Saturday, September 23, 2017

HELP!

The book... coming soon on Amazon
print-on-demand
and Kindle Direct Publishing.
I need your help.

In a few weeks, I will release my book, "JUST DRIVE - Life in the Bus Lane." It's a collection of blog posts from the very beginning, polished to a luster not seen before. The serious to the silliness, the extreme and the angst involved with bus operation. Many of you have said these posts are eerily similar to your own feelings about our disrespected profession. It's time for me to put myself out there, to offer my craft to an even wider audience than ever before. And to accomplish my dream, I'm asking each of you to be part of my marketing team.

This blog has hits from Spain to Brazil, Ireland to Russia, Delaware to Nova Scotia. Yet few of you comment any more. Of the currently 157,734 hits, very few of those come with comments these days. Wherefore art you rascals, eh? I know you're out there because I see your visits each time I post. It's you, my beloved readers, who can help me sell a ton of books. One at a time... just share the links I will be posting as the book is published.

I have no media machine backing me, nor am I blessed with marketing genius. I'll be keeping my pen name (for now), so publicizing the book will be challenging at the very least. That's why I need your help.

Once the book becomes available in early October, please help spread the word. Share my marketing posts with your social media friends, email your family and friends. Even more important, ask them to share it as well. Are you on Goodreads? Please be sure to write a review after reading. I promise it's a lively and entertaining trip through the life of a bus operator.

It would amaze me to sell a record amount of books this way. Avoiding having to depend on Big Money to make some extra bucks will be amusing, and challenging. I don't want fame, but I'm hoping my writing will gain some recognition, if so warranted.

If the book does surpass expectations, I'll come out from under the pen name. It would be fun traveling around to bus barns around the world signing copies and meeting more of my brothers and sisters. I can't do this under this shroud of Deke. The only reason I use the pseudonym is that my employer frowns on independent viewpoints because it prefers to control its image.

So... please help? Thank you all for your continued support.

(If willing to put up promotional posters at your transit agency, please send an email with your contact information and union affiliation to Deke at justzakanna@gmail.com. If you have media contacts in your area who might be interested, please let me know. I truly appreciate the help only YOU can provide. THANKS BELOVED FTDS READERS!)

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Binding Our Gaping Wounds

Banding together, for a common cause that isn't getting the publicity it should, is something I stand solidly behind. So much, that is, that I ask you all to join me September 18-24 and wear a band aid on the right (passenger) side of your face. Wherever you are, whatever you do, please join Deke for a week. Here's why.

Just last week, one of our sisters was relieved on her route. As soon as she stepped out of her bus, she was brutally attacked for no apparent reason. She suffered a concussion, black eyes and other related injuries. Of course, our useless corporate local news media didn't report on it. Not a peep. Crickets sound off from all their perspectives. Not that it's entirely their fault. I haven't heard any statements from our transit management either. It seems eerily quiet in response to our anguish. In fact, the last time any mention was made of an assault was in June, when three people were arrested and charged with spitting on and pepper-spraying an operator on Lombard. That incident occurred June 9, but since then there have been 29 other instances of operators being either menaced, threatened or assaulted.

29. Let that sink in for a moment. Silence from management, news media, our union. I Googled it, and could find no recent reports on our collective plight. As of this post, we're at 63 acts of violence against our frontline transit workers in Portland. Sixty-three. Last year, there were 55 total. At this rate, we could have over 80 by year's end. I sure hope not, but it's possible.

It can happen over the seemingly silliest thing. Not giving a courtesy stop. Requiring a passenger to abide by transit code. Another driver passing them by in Drop Off Only mode. Asking that music be muted as to not be a distraction or discourteous to fellow passengers. Waking up a sleeper. We all face the danger in the daily duties of our job. Whether you're an operator, a supervisor, mechanic... it seems we're targets for society's slugs.

A rail operator was hit with a pipe. At least nine operators were spit on, some in the face. A bus was caught in the crossfire of a gun battle. We've been punched, slapped, and had liquids thrown upon us. Several of the 63 were of the "menacing" variety, meaning the operator was threatened with physical violence. In another state, an operator was recently covered in a passenger's urine, just because she didn't like the operator's tone while saying "Have a nice day." How many other professions face such threats? Cops have tazers, pistols, shotguns and Kevlar vests. We're left unprotected, and suspended if we do allow our biological defense mechanisms to play out naturally.

There were 55 total incidents of violence against us in 2016. Since March 18, when the district announced its new "don't ask don't enforce" fare policy, meant to relieve operators from arguments at the fare box, there have been 50 assaults. That lets the air out of the "most arguments start at the fare box" theory. While it was a positive attempt by management to stop the violence against us, these assailants seem to find something they believe validates their criminality.

