Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Schedules Stink Worse than...

Beating a dead horse more than once involves a risk that the horse hasn't yet died and is poised to kick you right betwixt the eyes. Sometimes however, you hope Ol' Blue still has some life (or sense) left in him, and you just gotta take the chance. So here's another kick, and I hope it strikes home this time.

Remember that first day of middle school, or better yet, of high school? You're nervous as hell, and hoping it doesn't show. Of course, those above you know exactly what you're hiding, and they exploit it. Except for your best friend's big brother, who spies you from a distance but allows some hazing to happen before he suddenly appears at your side with some comforting words. Just having him there makes you feel safer, a little more accepted. This is what I like to do with new operators. I have a strong sense of empathy. If I can help them even a tiny bit, it feels like payback for the veterans who did the same for me years ago.

A few of these new guys have approached me recently, one of them still on probation, telling tales of unreasonable expectations and harassment by management. Over on-time-performance, of all things. Good freakin' grief! Throughout training and line training, we're repeatedly told to work on our driving technique and forget about the stupid schedule. Operator metrics are designed over new operators being late, with the improvement needle eventually angling toward on-time. This normally takes a few months for the best trainees to a few more for others. It's a recipe for catastrophe to encourage a new operator to dismiss safe driving just to appease some misguided edict from above to value schedule first.

Line trainers were recently told to replace the trainee in the seat if they find their bus five minutes late. While there is some logic from the customer service perspective for this new rule, it doesn't teach the new operator anything except they're not good enough if the time clock is glaring LATE at them. I was taught to operate the same way -- safely -- whether I'm on time or late. To this day, I remember and practice this valuable advice. It does no good to push limits when you're late, because you only endanger your passengers and your fellow motorists if you succumb to schedule pressures. If you continue to roll smoothly all the time, sometimes you are rewarded with a stretch where there are no passengers waiting or ringing the bell to exit the bus. Now you've gained five minutes after being seven down, and you're confident that you'll soon be on time again. Had you instead pushed limits, you could be stopped down the road due to a collision caused by management-inspired foolishness we all know better than to accept.

This brings me to a new operator's plea to me. He's being harassed, even though management would disagree that their tactics amount to it. "Joe" has a route that begins when rush hour does. He arrives to the garage 30 minutes early, signs in and grabs his pouch. Heading out to his bus at his sign-in time, he does a pre-trip inspection and heads out. On time. (New ridiculous rule: drivers are required to open their doors at the gate to mark the time they leave the yard. If their door doesn't close before the light turns yellow, they have to wait another agonizing Portland minute for the new cycle, so the time-stamp is off anyway. Micro management at its worst here.) He arrives at his route's beginning point, usually late because of traffic. If he leaves when the schedule says to, there's no way he can begin his route on time. If he leaves early in order to arrive on time, he's penalized for leaving early. (More ridiculousness thought up by some bored management guru who should be answering phones somewhere rather than thinking up new ways to make our lives miserable.)

Joe begins a few minutes late, and is immediately swarmed by commuters in a rush to get home after a grueling day doing what our management once did (crunching numbers for an accounting firm, most likely). Before he leaves downtown, his bus is full to the yellow line. His passengers are literally breathing down his neck as he negotiates the morass that is Portland's peak traffic. Inching along a busy highway with thousands of other motorists who impatiently cut him off and flip him off just for doing his job, he sweats as he sees the time clock tick later. And later. Traffic. Passengers berating him for not getting them to their destinations "on time." He feels the tension. Some behind him are busily texting complaints to our customer service website because he is helpless to help them. Nobody notices the bicyclist he just saved from their own recklessness, or the lady in the wheelchair he stopped to allow her to cross the street. They're too busy checking their Instagram to see him exercising hundreds of safety protocols that save 20 lives while they're plugged in and tuned out. They only look up and sigh when it becomes apparent that their stop is still a long ways off.

