Sunday, July 9, 2017

Dear Bus Hating Motorists and Others

Man. Though I do it for a living, I sure hate to drive here. It's become so bad in Portland our 12 bridges have voted to go on strike; it was a 6-6 vote but Russia hacked the results and broke the tie.

Traffic has increased steadily the past 10 years due to an influx of people moving to this beautiful forest of a city. They bring unwelcome driving habits with them. Every motorist here puts their bad driving skills on display daily, and I see the danger play out before me every trip. Oh sure, bus drivers are human, and we also make mistakes. But folks, for every one screwup of ours, you've missed the past 100 times we successfully avoided crushing people who take incredible chances with their lives. We truly save thousands of lives every day just by watching, predicting and instantly reacting to whatever you throw at us. You're welcome.

I've compiled a list of pet peeves bus operators all over the world face each day. As you read this, some bus driver is diligently watching your antics, and preparing for your worst possible move. It doesn't matter where you live, bad driving habits are prevalent everywhere automobiles exist.

We've been trained, but you haven't. Not since high school anyway. And still, most of you still drive as if you have something (other than your intelligence) to prove. So let's explore what you're doing, and find ways to improve your chances of survival, because it's only going to get worse out there.

Dear People Who Drive In Portland,

Yes, that includes those of you who live in Washington. Especially you. You are the most impatient, reckless and inconsiderate drivers I see every day. Please, invest in Driver's Education, because you truly need it. And no, that middle finger you raise at everyone who honks at you for cutting them off or refusing to yield to a transit vehicle doesn't mean you're number one... it's more likely your driving IQ score. It's also a temper tantrum in sign language. Grow up people. Yeah, my rig is big and slow and you're in a hurry to buy another 18-pack of cheap beer. But you will get to your destination safely if you follow some simple rules of the road. Perhaps you've forgotten (most of) them, so let's review.

Green means it's okay to proceed through the intersection. Carefully. You don't know if Granny has finished plodding along with her walker safely through the intersection. It's a good idea to look up from your phone long enough to scan the scene ahead before proceeding. Just hugging car's bumper ahead of you doesn't ensure safe passage. Besides, if that car ahead brakes suddenly when they see Granny has only succeeded in traversing half the crosswalk, your airbags will knock the phone out of your hands and into that impossible-to-reach spot between the seat and console.

Yellow means slow down and prepare to stop, because the next color is actually a command you need to obey. It doesn't mean to speed up in hopes you'll zip through the intersection the light changes. It's also not an invitation to squeeze between a bus and the turn lane so you can get ahead of my cumbersome beast when the light turns green. Watch pedestrian counters for a clue when the green light might be stale. A vehicle on the cross street might take the opportunity to turn right onto your street at this moment, causing you to either slam on your brakes or have close encounters with emergency responders and insurance agents.

Red means you should seriously consider stopping your vehicle. It's a sign that cross traffic will be in your way if you continue, which can result in catastrophic consequences if you fail to obey this color.

Stop signs mean you're supposed to actually stop the forward movement of your vehicle. At this time, it's best to scan around the area for other vehicles. It doesn't mean to slow to almost a stop and keep going. When you do this, you miss the bicyclist who decides they're also above the law and roll right into your path. You might also come into contact with the pedestrian who thinks his Twitter feed is more interesting than possible dangers in his immediate vicinity.

Yield signs are found on the street or yes, even on a bus. You are legally required to obey them in Oregon. When you see the flashing yield sign come on at the back of my bus, that means I'm done servicing a stop and need to merge back in. It applies to you, third or fourth car back, not the fifth through 10th vehicles. We realize that the cars coming up immediately behind us don't have time to slow down enough or stop before reaching our vehicle. Yet the rest of you speed up so that your front bumpers are kissing the rear of the car ahead of you, as if to say "Ha Ha Bus, screw off!" This is all done without any regard to what's ahead. Could be a pedestrian breaking another rule by exiting the bus and walking right in front of it, expecting cars to stop for them as if they're kids getting off a school bus. In your haste to beat us to the red light ahead, you're endangering someone's life and risking blood on your hood plus a possible jail sentence. You can't see through or around our 40-foot-long vehicle. Chillax! Wait for us to pull out, and you'll arrive safely at your destination. Besides, it's very likely that you'll have the perfect opportunity to pass us within 100 yards, which is about how often this city places our service stops. If you miss the first pass, just think of your next chance as the second down with inches to go.

(It's fascinating to me that our state has flashing yield lights on our buses, but no decal signs to inform motorists of ORS 811.167. The opposite is true in Washington; they have the decals, but no flashing lights. I think that instead of spending so much money on newfangled fare systems, our transit agency might invest in some signs. Instead of the smarmy, trying-to-be-funny ad signs like "We Need Some Space Right Now." What, did a clever fifth grader write that? It would also be nice that if the agency would hire more officers to patrol the transit mall and actually cite people for disobeying the signs. Oh wait, I forgot... they're so small as to be virtually invisible to the motoring public! Oh yeah, and the City of Portland refuses to enforce the laws on the mall, and cops ignore violations that occur right in front of them. Silly me, expecting a municipality to do its best to keep its streets safe.)

Center Lanes are usually bordered by a solid yellow line. Let's review again: a solid yellow line means Do Not Pass! This doesn't mean it's your chance to downshift that noisy little Honda junker and blow exhaust at us as you speed past us. It's not a passing lane, okay? It's clearly marked as a lane in which you can make a left turn.