The great majority of our passengers are polite and respectful. Many are quiet, some are downright rude. The smallest percentage, those who assault us, are growing in boldness. Earlier this year, a Canadian was murdered by an awakened passenger early one morning. These incidents aren't isolated to Portland, Oregon. It happens everywhere. Society is growing a population of bold assailants, many of whom are mentally ill. Help for this segment of humanity has dwindled to a trickle since the Reagan administration. The result of neglecting treatment is coming back -- to haunt US.

Legislatures are slow to act. They "study" something until they're blue in the face, but little action is being taken. We've testified about our plight, but all we seem to receive are sympathetic nods and empty promises. I'm praying it won't take the sight of another operator in a casket to inspire leaders to some decisive actions to further protect us from the dangers of today's hostile minority.

Since we can't count on management, news media or union leaders to publicize our peril, it's time we took it to the streets. Where our support might make a difference. People who use transit daily don't like trouble. When their ride home is interrupted by some ignorant or drunk asswipe, it's inconvenient to them. To many, it's very upsetting to see someone who is entrusted with their daily safety pummelled for no good reason. They come to our defense... sometimes. It's time they realize how many of us have endured dangerous situations or assaults. I'm one of the former, on more than one occasion, and it wasn't my fault. I was just doing my damn job, all right?

I applauded the brave efforts of Fred Casey and Mike McCurry in their quest to have our legislature strengthen penalties against those who assault us. Now, I join my brother Henry Beasley in an effort to educate the public of our collective plight. My fellow brothers and sisters, we need to let our riders know that we're mad as hell and not willing to take it lightly. Not just here in Portland, but all over the world. We're all at growing risk of menacing and assaults.

For the week of September 18-24, I will join other operators, hopefully worldwide, in a show of solidarity. I'll wear a band aid on the right (passenger side) of my face to illustrate our plight, from the driver side. Our fellow union members at ATU 1197 in Jacksonville, Florida displayed bandages on their face during recent contract negotiations. It was a great idea, and inspired Brother Beasley to ask bus operators here to spread the word about the uptick in violence against us.

I hope you join me, even if you don't drive a bus. If someone asks why the band aid remains as the week progresses, I'll explain the increase of assaults on operators. Most won't notice, or pretend they don't. There will be some, however, who will ask what it's about. If enough of us participate, we could make a difference.

One fellow suggested that such a show without some "official" announcement from our union is a waste of time. My response is this. A river begins as a trickle, and other tributaries add to it until it becomes a roaring river. It's time to roar, brothers and sisters. Please add your voice, and together maybe we'll overcome the sound of the crickets.

Safe travels,
Deke

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Finer Points of a New Run

Schedule over safety, these days. That's what management is pushing on us, all the while posturing that they value the opposite order. Sorry Boss, but my job depends on safe driving. If the schedule suffers, as it has recently, that's the way it's gonna be.

The first few weeks of a new signup, especially if you've taken a different run than your usual fare, is a learning experience. I haven't driven this route in a few years, and then it was only sporadically. Extra Board runs aren't the same as regular routes. It's been interesting to re-visit this route after being away from it. Here's what I've learned the past week.

Always loving a challenge, I picked up my bus that first Monday without a map in hand. Fellow operators reported no changes in the route. Once I've been somewhere, I can usually remember my way. Whether it's from here to Dallas or Chicago, I don't need no stinking Google or other map. A matter of personal pride. It came to me from memory, just as I thought it would. Traffic patterns and some paddle bubbles have changed though. The passenger mix has remained about the same, professional commuters and students versus occasional riders as I remembered from before. Their faces have changed, their behaviors have not. Collectively, it was exactly as I remembered. It was also not as challenging as my previous runs have been.

When driving a different route, I study traffic patterns and develop a system to remain as close to on time as I can. Safely. Some days are light while others truly require a heavy foot. Yet passenger boarding behavior seems to require more patience these days. It amazes me that someone can wait 10 minutes for a bus, tapping their feet while perusing social media, only to be hopelessly unprepared to board once I open the door. They fumble for their money or pass, stand outside the door frantically swiping at their phone (as if it's the device's fault for not being ready) rather than jumping on so I can catch the green light and remain on time. This is something our management fails to include in its On Time Performance metrics: passengers remain incapable of taking any responsibility for our schedule. If every one of 10 people waiting at a bus stop took a minute to prepare as I approached, boarding everyone should take about 20 seconds maximum. Unless they have their pass in hand as I arrive, it's a sure bet that at least half of them are ill-prepared when I open the door.

