Monday, July 10, 2017

Us vs. Them

Why do we put up with it? We certainly don't need management's meddling. Instead of finding new ways to harass those who do the real work of transit, why aren't they working harder to support us? We don't need their interference, but we could use some constructive leadership.

Transit operators have always worn uniforms. Until a few decades ago, it included a badge and an official several-cornered hat, with pressed shirts and ties required. There was respect for those who made the wheels roll from both the public and management. Back then, management consisted of people who had done the work previously, not corporate wonks who haven't a clue. There was mutual respect, and we mostly got along very well together. Not any more.

True, some operators don't take pride in their appearance. They refuse to tuck in their shirts, or they wear hats or other apparel not approved by the corporate number crunchers. It's a form of resistance, a statement that we no longer have confidence in upper management. So what's the solution? Management is pushing back, trying to force us to "respect" them by enforcing uniform policies. It's the classic macho pushback: my authority is bigger than your disrespect. The goal in this circus act is apparently to weed out the supervisors who refuse to enforce this antiquated expectation of military perfection from troops who have no realistic expectation that management will do the right thing by us. Our supes are mostly over-worked and stretched thin enough to worry about what we're wearing. The riding public won't respect us any more if we're wearing starched and pressed clothing or not. There's a small percentage of people who are going to spit, throw drinks and punches at us regardless of what we're wearing. (Most passengers are transit-savvy, polite and respectful.) If we dare to fight back in a biological response to protect ourselves, management doesn't back us. It's as if they dare people to assault us: if we fight back, we're suspended or possibly even terminated. This is outrageous and infuriating. It's a basic human response to not only protect ourselves, but to eliminate any threat to our safety.

We're frustrated daily with increasing traffic and the rude insults thrown at us daily by motorists who are in a hurry to get nowhere fast. It's a fine balancing act to stay on time. If you're really busy and running late, it's likely that traffic is heavy as well. You can only progress as fast as conditions allow. There are points in most runs at which an operator will run late, but there are also stretches where you can make up time and bank it for future points along the route where you know you'll likely to be late again. To expect operators to leave time points at EXACTLY ZERO is not only foolhardy, it's a guarantee they will be consistently late. It's also micro-management in its worst form. Of course, there are routes where this isn't true. On light traffic days, we might linger at a time point until we're 2-3 minutes late because we know that just a few minutes down the line we could be too early because there are usually no passengers boarding or exiting the bus for some distances. When you're too early, people can miss your bus. That's poor passenger service.

When you have people running a transit agency who've never been behind the wheel of a bus or operated a light rail vehicle, they come up with unrealistic policies. What they think might be totally legitimate policies make the operators shake their heads and say, "Wow man, that's some crazy shit. It's impractical and counter-productive, and management can kiss my ass. If they want me to do this, why don't they come out here and try it themselves? Maybe they'd learn the folly of their thoughts."

I've heard reports of some supervisors who have written operators up for leaving a stop three seconds early. I hope it's an exaggeration, because this is micro-management and harassment at the very least. It's downright nit-picky bullshit. There are other supes who live in reality, and know that expectations of this level of perfection are beyond the pale. They're too busy dealing with more important duties, including ensuring our safety and supporting operators in need of assistance. They don't want to play Hitler for micro-managers out there. They know our job because they've done it themselves. Our safety and comfort are their main concerns. They realize what we face on the road, and beside basic rules of the job, they're understandably unconcerned with nitpicky bullshit fed them from above. Upper management needs to take a cue from our dedicated and professional brothers and sisters in white shirt uniforms.

There was recently a comment on FaceBook where someone complained that I offer no solutions in my writing. I tend to disagree with the need. This blog is an exercise in describing what it's like to do my job. Period. It's my personal therapy, and it tends to resonate with operators worldwide. Everyone who reads it has their own ideas about what should or could be done to properly address the issues we face. If you have an opinion about solutions, please feel free to offer them in comments. I'm not a genius. I don't know all the answers. We all need to work together anyway, in order to send clear messages to those who run the works (often without a clue) as to how they should do it. We know how to do our jobs; perhaps they should study a bit harder as to how to do their own. Management is surely a difficult job, and I don't profess to know all the solutions. I just tell you how it feels to be me, to be us, at the controls of a transit vehicle. The rest is open to interpretation. Don't expect me to know all the answers. I'm "just a bus driver," for crying out bleepin' loud. The pain we're feeling due to this over abundance of ridiculous management interference is counter-productive to the agency's fallacious mantra "Safety Is Our Core Value."

Get a grip on your own issues, management. We know how to do our job. Let us do it, and quit meddling where you shouldn't tread because of your lack of understanding. We constantly provide excellent service to the riding public. Why don't you trust us?


  1. A few weeks back I had to take a shuttle bus due to the MAX being down. The shuttle driver had a TriMet shirt on and a pair of sweatpants, yes, sweatpants. I was hoping he was the actual driver and not a "highjacker" it was an embarrassment to the men and women that take pride in their job. If a person has no have self respect it is hard for others to respect them and embarrassing for the rest that wear the same uniform. I have never seen a UPS, FED-EX, police officer, firefighter look like a slob that just rolled out of bed. I agree that the powers that be are carrying it way too far. However, looking like a slob reflects on all the other people that take the extra 5-10 minutes to make sure they look prepared to work and professional in appearance and attitude. Mr. Sweatpants had me wondering if he drove the bus the same as he dressed. I agree with your whole blog especially "Get a grip on your own issues, management. We know how to do our job. Let us do it, and quit meddling where you shouldn't tread because of your lack of understanding. We constantly provide excellent service to the riding public. Why don't you trust us? " Thank you for another excellent eye opener ! Can't wait for the book !

  2. 'You offer no solutions'

    You know what that is? That's a managment response to any and all criticism and it's totally wrong. By pointing out the problems accurately and consistently you may be able to precipitate some sort of change in management thinking.

    Never stop writing about the problems. It's not your job to solve them. It's your job to illuminate them.

    You've been doing some fantastic stuff , keep it up. You are the voice of the operators!

    1. Thanks Al M! Yeah, my job as a blogger is to describe how it feels "out there." If they want solutions, they can pay ME $200k + a golden nest egg and I'll take over. My first act as GM would be to clean house. Scrub a dub!

  3. I believe the only solution is to democratize these upper management positions, this includes the general manager spot who should be accountable to the taxpayers that fund the system. Essentially, the GM spot should be a regionally elected position and so should the entire board.