciate your reading my blog, and I hope you'll buy my book when it comes out in a few months! Peace be with you.


  5. I thought you were excessively kind to management in this piece, Deke. These mgmt. noobs come along with their "bright" ideas, like they're reinventing the wheel, for cryin' out loud!

    Here's news for ya': BEEN THERE, DONE THAT!

    Mass transportation is not a new concept, it's been done for well over a century. Public transit is not new, and even the District has over 5 decades of past experience upon which to draw. Some of us, I'm proud to say, have been here - doing that - for almost as long. We've tried these experiments, like "the honor system" and shield cages before. We've done the studies, we've driven the schedules, and we've serve the people, again I'm proud to say, very well in the past.

    Why don't these management noobs respect our experience? Why do they out-n-out reject the advice of those senior workers who could very well spare them the embarrassment of their impending failures? Why put our valuable "choice" riders, 77% of our ridership, at risk for a bad experience, or worse...perhaps much, much worse.

    I don't know.

    Any Anonymous who tells me that bitching about the teenage management greenhorns who think they know better than me and my 27+ years of value-added service excellence to this community is crusin' for a knuckle sandwich! I have absolutely no intention of walking away from what I have committed to my ridership, and what I have been promised in return for decades of my blood, sweat, and tears.

    You go wash out of your dead-end job, you spoiled entitlement brat!


    1. Right on Rampy! I think Anon "doesn't get it," therefore I'm supposed to take his/her advice and just wade through wafting transit farts while writing about roses and sunshine. Yes, I'm thankful for the job. However, I've never been one of the herd who just does things without thinking. If there's something wrong with the path I'm on, I write about it. I may not be always right, but I'm not stupid either. Once in a while, I tend to get it right.

      I've never been one to sit there and take a beating. Writing is my defense. When I see something that chaps my hide, I take a figurative branding iron to it.

      So Rampy, Anon is exercising the same freedom as we do: speech. I do not begrudge Anon for stating his/her opinion. I DO bitch a lot. When I notice this, I try to veer off that trail. But when you have over 100k hits on your writing, you're bound to have dissenters. I'm okay with that. And as long as management keeps fucking with us, I'll write about it whether Anon reads it or not.

      Happy trails, brothers and sisters!