Given the city's penchant for placing busy bus stops near-side of intersections, and its prehistoric stoplight sequence engineering, it's usually a sure bet the light will change from green to yellow as soon as your door closes and the interlock is released. Instead of a 20-second interlude, you wait there an extra 30-60 seconds. Impatient motorists behind you honk their frustration, as if it's your fault you missed the green light. Since patience is an important part of a professional's code, those behind us are of little consequence. Waiting for a light to change again when there is no cross traffic to take advantage of that green becomes a schedule-killer. There are several stops where I can roll up to early, only to be one or two minutes late when I can finally roll again. Sometimes a runner tries to get you to open the door for them as you're poised to roll again, but that's too bad. To board them would only mean you'd miss another green opportunity because odds are 10-1 they don't have fare ready, if at all. You snooze, you wait for the next bus. If I take pity on too many runners, Manny Manager wants 20 minutes of my life to chide me for "being late 22% of the time."

An operator's philosophy regarding schedule differs from management's. Their insistence upon keeping on time is guided by a perverse drive to satisfy some oddly-conceived metric. We want to arrive on time, even a minute or two early, at the end of the line because it guarantees us maximum break time. They consider this taboo, even though the last few stops of any route are almost always empty or drop-off only. If I leave the last time point as required, then defy Murphy's Law and end up early at route's end, I'll take it. I won't sit there and "burn," because that's just plain silly. There are plenty of times during the day when circumstances render us late, so when you can eke out a minute or two of earliness, it all evens out in the end. I'm rarely late getting back to the garage, so it shouldn't matter. It only seems to make a difference to those who care more about numbers than the people whom the digits represent.

Week Two of this signup has arrived. I'm still taking notes and learning. Hopefully I'll begin to recognize the regulars, and strike up a chat or two with a few of them. Until then, it's my goal to run smooth and safe. The schedule will rock and roll. There will be ups and downs. I'm confident I'll learn the tricks necessary to make up time. When it comes time to choose my winter runs, I'll know enough to decide whether to keep this one or move on.

This will also be a week of passengers deciding whether they approve of me. Learning the stops will help me smooth out my early roughness. Hopefully, my smile and cheerfulness will win them over. I'll save my patented silliness until I've won their trust. Until then, it's JUST DRIVE!

* * *

BOOK UPDATE:  My designer and I have been working out the finer details of the final product. I've tentatively set the publication date for October 5. I'm excited with what she's come up with, and I think you will enjoy this book that has taken well over a year to produce. You want a signed copy? Well you'll have to find and then catch me, because I must remain for now, simply and anonymously, "Deke." I'd rather those who know me don't let the secret out, and I'll be happy to sign as many books that reach me... quietly

If you're willing to help get the word out, please send me an email (deaconinblue@gmail.com). Especially if you live elsewhere than Portland, I could sure use your help in marketing. Thanks!


Monday, September 11, 2017

Feelings About My Last Post

Y'all are reading it, but maybe I'm not selling it right. My last post dealt with the new fare system, and how I've noticed those who use it aren't as polite. I don't think I was "immature," or "rude," for the butt reference. I simply used it in describing what I've noticed to be a growing trend.

Am I "passive aggressive?" Perhaps occasionally, but we're trained to be, in a sense. Otherwise, we'd never get our bus back into traffic after servicing a stop. Our jobs are deeper than just driving, and anyone who disagrees is only fooling themselves.

Truthfully, as long as folks behave on my bus, then I usually accept their absence of manners. I have noticed however, a growing sense of our not needing to exert authority. Operators have their own style of doing things. But we are Captains of the Ship, no matter who owns the vehicle we drive. I don't use this term because I'm some transit bully, but we have to display some authority on the job or things can turn south on us really fast. Unfortunately, our management doesn't support us and has some misguided notion that passengers are "customers." This is a dangerous trend, when those we transport are protected by our bosses, but we're not.

I was interested in the comments of my fellow operators on Facebook, some I consider my good friends. Sure, I can take criticism and actually appreciate it. It helps me grow, and I'm fascinated by human nature. Unless you comment, it's impossible for me to understand your view. There's no such thing as always being right. I'm simply one individual, describing what I see and feel. I can't please everyone nor do I expect you to agree with everything I write. Thank you for reading and feeling free to air your disagreement though.

