Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Lack of Managerial Common Sense Adds to Our Problems

Deke's Note: "Deke," someone once wrote to me, "all you do is write about what's wrong without offering solutions."

Well, I thought to myself, if nobody admits what's wrong, where do ideas on how to fix things come about? But then again, this guy was right. I don't have all the answers. However, I do have some ideas. Here are a few.

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If you want to improve customer service then fix the model, because it's broken into a million pieces. People call in to complain about operators without even knowing the rules and regulations which guide us every day. They also often lie about what actually happens. Most of the complaints (actually called SIPs here, an acronym for Service Improvement Program) should never make their way to the operator. Often, the complaint isn't even sent to the correct driver. There should be an investigation at the initial point of contact. What did the driver look like? Male or female? (SIPs have actually gone to drivers said to be of a gender not their own.) What was the time? (Complaints are often sent to the wrong operator.) Did you get the correct bus number? (Yeah, right.)

It's easy for someone to call in a false complaint. This is an insult to us all. It should be very difficult for a complaint to reach an operator, because I'll bet a forged fare it usually comes from an entitled brat who didn't get their way. They vow revenge for being told to follow district Code and to Respect the Ride, then put in a call to the CS line. I've heard countless stories from ops who received SIPs for things they never did, nor would dream of doing. Some truly outrageous stories make it to us that never should. Especially in this digital age, with cameras everywhere but where we pee. (Yet.)

Part of our job involves a bit of enforcement. Please fold up the stroller is one rule passengers often argue. It takes finesse to know how to make this request, and when to ask it. If my bus is nearly empty and not about to take on a full load, I'll usually inform the passenger of district policy regarding their baby carrier. Most of the time they know, and if the load is light, I don't insist they pull out the diapers, baby bag, groceries, and loads of other items necessary to transport tiny humans just to fold up a stroller. It takes time, for one thing. I'm not going to move the bus while Mom is bending over  the stroller. She could take a nose dive if I had to brake suddenly.

Sure, if I have to pick up an ADA pax and I have two baby strollers on board, somebody's got to make room. Most people are polite about it, usually the one with the least amount of stuff in their stroller. Not requiring this on a light day might stretch the rules a bit, but it avoids an argument and possible SIP. I've had a mom say, "But I just got her to sleep! Can't I just leave her in the stroller?" Hey, I get it. Babies are a full-time job. It's wonderful when they finally slip into snoozeville. But if something happens and I have to brake suddenly, Baby Ride topples or slides into something causing its blood to spill, nothing good will come of it. So yeah Mom, baby comes out.

When Mom gets angry with us and calls in with a falsehood about our being "rude" or "argumentative," it's probably retaliatory. People hate authority figures telling them what to do. Management knows this, but makes little or no effort to protect its front line workers from vicious and false attacks. Nor do they support our authority. When a complaint comes in, there should be a team to do an initial investigation. If it doesn't pass a smell test, it should hit a circular file, also know as the trash can. Bus operators should be added to this team to make the process more fair. We know what happens "out there," and it's usually not what callers describe. A few simple, well-placed questions can be valuable bullshit detectors.

After a six-month period, if an operator doesn't receive any more related SIPs, they should be removed from our record. There's nothing worse than being passed up for promotion because of something that may or may not have happened six years prior. We learn from our mistakes; if we don't we can repeat mistakes that could injure someone, which is something none of us want. If operators were treated with less suspicion and more integrity, it would have an immediate impact on morale, and... customer service.

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Stop patting yourselves on the back regarding "on time performance." We don't care. Truly. We were trained to operate safely above all. Schedule is a distant second. I've heard of a few operators getting awards for their OTP, but it's just a piece of paper. It has no value and holds little interest for us. Lump it with your dreamy "customer service" detritus.

Once again, this speaks to a lack of respect for us. You want us to be on time? Then realize we're not robots. Things happen on the road that are beyond our control. Traffic, for one. Thousands of people are flocking here annually, and they're not leaving their Priuses behind. There are traffic patterns we recognize. Do you? When there's an accident on one of our poorly-designed freeways, the inner arterials are going to back up... quickly. Also, the traffic lights in this city are horribly-outdated. When a former engineer tried to point this out, the state stepped in and fined him for "impersonating an engineer."

Stop putting the onus on scheduling. They can only do so much, outside of having a different paddle for each day of the week. Except for some circumstances that require an occasional schedule tweak, you need to extend schedules and give us more time.