Arriving at the end of his route, Joe is already six minutes past the end of his scheduled break. Instead of the 20 minutes written into the schedule as "Recovery Time," he says "I never get it." He has to pee, rather than sacrifice his kidneys to the agency that simply doesn't care. He sends a "Restroom Delay" message to Dispatch, sweeps his bus for trash and lost items, and makes a dash for the bathroom. Running back to his bus, he jumps in the seat and opens the door to a crowd of people making a point to make sure he sees them impatiently glancing at their watches. He's late, damnit, and it's all his fault. They don't care about the nightmare he just navigated to get there. Still, he's kind, attentive and welcomes them to his bus. He hits "Ready for Service" and eases the bus back into traffic.

This operator, I remind you, is still on probation. He feels rushed and pressured. Management has invited them to visit with them to ask why he's always late. If they would leave their cushy seats long enough to do what he does, they'd understand Joe's predicament. Instead, upper management is pressuring Operations management to get these operators in line and on time.

"I've actually been invited to attend a 'non-punitive' class for those having OTP issues," Joe told me. "I have done everything I was trained to do. I drive safely, inform Dispatch when I have to use the restroom at the end of my break, and I've also written several messages to Scheduling about the issues on my route. I don't know what else I can do, but if they keep wasting paper and time on this, I'll play along.

"They're complaining about the inefficiency of drivers," he continued, "but the problem instead lies with a dysfunctional management upstairs."

Bingo, Joe. If a new driver can spot the ridiculousness of pressuring drivers to achieve the impossible, why can't management realize its own folly?

Joe's frustration is not only understandable, it's infuriating. It's a mess, and management has no idea what they're asking, or how unsafe and unreasonable their insistence on schedule is. Or to simplify things, upper management has no clue it's sacrificing safety for a few federal bucks. Nary a one, folks. And the safety of my fellow operators and their passengers is at risk.

We're approaching eight weeks into this current signup. I've learned how and when to roll on time. There are definite periods I know I'll be late. That's just the nature of the beast. I don't let it bother me. You can't stay on schedule 100% of the time, but I'm right about 90%. If they don't like that, they can come drive my route and do better. Many of them couldn't even get the bus into gear.

Enough. This horse is worse than dead, it's rotting.


  1. Holy guacamole! I'm so glad I'm not there. I remember veteran drivers telling me how not to stress over the schedule. I finally would put painters tape over the 'late' time, which allowed me to refocus on traffic. I can't imagine being called into a meeting for being late. My heart goes out to the operators.

  2. This is so dangerous and it will come back to bite them in a big way ! Sadly, something horrible will happen and the operator will be the sacrificial lamb. Hopefully, they will expose the truth that it was the pressures of being on time and the fear of punishment that caused whatever happened to happen. Lawsuits and audits are the only things that get these people in their "Ivory Tower" to somewhat listen. The questions I ask over and over are: Where is the union? Why are they allowing their dues paying members to be treated this way? Why are they not screaming from mountain tops about this dangerous pressure cooker, ticking timebomb environment? What happened to "Safety before Schedules"? With the economy getting better and better why would anyone want to work there? Lets take an already stressful job and see how much worse we can make it. The union in my opinion is the more negligent party allowing this to go on. They blame everything on a certain "union buster" that was hired however, they are busting themselves. How is any of this even legal? What does the state, OSHA, BOLI, DMV, anybody have to say? Are they all bought off?

    1. Wow, so right.

      But I would not let the management off the hook of responsibility that easy. The are down right negligent in providing inadequate leadership.

  3. The never ending war against wage earners. Corporate pit bulls will stop at nothing to pass right to work legislation all across America to drive down wages and working conditions. Keep fighting deke!

  4. Anonymous has a good point. Why hasn't any of this been brought forward to OSHA DMV? If each driver writes an incident up against management and presents it to OSHA or other gov't boards perhaps someone will listen. By doing this Management cannot threaten you for having tattled on them. Like a little kid they would maybe try to hide and stay away from OSHA. Enough reports would put pressure on management once they realize other agencies are watching the bad behaviors and now have to come up with remedies to the slave driving acts they are doing. It hasn't been tried yet, the Union appears dead, so what we got to lose here? Try this out and see if we raise the dead to actions.

  5. Thanks for keeping everyone safe out there. When you get people and equipment where they need to go intact, you've done the job right - regardless of complainers, traffic, and the million reasons for running late. As a retired operator once encouraged me: "Remember, you're not late. You're right where you're supposed to be: in the seat, behind the wheel."