It's a tough job, and the longer you do it, the harder you have to work to keep a positive attitude. Rude people have always annoyed me, but I realize there will be someone who irks me from time to time. It's human nature, and we deal with a wide range of people. If you say that of the 600-800 people you see daily, none of them pisses you off, that's a bit strange to me. A form of denial, in a way. If someone annoys me, I don't always tell them. It's wiser not to acknowledge negative behavior. I have pleasant interactions with 95% of those who board my bus. It's enjoyable to me to interact with the public. But once in a while, I'm gonna slip and (oh dear, throw me in front of a firing squad for my fallibility as a human) mutter my displeasure. Oh well.

Tom Petty was much more poetic than I in his (immature?) description of not allowing the actions of others to rule your day. He sang "Don't sweat the petty stuff, pet the sweaty stuff." It's pretty good advice I try to follow.

Peace out and safe travels, brothers and sisters.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Thanks, Ya Tapping Tulips

Sauvie Island Bridge, a few years ago.
"Nice hat," I said.

It was, in a 2017 fashion sense, a funky throwback to the 70s. Floppish, felt and velvety red. Complete with a sassy sash above the brim and feathers sticking every which way. Perhaps she was imitating a male peacock.

No reply, nary a whisper. The stunning young brunette with a pig's butt expression rolled her eyes up and over mine after she tapped her card on the reader. Without a peep, she sashayed down the aisle.

"Like my ass?" her stroll seemed to suggest, "because that's all you get from me." (No Miss Miscreant, I've seen better butts on people who actually lived when your hat was mod.)

"Hmm," I thought to myself but unknowingly aloud, "someone left their manners back in 2004."

She turned around and scowled. Oops, she heard me even through those headphones. I just shrugged. If you're so self-involved you can't greet the person finessing the wheel, this driver will often give your "diss" a shout out. Bad manners grate on my nerves. Sorry, but I calls 'em as they present themselves. Miss Entitlement Elitist '17, once you're past the yellow line just hang on because I'm rolling again and my eyes are focused elsewhere. I'm not impressed.

If she called in a complaint, I'll ignore the summons to see the manager because I detest this modern day "please the passenger at all costs" baloney. If a passenger is rude to me and I make a snide remark, I consider it a wash. Touché, just go away. Preferably exiting the rear door, thank you. That way I don't have to smell your attitude once again. I'd rather take in Homeless Harry's street cologne... at least he was polite to me.

At first, I thought it was just me. But no. Evidently, a few fellow operators have noticed the same trend by ignoring ignoramuses. An alarming majority of people using the new "tap card" fare system employ this silent abuse. The trend has increased as the new system gains popularity. It's as if their self-payment entitles them to silently roll to their bacteria-ridden seat, as if I'm simply a uniformed limousine driver. Bypass the fare box and the operator, as if it's uncool to throw a kind word our way.

NEWSFLASH, NUMBSKULLS: We're professional drivers in your present. Captains of the Ship, even if management doesn't agree that we're anything but pawns for them to freely sacrifice.

It seems fare tappers think I should jump out of my seat and show them to theirs, wiping off Slobby Scott's shoe scum so as to not offend their dainty derrieres. Maybe I should offer them a complimentary cocktail and peanuts for being 47 seconds late. Or I could stay in the seat and offer myself to them for a free assault, since I dare to even speak to management's precious "customers." Remaining planted within my soon-to-be-caged prison, perhaps I can avoid suspension after being slapped or pissed upon by today's spoiled dingbats.

"Just drive, asshole," their attitude suggests. I've heard this said countless times before. Well, okay then. Don't slip on Ripple Riley's spilt wine on your way backward. Once everyone else exits the bus, then I'll be free to drive just you.

Not all the new fare folks act this way. My run today was frequented by professional tappers who were raised in roughly the same era I was. I greet them as they enter, as always accompanied by my patented smile, and they return the favor. As they leave, I'm often treated to their kind thanks and kudos for a smooth ride. If I offer a few (hopefully) entertaining announcements along their journey, they add a funny parting remark in return. My regulars understand my penchant for passenger interaction. Sometimes, my announcements seem to fall on deaf ears. I'm here all week, I say to myself. Then a passenger will surprise me with a witty reply on their way out. It makes my day to feel appreciation for going over and above what they expect from their transit operator.

I shouldn't expect such a substantial return on my occupational investment. However, I put my heart and soul into everything I do, especially in providing a safe and pleasant ride. Miss Entitlement, I hope you enjoyed my smooth roll. In spite of yourself.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

We MUST Band Together!

Cops go to work each day fully aware the dangers they face might result in their death. Given this, it chilled me when one transit officer told me he would never do my job.

