Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Tips for Newbies

It's not cool to rag on fellow operators, but there are a lot of newbies out there who are still learning. So instead of growling at them for things they may not know yet, I decided to turn this post into a teaching moment. Hey, I still learn things from time to time, as most of us do. The day I don't learn something is when it's time to quit driving others for a living.

This week, I saw a notice about the promotion of over 40 drivers to full-time. A few of them just completed Line Training! This job is hard enough on veterans, but newbies are under a finely-tuned microscope. More than two PA's (Preventable Accidents) in probation means bye-bye job.

First, we're constantly treated rudely by the driving public at large. They're not professionals, but it's a good thing we are or there would be a great deal more funerals going on. So especially when you meet another driver on a route, there is important etiquette to follow. If one end of a run consists of narrow streets, remember that if you're just starting your run, it's customary to yield or pull over and stop for your brother or sister who is nearing their break. Chances are very good they need to pee, stretch, pass gas and generally chillax. Give your fellow operator the right of way. It's also good practice to stop and look when things get too tight out there. Remember, if you get a PA, it's your butt in the ringer. The other operator might just be steamed at you too if you take unnecessary chances which ends in your both filling out reports. When in doubt, stop. A few extra seconds can save you major headaches.

If you share part of your route with other lines, remember to stop behind a bus ahead of you in case there are passengers at the stop who want your bus. Plus, it's quite annoying when the bus behind you flies by without checking. It's also rude of them to do this if there's a stoplight ahead. Wait your turn, Mr. Impatience. So many other motorists do this to us all the time. They whiz by and cut us off even though the light is red. Our Standard Operating Procedures cover this as well. Sharing stops is common, and you're not doing anyone favors by breaking the rules, least of all yourself. When passengers are at the stop on time (meaning before you arrive), they expect you to service that stop. When the operator ahead of you stops, figures out the passengers want your bus, and then you zip past before he can clear the stop, it makes us all look bad.

On my route, there are several stops that are far-side of the intersection. Every time I stop at a red light near one of these stops, I get the inevitable "Can you let me out on this side? The other drivers do." PLEASE, don't be that "other driver." Some might say it's not hurting anyone to just give in to the passengers' pleas. Just remember that if you make it a habit of allowing people to exit before you reach the stop, you are liable if they injure themselves getting off the bus where there is no official service stop. Plus, you're almost assured a PA if you let someone exit near-side of a far-side stop. It's your job to keep people safe even when it makes them angry. You're not doing them a favor by allowing this. We all know how motorists will zip around the side of a bus, and sometimes they use bike lanes as right-turn lanes. (Hell, they use left lanes as right-turn lanes!) People are inherently lazy, and will beg and plead with you to save them some steps. Too damn bad, I say. In fact, when approaching an intersection with a far-side stop, I will warn people as we approach the stop prior to the intersection. I tell them I do not give "courtesy stops" at the near-side curb. They groan and complain, but I'm firm on this point. Do I look like that "other driver" who gives in to their whining? Not in the least. I'm too damn ugly to be that guy.

This also applies to people leaving vision barriers and blinking lights on their bicycles. "The other driver doesn't care if that bag is in the basket, why should you?" Well ya goober, I care because it's dangerous and this is MY bus. Oh and that stroller too, please obey the rules and fold it up after taking Snoozin' Sally out of it. "But it's full of stuff, and she just went to sleep" I often hear. Bummer. Make your fat old man carry some stuff, or the baby bag full of the 1,303 items you need to tote around with you. Sally comes out of the stroller so she doesn't become a human projectile when that bozo up there decides to cut me off and hang a right just inches from my front bumper.

When you're parked at a bus layover, kill the freakin' four-way flashers, will ya? Especially at night. It's not necessary. The operator behind you might just be resting his eyes, and blinking lights in our face is visual noise we can live without. I don't know any supervisors who will give you a hard time for not having them on. This is truly annoying when you're in the first position of a long line of vehicles. Also, if it's a marked layover zone, motorists know why you're parked there. If you're the last vehicle in a line, it's acceptable, but not if you're in the first, second, third... etc., just leave them off, please.

If your layover differs from the first service stop of a route, do not allow people on your bus there. "But the first stop is four blocks from here!" they'll whine. Hey, walking is good for the cardiovascular system. If they start hoofin' it from your layover, they might just make it to the stop in time to catch you. I have allowed a few people to board early, but it was late at night and this cute elderly Australian couple was lost. They were tired, and visibly nervous to be in such a rough part of town. I would have felt terrible turning them away. But this is a very rare exception. Most people haven't a reason, they're just lazy. Be strong, be firm! Remember, if a supe sees you do this, they'll most likely write you up. Also, word travels fast if you're a soft touch. Be tough, be resolute!

Don't let all this hype about on-time performance stress you out. If you're new, you're supposed to run late. Concentrate on learning the job, becoming efficient at stops, scanning, learning traffic patterns and motorist behaviors, and just roll smooth. Do not EVER drive the schedule. Our management is creating unsafe working conditions by stressing schedule over safety. It's your job to drive safe, not to adhere to a schedule that is sometimes unrealistic.

Talk to veterans on your route, ask for tips. Trainers are valuable resources, and they're eager to help you. We were all newbies at one time and most of us will be happy to assist any way we can. Find out how your leader and follower expect you to roll when you're all bunched together. If you catch your leader, you might want to let Dispatch know so they can put them on Drop Off Only mode. If your follower catches you, tell Dispatch then too, because when this happens it means you're really late. Maybe your leader or follower will just want you to skip stops for a while and let you catch up, or they'll pass you and pick up the passengers because their own bus is nearly empty while you have people breathing down your neck from the yellow line forward. Hey, we're a team out there. We know what we're doing, but management has a slow learning curve. Work with each other, and make sure you don't take advantage of your fellow operators.

Finally, and possibly most important, just try to remain calm. Your job depends upon this, and your ability to do so is one of the reasons you scored this job. If you see something you don't like, stop and lock. Observe and think about it. If you make a wrong turn or miss one, stop and call Dispatch. They expect you to. They can talk you through it most of the time. If you go too far and end up somewhere a bus truly shouldn't be, you run the risk of locals calling in to tattle on you. This can also result in a supervisor being called to help you out of that hole, when another operator in serious trouble really needs help. Use your brain. Be calm and thoughtful out there.

I'm always happy to answer any questions I can. So are union reps and fellow operators. Good luck!


  1. I love this. A lot of us, unfortunately, had to learn this the hard way. Should be a part of training.

  2. Always informative. Listen to Deke, folks, & you can't do wrong.