Monday, May 28, 2018

Deke and the Check Ride

Deke's Note: Taking a break from the union elections to return to my blog's roots. This post is one I've been aching to write. Also, I've lately been feeling good, enjoying my job for once rather than simply forcing myself to drive. It's a great gig that I'm lucky to have in these days of economic uncertainty. Lately, I've learned how to make it pleasant rather than a monstrously-necessary economic evil.

Had a check ride this week. First one since I was a noob. Instead of combining this with our annual recertification class, the district began requiring the Training staff to evaluate each operator during their actual run. I have to agree with management on this, because as a perfectionist, I welcome annual performance reviews. They assist me in my goal of constantly honing my skills. Trainers watch intently as we operate. From our passenger relations to how we roll the Beast, our actions are scrutinized. How often did I check my mirrors? On average, about every five seconds. My eyes constantly scan around, throughout and beyond my ride. It has helped me avoid countless catastrophes, so I was pleased to see the trainer notice my diligence in that regard.

A few times, I made some mistakes that might seem minor in comparison to others. Not fully watching the doors close. Stopping a bit too close to a crosswalk. Stopping a foot or two a bit close to a vehicle ahead at a stoplight. Each of these, if you allow yourself to do them consistently, are potential risks to life and limb. If you close the door without watching for that last-second boarder, the doors could close on someone. Get too close to the rear bumper of someone in front of your bus at an intersection and a rear-end collision might propel your bus into their hind end.

There was one point of contention, however. On part of my route, it's extremely dangerous for exiting passengers to cross in front of the bus. It's never a good idea to do this, but on one stretch of road I roll, it's common for trailing vehicles to blast past across a double-yellow line as I service a stop. Passengers don't see, or they ignore, the sign above the front door warning them not to cross in front of the bus. Some are kids, accustomed to riding school buses with STOP signs and accompanying flashing lights. Most motorists obey the school bus warning signals but refuse to abide by our flashing YIELD light's caution to wait behind as we service a stop. People will fly by us when we stop on this stretch of road, regardless of the law or any warning our vehicle displays. When a passenger exits and then crosses in front of the vehicle, they risk being struck by the callous law-breaker. Because I don't relish watching their bloody carcass flying past my view, I tend to warn them not to take this risk.

During my check ride, I made this warning on the bus Public Address system. Lady Trainer didn't like it. She argued that it set me up for complaints, that people don't "like to be publicly warned" to abide by safety rules. My response? Too damned bad. Sure, they have the "right" to risk their own safety, but I will do whatever I can to educate a transit management-spoiled and less-than-safety-conscious public about the follies of irresponsibly-unsafe behavior. Why should I have to witness their demise? I'd rather risk a complaint and teach them something than quietly condone their foolishness. While I understand her admonishing me for using the microphone, it's something I just can't stop doing. Those who argue, then cross in front of me and nearly get creamed, often thank me (and apologize) the next time they ride. People are caught up in the moment, looking at their phones or thinking of a myriad of personal issues. Sometimes, they forget the basics of personal safety. Consider it rude if you will, but I will pound this point into people's heads without any morsel of remorse. If I save one life out of a thousand, it's worth the risk of a crybaby's complaint. Safety is Job #1, not worrying about a passenger's over-inflated ego. Their body is considerably more fragile.

Overall, I was impressed with Lady Trainer's tips. On a certain hill with a stop sign at the top, I tend to allow gravity to stop the bus, rather than using the service brake. It's smoother. However, she told me it's hard on the transmission. Overheats the gears, evidently. I wasn't conscious of this, but I understand. Now I have to train myself to smoothly stop using the brakes, then precisely stomp the pedal when I proceed to avoid a backward-forward jerk. My bad habit is yet another trick I've learned to ease the repetitive motion my foot endures from depressing the brake pedal some 800+ times per shift. As you roll each year at my advancing age, you tend to save your body even the slightest pain. Constant depressions of the brake pedal tend to cause certain muscles and tendons to become stressed. As any human, I'm apt to avoid pain at any cost. Nevertheless, I'll teach my body to adapt so that my brothers and sisters in maintenance don't have to prematurely replace a bus transmission.

"Don't damage the equipment," we were told the first day of training. Roger Wilco.

There are veterans I share the road with who might not agree that regular check rides are a healthy interlude to our daily roll. They've done this job much longer than I have, and might feel insulted by a trainer's evaluation of their skills as a professional driver. However, it's human nature to become overly-confident. Sometimes we can slip into a dangerous state of complacency without realizing. Once you think "I've got this," bad shit can happen. To any driver, that is. I would much rather be corrected by another than roll into a nightmare because of my errant ego.

Thanks, Lady Trainer. Next time, I'll show that I learned from your observation. It's likely however, that I'll have other aspects of my glide you'll find in need of correction. Welcome aboard, and I'll look forward to the opportunity to improve wherever necessary. Just remember though, there are points that I reserve the right to disagree upon. That said, we'll get along just fine.


  1. Thanks much for this blog post! Keep them coming, especially once the union elections are over.

    1. Thanks Joe... don't worry. I tried to stop blogging, but couldn't. I may have a writing addiction.

  2. I can't believe that she called you on that. We have that as a canned safety message on the annunciation system. Keeping them alive to ride again!

    1. It's all good. We've had a lot of assaults the past several years, and our trainers worry that such "training of passengers" is dangerous. She suggested doing it as they leave the bus rather than making a PA announcement. I do both sometimes. Thanks for reading, and safe travels.