"At least I have weapons of self-defense," he said gravely. "You have nothing but your wits to protect yourself."

We live in an extremely dangerous time. People are more likely now to assault a transit worker more than ever before. In Portland, we've had 60 incidents in which a transit operator was assaulted or menaced, and there are still four months left this year. In 2016, we suffered 55 violent incidents while doing our job, yet the agency stubbornly insists "crime on the system is down." I'm sorry, but crimes against transit workers are increasing. At this rate, the number of assaults by the end of the year could be 84, a 35% increase. I wouldn't say this is a downward trend.

Here's a look at what Portland transit management calls "down:"
2014: 28 assaults
2015: 41
2016: 55
2017 (as of 9/6): 60

Does that appear to be a downward trend to you? I'm not the best statistician, but I believe the figures demonstrate an enormous increase, having more than doubled in three years. More disturbing is the silence from local media on the subject. Car wreck, armed wacko shoots someone, and they're all over it. Someone is injured at a protest, and it's national news. It takes an operator being murdered (Awakened Sleeper Kills Winnipeg Bus Operator) for the world to take notice to our collective plight.

I've challenged Portland media to report on this alarming trend of local operators being assaulted, but so far... crickets. Must one of us DIE before it becomes "news" in their minds? It happened in Winnipeg, as we lost our brother, Mr. Irvine Jubal Fraser earlier this year.

Two of my union brothers took matters into their own hands this year by imploring the Oregon Legislature to pass a bill (SB 2717) which stiffens penalties for those who assault transit operators. They advocated for it to be a felony for any transit worker to be assaulted at any time, instead of drivers "in control of or operating a transit vehicle." It is imperative to note that operators are not the only transit workers at risk of an increasingly-emboldened criminal element. Mechanics, supervisors, rail maintenance workers and operators simply waiting to relieve another driver are subject to public abuse and attacks.

The Oregon Legislature adjourned in July without passing SB2717 A, which makes it a felony for those convicted of assault upon a transit employee "while acting within scope of employment." It doesn't seem to have changed the conditions for prosecuting this as a more serious crime, "while the operator is in control of or operating the vehicle." Both our union and transit agency seem transfixed upon doing little or nothing to solidify our safety. Whenever in uniform, we should feel secure our agency protects our safety while also assuring we have every right to defend ourselves. Right now, we feel betrayed by management, as evidenced by suspensions meted out to those who refused to meekly allow their assailants free reign. If somebody punches me, you can't expect me to apologize for insisting they adhere to transit code. I'm certainly not going to coddle them or offer the other cheek for them to vandalize. I'm going to fight back, because that's the biological response when your life is threatened. When you realize that one well-placed punch can cause irreparable damage (or sudden death) to a human body, how can management expect us to defy the "fight or flight syndrome," the reflexive biological response? They suspend us for "violating violence in the workplace" rules. It's time to level the playing field by acknowledging our right to self-defense.

From the time I leave my home, dressed in our transit agency's required uniform, I consider myself "acting within scope of employment." Anyone can, and will, come up to me and ask all sorts of questions regarding our system. If I cannot answer what time Bus A will arrive at Point 122 on that route, I am verbally assaulted and sometimes harassed. It's impossible to keep track of every route's estimated arrival times. We don't have radio contact with every bus in the system, nor do we know which of 750+ buses are anywhere near our location at any given moment. We're expected to, however, by a public that is largely ignorant because the transit agency fails to employ proper educational techniques.

I've long advocated for a "How to Ride the Bus" series of public service announcements. All I see are poorly-conceived posters on the bus that read "We need to see other people. Seriously." For crying out loud, how utterly ineffective and juvenile. Instead, have it read: "It's your legal obligation to YIELD to a bus leaving a stop. Violators will be prosecuted." It's a severe lack of understanding about what we do which incrementally increases the public's disrespect for transit operators. Yet all the transit agency can do is put weak messages on our bus behinds rather than standing strong on our behalf.

City governments are guilty of failing to protect us as well. We're subject to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of road rage incidents every day. Police departments fail to cite motorists for failure to yield, and officers are commonly guilty of this offense. When any motorists sees a cop roll past our flashing yield light, they follow that example. As a result, we needlessly await some good soul to allow us to merge. Many operators simply roll after a few cars pass and are treated to the one-fingered IQ salute, blaring horn, and often menacing behaviors. We're often complained about to our "Customer Service Department" with people calling in saying we cut them off. I've had a few people falsely say I flipped them the bird they so liberally fly our way. How many of these false complaints reach us is testament to the demoralizing disrespect management displays towards us.

