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Deacon Who?

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(Note: Ideas and opinions expressed in this blog are not necessarily shared by the transit agency I work for. This is simply an expression of free speech while describing the work bus operators perform.) I have been (and called) many things in this life. Most of all, I'm a writer who happens to drive a bus. In May of '13 I thought it would be fun to write about my job. As a direct result of this blog, I published a book in November of 2017 called "JUST DRIVE - Life in the Bus Lane" that is available on Amazon. I write to provide insight as to what it's like on a bus... From The Driver Side. Thank you for reading!

Monday, February 25, 2019

Just Let Me Drive, You're Cool


Operating a bus is a great lesson in humility. We interact, for a few minutes in someone's life, with a vast array of people from truly every segment of society. Other than cops, paramedics or library employees, being a bus operator demands you be prepared for whoever (or whatever, as the case may be) boards.

As we grow older, our associations with the public over the past tends to prepare us for many different situations. I've been homeless, close to it, or lived in squalid apartments several times during my life. In every case, people have surprised me. Having grown up in a middle class family, there was never a time in my childhood when food was unavailable. When we leave the nest, there come times when food can be scarce or non-existent. Housing was a challenge, but not as much as it is today. The cost of living has risen dramatically from when I was "young," but wages have remained stagnant. I'm lucky to have employment which allows me to live decently. There are many good people now however who struggle just to keep the elements at bay as they rest before they're once again slaving away.

A bus operator rolls a huge lumbering beast through the dark and sometimes savage streets of the unforgiving metropolis. People board carrying the last few of their earthly possessions, seeking shelter from the Northwest deluge, dripping with despair and begging me to "just let me stay warm and dry a while." Whatever money they might have is best kept for a meager meal. While I believe transit should not be free, I also have a soul. How can I deny someone safe passage on my transit time machine because they don't have a spare few bucks? Even if my employer insisted I collect the proper fare (it no longer does), is it morally acceptable to force them to trade a meal for a ride? I think not.

Many "old timers" give passengers a hard time over relative pennies. If you put change into my fare box, it's usually enough to get a ticket. I remember when a few quarters meant I could warm up a cup of ramen noodles and fight the hunger back a few more hours. Some today don't even have that to tide them over. When I was homeless, I at least owned a truck with a camper shell. It was Boulder, Colorado in the early 80s. Although employed, my "home" consisted of Ol' Blue, a campfire up some lonely canyon, my dog and a can of Dinty Moore Beef Stew or some other sludge I was able to fork out a buck for.

As a young man, it was more adventure than hardship, and was thankful because there were more people less fortunate than I was. If my pride had allowed Ma & Pa would have gladly wired me some cash. But no. It was more important that I learned to persevere, to dream of a better future and tough it out. I was young, full of energy and exuberance. It was time to live in the moment, to breathe free and enjoy whatever my labors allowed. Now, I'm glad I did. It gives me a perspective that some may not have. When you've had little, others have had less. And I was grateful for what I did have.

If giving someone a ride on a bitter winter's eve helps them, I will do it. If they give me or others a hard time in return, I will certainly boot them back out into the elements. It's my firm belief that kindness towards another affords a certain amount of respect. It takes wisdom to deal with those who, unable to recognize gifts bestowed upon them, act in a manner that negatively affects the serenity of my ride. If there's any possibility I can convince them it's not in their best interests to continue misbehaving, it affords them a second chance. If not, bye-bye and I hope the door fights back when you slam it the wrong way.

Earlier in my career, I found it somehow necessary to show people who's boss on a bus. It's wholly unnecessary. Hey, I have enough to deal with keeping my vehicle from slamming into countless ignoramuses who should never have a license to drive. Challenging some mentally ill passenger who might be armed with a deadly weapon is inviting myself to prematurely enter eternity. Countless transit employees have been assaulted or killed, and I don't want to become a sad footnote to "I could have handled that better."

This is my final career, unless fingers banging on a keyboard lands me something better. I love to write, I love to drive. For now, that's my life. And it's just enough. Enjoy the ride, be respectful of others, and just let me roll in peace. That's all it is, man.



Sunday, February 24, 2019

Automate Management, Not Operators


There are many reasons I'm blessed in this life. Most important, I am loved. Second, I work a job at which I'm competent and skilled, surrounded by co-workers (brothers and sisters) who offer support, love and guidance. Third, I'm still a breathing, contributing member of the world as we know it. Yet there's a possibility my humanity is becoming less valuable than electronic circuitry.

While my job is important, it's not the most vital profession in the world. It's simply necessary. At this time in our evolution, bus and rail operators provide a service that automation cannot currently provide. What if our position becomes replaced by automation? If this happens, many of you who read this will be rendered obsolete. If we allow computer-generated versions of ourselves take over, what jobs are left over for us? Not much, I guarantee.

Not long ago, I read an article in the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) International magazine in which it basically prepared us for what is (theoretically) to come: automation of the transit industry. It truly pissed me off to think our union would even consider this a possibility. The article put forth bargaining positions for a future that allows public transit be be operated via artificial intelligence. Would you feel comfortable with a computer at the controls of a megaton vehicle in which you're a passenger? I certainly would not. It's very disconcerting to me that our international union would attempt to prepare us for this as an eventuality, rather than a pipe dream. It's just not right.

