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!

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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!

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