Our job is to safely transport passengers. We're called on the carpet these days if we are late, even though traffic steadily worsens each year. Things happen on the road. They multiply and complicate matters. Passengers are more concerned with their phone than being ready to board; if several people take extra time producing fare, it exponentially reduces our On Time Performance. Traffic accidents, congestion, construction, mothers who take extra time to remove their babies from strollers before we feel comfortable to safely roll again, bicyclists who exit the rear door only to jump in front of our buses to offload their wheels as we're ready to roll, and many other matters add time to our already-tight schedules. When we're late and go to Drop Off Only mode, people waiting at stops are abusive when we discharge passengers but refuse to allow them to board even as our follower is rolling up behind us. It's utter chaos and madness, and we're getting madder.

Anyone who has operated in service understands these standard transit realities. Unfortunately, management either does not fathom frontline reality or simply refuses to care. This may seem a bit strong, but when you consider they've transformed from a "Safety First" to a "Schedule First" attitude, I'm only echoing what my brothers and sisters believe contributes to an already-stressful occupation. It becomes inherently more difficult to remain courteous to the public when your management is part of the problem instead of providing a supportive role.

It's imperative we agree as a group to refuse being bullied. I hope it doesn't happen again, but we can expect more assaults to occur before 2017 mercifully ends. It's been a year of heavy rain and snow, followed by intense heat, forest fire smoke and ash, light rail murder, and those dastardly 60 assaults. We've still managed to persevere and provide excellent service to our fellow Portlanders. Each step of the way, we've felt distanced from management. Why is it so difficult for them to recognize our plight and take steps to ease our collective pain?

When we're supported and encouraged, we feel secure and appreciated. When we're happy, we excel. If you don't do everything possible to show your workforce it's valued, don't expect perfection. This isn't a manufacturing business, it's public transportation. Corporatists who have never donned our uniform aren't equipped to make it better. Creating spreadsheets is a far cry from skillfully maneuvering a 20-ton vehicle.


Major conflicts are often resolved when the oppressed stand up fight back against their aggressors. They can also be relieved when there is greater understanding between the two factions.

My suggestions for all to consider include the agency adopting The Beasley Doctrine. It basically lays out steps for operators to begin healing immediately after an assault or case of menacing. No operator should have to worry about time loss or missing pay while recovering from a severe shock to their body. While there is an increased presence of security on light rail, buses remain a hotbed of misbehavior. Trouble makers are becoming more brazen, fare evaders don't fear consequences and also have less respect for agency code.

In an attempt to reduce operator assaults, the agency earlier this year changed fare policy. Unfortunately, assaults continue to rise. Perhaps some six-figure management positions could be sacrificed for a fully-staffed fare inspection team. Some argue that transit should be free, but I disagree. If a passenger isn't invested in the ride, they won't respect it or anyone within the vehicle.

Local groups in favor of less police presence on transit seem more concerned with a perceived bias toward certain ethnic groups than they are with operator safety. It's not ethnicity we fear; assailants come in all shapes, sizes and colors. We shouldn't have to wonder, when leaving home on our way to work, if we'll return at the end of the day. I doubt if this thought ever crosses the mind of someone in upper management as they roll into their cubicles each morning. It's always on our minds.

Safe travels brothers and sisters. Keep all six on the road, and be good to each other. We're evidently all you've got standing with you.


Monday, September 4, 2017

I Had a Bad Day; Better Now

Sometimes I visit you here, with nothing really on my mind to write. I just like a one-on-one, bus driver to whoever reads me. It's been a helluva week, the end of a signup. Seems things go belly-up once in a while, and lately Portland has challenged me more than usual. I'm game, but it still causes me to "shake my damn head."

I feel loose creatively. With the book almost put to bed, I'm wrestling with the decision of how and when I should "come out." It seems cowardly to remain hiding behind this thinly-disguised pseudonym. One reader asked why I talk about myself in the third person. He doesn't even know me yet he's figured out this tired and foolish game of hiding my true identity. So when the book comes out, I guess I might have to. If the transit agency is annoyed by my honest opinions and description of this oddball life, they'll look bad and I'll sell more books. Its folly could be my gold mine. So we'll see where the chips fall. Hopefully, most of them fall into my bank account because I might need every cent to avoid living in a tent.

Back to the last night of my regular weekday run. I've always had pretty good luck with this route. It has bunches of bubbles in the paddle. Running late? Wait until you get to Point 86 and you'll find yourself on time again. No big deal. After the first few runs, it smooths out into a night run that is relatively copacetic. Not this time. Each run was busy, even the late night final run to downtown. This is highly unusual, but in hindsight I reckon it's because of the holiday weekend.