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Portland needs a massive street and traffic signal overhaul. Of course, when traffic is heavy, lights cycling regularly help streamline vehicular flow on busy streets. But at night, many lights to change when there is no traffic at all on the cross streets. It's a waste of time, and money due to unnecessary fuel consumption. It's very frustrating to sit at a red light late at night when there are no vehicles to take advantage of the green light on a minor cross street. Especially when you consider most schedules are tighter at night than during the day, even though passenger loads are usually constant.

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Once again, I can't stress enough the need to re-design the downtown transit mall. I recently noticed that the words "BUS ONLY" in the transit lanes have been re-painted. Nice. It only took what, three years? They were getting so bad you couldn't make out the words in the best conditions. However, nobody seems to be listening. These markings and words virtually disappear at night and/or when it's raining, which it does a LOT here. What could be done to streamline the mall and make it safer? Painting diagonal lines in a color other than white in lanes where auto traffic is prohibited. Flashing red signs warning people to NOT turn onto certain streets, instead of the puny signs above eye level, might reduce the amount of motorists who routinely turn directly in front of buses and light rail vehicles. Common sense seems to have taken a back seat to a ridiculous fear our city seems to have by not wanting to offend motorists for insisting they follow simple traffic law.

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I'd love to see the union and transit management make a concerted effort to lobby local police forces to crack down on aggressive drivers around transit vehicles. I've seen other cities do stings, where officers ride buses, note infractions and radio ahead where other officers lie in wait to pull over the offenders. If people were actually fined for disobeying Yield Signals on buses, perhaps the threat would reduce accidents and near-misses caused by this impatient behavior. There's also a lot of road rage directed at transit operators who pull back into traffic after servicing a stop. Motorists actually speed up when they see a bus preparing to merge, tail-gating the car ahead in order to pass us. Even when there's a red light they're speeding toward. Enough is enough. Thousands of dollars in fines await city coffers, and a few stings every year could possibly save some lives.

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Passengers are assaulting us at an alarming rate. Each year, the number of assaults rises, yet our management makes little noise, leaving us to feel isolated and uncared for. I'm sorry, but YES, spitting is an assault. It's demeaning to force one's bodily fluids onto another. You don't know what diseases (other than mental) have infected the assailant. Other, more physical assaults are common and often come without warning. The media remains silent to most of them, and have not (to my knowledge) reported on the fact that attacks are rising all over the world. Instead, management argues over what constitutes "assault" and does little to ensure we're protected on the job. We've finally won some recovery time in our last contract when an assault occurs, but it took Herculean efforts from our union to win this "concession" that should be a given. Management needs to scream from the rooftops in fits of rage, but they don't. Like I've said, at least gangsters protect their own. We're sitting ducks. Oh yeah, they're going to cage us. It's a start, but it's a step backward rather than forward. If I wanted to work in a cubicle, I'd join Corporate America. Besides, we have to leave the cage from time to time.

Give operators tools to de-escalate situations, yes. But also reinforce the notion that we are to be respected with the authority to insist our passengers obey the rules. Instead of disciplining us when some whiny malcontent makes false accusations and/or refuses to Respect the Ride, inform the public of what's expected of them. AND, back us up. Don't suspend us for defending ourselves. It's a basic right to keep someone from battering us, to a certain point. We were once respected by management and the public we serve. Now, nobody seems to show us any.

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There. I've offered solutions to my complaints. Maybe they're not going to happen, but I believe they are common sense approaches to some of the issues we face. I'm just one voice in a crowd of thousands. If we rise up as ONE, maybe we could see some positive changes take place.


  1. Lower your shields and surrender! Resistance is futile! You will be assimilated into the Trimess!

  2. The ‘rules’ are meant to be enforced ‘as needed’. Ask any cop how many violations they ignore daily and they will tell you they can’t even keep count. Rules and regulations are not meant to be enforced in such a way that strips judgement away from the enforcer. Rules and regulations are nothing more than a set of guidelines on behavior. You as an operator must know when and when not to enforce ‘rules’. As you know I spent 20years or my life driving transit buses and my overriding goal was to get those people to where they need to go as quickly as possible. If ‘enforcing’ a rule would jeopardize my ultimate goal and the person breaking the ‘rule’ was not presenting an imminent safety hazard I always chose to ignore the rules. Nobody is causing my bus to stop unless absolutely necessary. And let’s face the reality, there are more than a few ‘petty tyrants’ behind the wheel of transit buses.