Left Lanes are not right-turn lanes. That bus is blocking the right-turn lane a few seconds longer than your attention span will allow, so you zip around and turn right in front of a bus that is preparing to leave the stop you couldn't wait for him to service. Do you realize that legally, you will be cited for two infractions if you do this? First: failure to yield to a transit vehicle, and second, illegal right turn and failure to avoid being a dumbass.

Emergency flashers approaching means you're supposed to pull over and STOP. Immediately, if not sooner. What if they were en route to save someone you love? Wouldn't it considerably piss you off if people didn't get out of their way in time to help them? Yeah. It isn't your chance to zip past that bus ahead and then stop. Nope, not the right thing to do. (Thanks Al, and all your brothers and sisters in the big reds for racing into danger to save us every minute, every day.)

Bus brakes have a delay, and a 20-ton vehicle can't stop on a dime. Cutting us off and then slowing or stopping to turn right can have disastrous results. Luckily for you, we avoid crushing you nine-point-zillion out of 10 times. The worst I've seen is a school bus doing this in front of me, with a full load of kids aboard. Damn, people! (Thanks JuneBug, Jimmie and countless others!)

Parallel parking is best done behind a bus, not suddenly in front of one. If you stop in front of a bus with the expectation the operator can read your mind, usually you're right. But if you think we're going to back up and allow you to attempt to parallel park, you're on some pretty good hallucinogens. Can I have some?

Driving someone who needs my bus? Proceed a few stops ahead of where I am, drop them off, then get the hell out of the way. Zipping past me and stopping just a few feet ahead of my bumper to discharge your loved one is taking the chance I won't be able to stop fast enough to avoid slamming your trunk up to your dash. A 20-ton vehicle travelling 20 mph can crumple even the larger SUV's into an accordion in the blink of an eye. (Thanks, Teri!)

Put the phone down and drive! Some of us have newer vehicles which have Bluetooth enabled. Others are not so lucky. They tend to text, play stupid games, and talk while driving. This is suicidal! It's illegal and distracting. Your attention should be 110% on the road, not what someone wrote on Twitter or FaceBook. I often see cops doing this too, which is extremely annoying.

Put the phone down and LOOK! "Pedestrians under the influence of cell phones" are truly playing with fire. It's their fragile body vs. thousands of pounds of vehicles bearing down on them, yet they cross streets watching a tiny screen instead of being vigilantly aware of their surroundings. If you honk to let them know they're directly in the path of thousands of pounds of rolling mass, they usually flippantly flip you off. That's the thanks we get for saving them from being dismembered under our 20-ton low riders. Also, those in the car ahead of you who are so intent on their phone they don't see the traffic ahead of them has proceeded through the green light, then they look up and see the light turn yellow and zip through, leave you sitting for yet another light cycle. Punks. (Thanks Robert!)

Don't be selfishly non-observant. Your lane on the far side is full and the light is yellow, but you creep up and block the intersection anyway. Stop first, wait until the other side is clear, and then proceed across when there's room for your self-entitlement-mobile and the light is still green. You're not more important than the long line of vehicles to your right. You seem annoyed that they're honking at you because the green they've been waiting for through three light cycles is now going red again because you couldn't wait your turn. Thanks, jerk. May the fleas of one thousand camels infest your nether regions.

Look Ma, no hands! That bicyclist who hogs the entire lane, "because I can," while texting with no hands on the handlebars, going 10mph. He glances over his shoulder, sees a bus creeping along behind him with 10,000 cars behind him. No worries, he has every right to be on the road too. The rest of Portland can go to hell, he has to tell his girlfriend (who is likely buggering his ugliest best friend while texting him back) to grab a 200-pack of brewskies because he's almost home. Hey bubba, there's a bus stop ahead. Pull over and ride so the 50 folks on my bus and the hordes of vehicles behind me can proceed at the legal speed limit. (Thanks Kelli!)

Construction flaggers, we're on a schedule! Thanks for stopping the bus after allowing three cars at a time ahead of us to proceed before making us wait another 250 minutes. (Okay, so sometimes I exaggerate a little.) I'm sure your co-workers ahead who have been bullshitting forever really need to cross before we're finally allowed to roll, but really. Really? Aren't you supposed to give transit priority when flagging vehicles through construction zones? We always wave in respect to your job as we roll by. Can you please just let us pass? The 10 minutes we just sat patiently waiting comes off the top of our short break awaiting at the end of the line. Please? (Thanks Sam!)

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I could go on and on. But you have things to do and I've kept you long enough. Thanks for patiently reading through this diatribe. Hopefully you can empathize with the many drivers who contributed their peeves via FaceBook. If you don't drive a bus, please take heed to these examples and exercise more patience. Remember, the 20-50 people on my bus represent that many cars not on the road with us all. If we work together, rush hour doesn't need to be as frustrating as you make it. Peace out, and be safe out there!


  1. This blog should be a "must read" for all new wannabee operators across the world, seriously. It really captures our daily frustrations and challenges whether in Portland, NY or Vancouver. Thank you for taking the time to so eloquently express what so many of us know to be true. Good job Sir. SHoyland, Unifor 111, Van.BC

  2. We have both a flashing yield sign and large yellow decals on our buses.

    On occasion, someone will actually yield but these are few and far between.

  3. Hey exactly what I see too from my yellow school bus,,but not the yellow bus that passes you. Thanks

  4. I'm a recently retired NJ Transit driver who is about to give driving instructions to a 17yo boy. I'll have him read this.