One of my brothers would ride my bus a short distance to the point where he road reliefs his bus. We usually share a few laughs, stories of the road or just normal chit chat. I was so tense and grouchy yesterday, my buddy jumped off earlier than normal. It made me pause and evaluate my behavior. I felt terrible, because Chris is a very nice fellow and my demeanor must have irritated him. Up to then, I had been working up to an eventual blowup, and being the upbeat type he may not have wanted anything to do with my snarling attitude before starting his own run. Don't blame him a bit. But now I won't get to see him every day, and I'm ashamed. It wasn't his fault so many things had happened. Most of it we deal with daily, but I had allowed it to negatively affect me. Sorry Chris, you didn't deserve it. Hopefully, all is forgiven because he knows I'm not normally so surly.

Although I resolved when Chris departed to shake it all off and make my day better, things seemed to spiral downward from there. I had to turn-and-burn on one run instead of taking a short break. It's something I advise people not to do, but I felt that by getting the next run started on time my day might improve. It only added to my stress, and now my bladder was madder. Still, through gritted teeth and a determination not to chase anyone else away, I smiled and greeted each passenger kindly. Maybe my vibes were electrically chasing normal holiday weekend cheer back out the door when they boarded, because my passengers weren't buying the con. They could tell I was having a bad day and to their credit, they were mostly kind and compassionate. Their exit thank-you's seemed more pronounced and heartfelt than normal. Many told me I had done a "great job" and "thanks for the smooth ride." That helped, because through it all, I concentrated on rolling the ride without bouncing them around.

We're all given a choice every day, to make each one pleasant. When you deal with such a large cross-section of the public, your customer service skills need to be top-notch if you want to have a comfortable ride. There's no telling how many of your passengers are on a hair trigger, so you need to remain calm and amiable to keep evil at bay.

I hadn't thought it would be a rough day. As usual, reciting The Mantra brought me peace before I began driving. There was no foreboding sense of doom, my mood was more cheerful than usual. It was the last day of the signup, and I'm looking forward to doing something different. It's not wise to make excuses when I have a bad day, but I'm just lucky nothing terrible happened. An angry driver can be prone to making mistakes he normally would not.

One operator made the observation on my last post that "bus driving isn't rocket science." He wasn't convinced that newbies need extra time before becoming full time. In fact, the overall response was overwhelmingly in support of allowing newbies to dive into the morass as soon as they desire. After all, they said, how else is one to get experience? Their logic is true. Perhaps I'm just too cautious and my opinion is without merit here. After all, even though I have years of experience, I allowed myself to have a "bad" day instead of powering through it and inverting my scowl.




While I agree our profession isn't as technically demanding as some, it does require us to be constantly vigilant and in control. A professional airline pilot has a co-pilot and an auto pilot. We don't have onboard computers to glide our ride The more miles we drive the better prepared we become to handle the many stressors that can (and often do) arise. Those who disagreed with my position have a valid point. The experience we gain comes from simply doing the job. One transit agency requires new drivers to spend several weeks in Line Training, which involves their driving veteran operators' routes under their direct supervision. Our agency only provides one week of this vital instruction. I might suggest they extend our Line Training if they're going to continue allowing people to go full time so quickly. It might just save the district money in the long run through fewer accidents and loss of new operators.

I've been slapped down this week, and it's a good thing. It's not advisable to start a new route with a bad attitude. There is something to be said for a weekend to mellow out and relax... it recharges me. I'm looking forward to different views of this marvelous city, and hoping to make a few new friends over the next three months.

Tonight, I was treated to the first drafts of the cover for my upcoming book, "JUST DRIVE - Life in the Bus Lane." The designer I hired has years of experience in her craft, and I was excited to see what she had presented me. She completed five mockups, and I've narrowed the choice to two possibilities. Seeing my book getting closer to publication is the perfect elixir for a vacation-starved soul. This is a dream I've had since I was but a lad. Look for it in early October.

In the meantime, and hopefully after the release, I'll improve my attitude. We all have bad days... the trick is to not allow too many in a row.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Full Time Risk Management




What would you think, faced with a life-threatening illness requiring a specialist to repair an intricate problem in your body, if an intern showed up for the 13-hour procedure?

"It's okay," he tells you, "I've watched Dr. Smith do this procedure a few times. He wrote a few notes on what to look out for, so I should be fine. Don't worry... I've got this."

You'd be a bit apprehensive, I'll bet. How about letting a student pilot behind the controls of your red-eye flight to New York? What if the plumber sent his six-year-old son to fix your sink at double the price?

