Sunday, July 23, 2017

Damn the Whole Mess

James Taylor in concert with Carole King
Portland, OR 2010
"Well I left the job about 5 o'clock
Fifteen minutes to go three blocks
Just in time to stand in line
With the freeway lookin like a parking lot
Damn this traffic jam
How I hate to be late
Hurts my motor to go so slow
Time I get home my supper be cold
Damn this traffic jam..."

"Traffic Jam"
-- James Taylor

For a job done correctly, you must have the right person. Evidently, someone upstairs thinks a transit agency is a corporation. Whoever this is needs to find another occupation, preferably InCorporata, rather than within transit. We know how to do our jobs, thank you very much. Your incredibly-talented trainers made sure of it long before you came along. Management interference muddles the works, endangers the public, and unnecessarily provokes its professional operators.

The world today is a much more stressful one than 10 years ago. People work harder for less. Our state's population is growing by hundreds each day, adding to the traffic congestion that was horrendous before they arrived. Bus schedules written a year ago are out-of-date within a matter of months because of passenger loads and changing traffic patterns. A route I drove a year ago is now much different because of these factors. The schedule however, doesn't seem to have changed. This is a sure sign that management expects more of us than is reasonable.

Our workplace has transformed from a Peaceful Easy Feeling to Desperado in less than a year, with a healthy dose of Hotel California mixed in. As logic dictates, we were trained to value safety over schedule. With a new operations guru at the helm, suddenly our focus has flip-flopped more than a politician on amphetamines. This is causing problems for operators who have, for a hundred years now (Happy Centennial, ATU757!), excelled in providing safe transportation to Portland passengers. Schedule was always secondary. We try to remain on time, but sometimes it's just impossible. Mostly, it's just unsafe. Is it unreasonable to consider the safety of my fellow Portlanders more important than a schedule? Definitely not.

Conditions change daily, yet we adapt and attempted to incorporate customer service into the mix. Do a run for a month and you're aware where you'll lose or make up time. You know where Grandma Walker is daily awaiting your arrival, so you leave a stop earlier than management dictates because it takes her about 47 seconds to board. If you leave the prior stop to hers at 000 on the clock, your adorable regular becomes a schedule liability. You learn to work it so you arrive at the next time point exactly when regulars expect you to. But Granny's special needs aren't recognized by a corporate number cruncher who's hell-bent on making you toe their unrealistic yellow line. You're forced into a meeting with a manager because you pushed a bit too hard in an attempt to accommodate passengers while staying on schedule. By applying the new guidelines, you're late at the next stop instead of being on time. Late becomes later, and eventually you're buried under a clock that now weighs as much as the vehicle you drive because you're pushed to adhere to the expectation of someone who has never sat where you operate daily. Next, you're summoned to a meeting where you're expected to explain why you're consistently late. They won't accept responsibility for mucking up the works; it's all your fault now. The rules have changed, but you can be disciplined for doing something that's worked for decades.

It sounds crazy, because it is. Signs within our garages emphasizing safety are being replaced by newer ones stressing schedule. This puts our passengers at risk. It increases the chances of colliding with other vehicles on the road, due to operators feeling pressured to fulfill outrageous expectations rather than rolling with the normal flow of traffic. It encourages new drivers to be on time rather than practicing safe driving techniques. Additionally, it pushes experienced operators to push the limits of safety for the ridiculous expectations of a management which values federal funding benchmarks over the well-being of those it is entrusted to transport.

To my fellow operators who receive a "Come see me" message from an assistant manager regarding this on-time fad we face today, please do not agree to do so without union representation. We must document this ongoing assault upon everyone's safety. It's imperative we fight this together in order to continue serving our fellow citizens with a high level of professionalism they have come to expect. If we simply allow this harassment to continue without loudly voicing our disapproval, we're just as guilty.

As this job was originally described to me when I began this journey, we're to drive safely above all other considerations; schedule is secondary and customer service is only possible if the first of these is consistently adhered to. Schedule is dependent upon many variables, but shouldn't be the benchmark.

If we remain collectively dedicated to this principle, we might just once again become the finest transit system in the country. Without our dedication to this time-honored tradition, passengers risk their safety every time they step onto a transit vehicle. This is not right. It's time management takes a turn in the seat to learn the rules of the road, because they're breaking most of them. I, for one, refuse to break them. Call me in for a discussion, and I'm bringing my union rep and a vigorously righteous indignation which cannot be steamrolled. Bank on it, brothers and sisters. Management is in overdraft status, and it's time we call in our markers for the safety of us all.


  1. In a previous life I worked for a railway where the employees had a saying.
    "Uphill slow, downhill fast,
    Schedule first, safety last,
    Steal 10 miles,cover your ass.

    This pretty much sums up modern transit. Management has redefined a public service as a financial burden which must be hacked to the bone.
    Maintenance, schedules, fares, compensation, are all regarded as an affront to the public purse and except for the fares must reduced at every opportunity.
    The job used to be fun, now it's a challenge in survival.
    Time is measured in hours to punchout, days to the weekend, weeks to vacation, and years to retirement.

  2. That just sucks. Bus operators would NEVER be allowed to go downhill fast. Hahaha. There needs to be an option above that says 'sad'.

  3. I agree with busguy. It is sad and I for one was sick of it long ago. My transit place would have such a sad schedule that nobody had changed in at least 20 years, I was made to race like a maniac to make it and it pleased them. After a decade of that crap, I slowed down to a normal safer pace as my body hurt alot from the years of it. I was ostracized and my powertripping uneducated whore of a boss has done every dirty trick she could think of to try and be rid of me. It has been 20 years of total bullshit covering for thier inadequacies and poor management. In the end , they just bend you over and never even hand over the vaseline!