Now imagine boarding a bus. Your driver just graduated from training three weeks prior. He's had very little experience on his own, yet all of a sudden he's putting in 10-hour days just as the regular guy does. He hasn't learned how to maneuver the bus between two parked cars and align the bus parallel to the curb so the ADA ramp can be deployed. Nor has he had enough time to dissect traffic patterns, stoplight sequences, or passenger behavior. Instead of predicting the Washington driver's penchant for passing a bus at 15mph over the speed limit, then braking and turning right in front of his bus. His braking technique is still in practice, and passengers don't usually stand until the bus has completely stopped.

It took me most of a year before I felt qualified to be a full-time operator. Training shows us how to operate a bus, but time teaches us much more. Driving a bus in-service is an awesome responsibility that shouldn't be taken lightly. Yet our transit agency's management has recently shed decades of advancement in training and safe practice by promoting operators with less than a month experience to full-time status. Some of them had hardly finished line training when they were promoted. Veterans with decades of service consider me a "noob" even though I am working on my sixth year! I didn't consider myself competent until halfway through my second year on the Extra Board. Driving different routes each day in every corner of the metro area was an invaluable education. However, I wasn't ready to study until I had been part time for almost a year.

Smooth and safe operation takes hundreds, perhaps thousands, of miles to perfect. Considering a part-time bus operator drives maybe 50-75 miles a day, his first year finds him rolling about 65,000 in a year. That's just about enough experience for someone to take on the rigors of full-time operation, in which an operator usually drives 100,000-plus. Putting a newbie in the seat for this long so soon is not only reckless, it's dangerous to the employee and the public.

Experience is value, especially where safety is concerned, but I'm wondering if they understand what the concept truly means. They give it lip service, but it has been relegated to third place behind schedule and something they call "customer service." (They're passengers folks, not customers. Just like those who use air travel, trains or cruise ships, we convey passengers who must obey the rules of transit.)

Unfortunately, our authority as "Captain of the Ship" has been eroded by management. It seems more concerned with the slanted opinion of an uneducated transit public than supporting its front line workers. We're battle-weary from being assaulted or menaced over 50 times this year already, and feel management is more concerned with our inability to perform as robots when physically threatened. Basic human biology doesn't seem an acceptable excuse for self-defense. It's disconcerting, disheartening, and disingenuous. But it's the new norm in transit. We attempt to adapt, but many are giving up and just doing our job as we've been trained to, and how experience has taught us. We know our jobs, but they do not. Still, they keep trying to tell us how to do ours, yet we're not given much input on how they do theirs.

Many new operators who have become full-time too early have lost their jobs due to the insane time-loss rules or because they racked up more than two Preventable Accidents. When you consider the tens of thousands of dollars spent on each trainee, the district exhibits wanton disregard for their safety and is playing loose with transit funding. I wonder if risk management gurus have cautioned against this latest exhibit of sheer folly.

Once again, I'm utterly convinced management personnel should be required to have driven a transit vehicle in-service for a specified amount of time before being qualified to tell us how to do our jobs. I firmly believe many of them wouldn't make it out of training. Some would run screaming from the yard crying for their mommy. It's not an easy job, nor for the faint of heart. It's physically grueling, psychologically challenging, and soul wrenching. We take great pride in the years we've spent perfecting driving techniques, predicting and avoiding danger, and learning the verbal judo necessary to maintain a peaceful atmosphere for those we transport.

You'd think transit management would work overtime to ensure we return to the days when transit workers felt part of a family rather than the opposition. It should take the time and reserve the resources necessary to foster a healthy work environment. Instead, we feel trodden upon and disrespected. Passenger complaints seem to garner more attention than operator concerns.

Now I know what my brother operator meant when he told me early in my career: "This is the best job I've ever had, but the worst company I've ever worked for."

Sure, the noobs don't make a lot of money, and bills need to be paid. We've all been there. But it takes a long time in the seat to develop safe driving habits. As the airlines won't allow teenagers in the cockpit, nor should we promote people with less than a month of experience to operate a bus full time. As President George Bush #1 said, "Wouldn't be prudent."

I'm constantly shaking my head, as are my brothers and sisters. We're still hoping for common sense to rule the day, but so far the madness deepens. It makes me pull out a thought that angrily insists I hold within yet must be brought out into the light: Must one of us die before someone takes overall safety seriously? I'd hate to think they believe the cost is worth the risk. God, I hope and pray not.

Safe travels, and safety first my dear brothers and sisters.