If we're preparing for a technology in which humans are rendered obsolete, then we're failing to acknowledge that we are infinitely more valuable than anything we create. We are naturally-intuitive, able to understand and feel human possibilities. Far more than any machine could, given trillions of examples of possibilities which confront transit operators. Even if it's possible to program a computer with every possible scenario we could encounter on the road, it's equally possible it could fail more times than I would. I believe in human intuition over artificial intelligence when human life is at stake. I don't care how many millions of scenarios you could program into a machine. Only a human, with a lifetime of personal and shared experiences, DNA and evolutionary memory, should make split-second decisions which could save a human life. I'd rather trust Ollie Operator with my safety than some machine programmed with actuarial tables of the insurance industry.

Unless humans in the working middle class of any economy (especially our current brand of greed-based isolationism), reassume control of our collective destiny, we're doomed to suffer the fate which our moneyed masters determine. Our future is in dire jeopardy at this point in American history. We're vilified as being "greedy" while the few with the most bribe a government which rewards them over those who generate the very wealth they enjoy.

If the upper class is victorious in replacing humans with automation, then what is left for the "average" human being? Without any means of earning an income, we'll become slaves to the moneyed few. Without any means of self support, how or where would we live? We would become slaves of the aristocracy, doomed to whatever scraps which "trickle down."

Automate the operator? Nah.
I'd rather automate management.
Ten years ago, I made more money than now. My position as a bus operator pays well. It doesn't pay as much as it should though. While Big Money has grabbed trillions the past 30 years, and corporate executives have enjoyed vast increases in salary, the middle class still chugs along making (comparatively) what we did when President Reagan promised glorious dividends. We're still waiting, and paying the bulk of the taxes while mega corporations like Amazon pay zilch in taxes. Hell, I'm still trying to buy a house, but every time the foundation comes within reach it's yanked away like a yo-yo. We feel much like Oliver Twist begging for a few more ounces of gruel.

Some will charge me with a traitor to capitalism. Well folks, it's not working for the middle class American these days. Everything has risen in cost: rent, home prices, groceries, fuel, whiskey. Student loan interest keeps rising while our tax deduction for it has disappeared. Why we keep allowing ourselves to be constantly swindled out of the American Dream escapes me.

We're too divided to fight back, and Big Money delights in this. It continues driving wedges between us so we cannot unite into a strong enough mob to stop the upward flood of money. We've become far too diverse to agree on everything, but we need to remember the art of compromise. That's what helped forge this incredible nation. We allow ourselves to be beaten so soundly we don't even notice when the rug slips out from underneath what tenuous footing we're able to secure. It's a horrendous mind-fuck we're not deriving any pleasure from.

There comes a point at which technological innovation ceases to be advantageous to humans. Any species that would create something which could replace itself is doomed to extinction. Automation has replaced many jobs already, and manufacturing has been siphoned off by China and Third World countries. It's rare when I find something to wear that is actually Made in the U.S.A.

Once in my professional life, I felt my job was safe and secure. My co-workers and I formed a closely-knit team which could accomplish any project on time and under budget. Sure, I was paid very well but by then I had been with the company over a decade. Many of us had strong working relationships and we knew how to get 'er done. Then Corporata decided our department was too expensive and out-sourced it to another corporation. Years of knowledge, teamwork and dedication was suddenly of no value, and we were out of jobs. Oh sure, we were offered "similar positions" for far less money, but that was a shallow gesture. A year later, the service our team had provided with precision and pride had become a distant memory. We were replaced by underpaid and overworked dweebs who failed to perform as we had. Our former co-workers begged me to come back because of the personal touch I provided, but it was too little and too late.

I became complacent in that last job, thinking we were too valuable to be replaced. Those with whom I worked valued my work, but Corporata saw a way to make itself look more attractive to prospective buyers by sacrificing many of those who created the value management took credit for. It was cruel to stab us in the back when we had worked hard to ensure our business flourished. I won't make the same mistake this time.

If you think it's okay for automation to replace transit operators, you're an insipid dolt of a lemming who should be kicked off a cliff by a robotic boot. Automate the food or hospitality industries, where a large percentage of the workforce is employed, and there would be nobody to purchase the food or stay in the hotels. Without wages, we would hold no value to Big Money any more. Given that It rules politics, what's to stop It from just getting rid of us? We would no longer be needed, and therefore it would be easier to just kill us off. Only a certain segment of the population would be left to enjoy the bounty of the world, of which there would be more.

After a few years of fighting amongst themselves without having the masses to do it for them, their greed would ultimately consume them. Given their penchant for torturing those of us "down here," it's logical they would soon begin tearing themselves apart. Within 100 years or less, humans would become extinct. Our planet might return to its original glory after a million or more years of human-free detoxification.

Unless an automated invention is designed to help, rather than replace us, I urge you to reject it. Otherwise, we are simply a collective tool of our own destruction. Think about that the next time someone tells you to embrace new technology. It's akin to hugging a hungry polar bear; he might enjoy it, but you become a bloody smudge upon the tundra.

It might be okay to automate management, as long as we're the programmers.


Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Manny Can Ya Hear Me? Manny, Can You See Me?


Deke's Note: Driving a city bus can be entertaining and enlightening one moment, terrifying and tense the next. We deal with every known or imaginable personality type, requiring us to think fast and act accordingly. One missed signal from a passenger could land us in the hospital or in hot water with management. We play a finely-tuned balancing act that is heavily-weighted against us. One topic we're discussing in Portland right now is whether to allow management to record audio and video of drivers in the seat. Here's my take.

Every so often, I see footage from a bus in a locale other than my own. It invariably shows some sort of assault, or a heart-warming story of a bus driver rescuing some wee lil' one from certain disaster. In my city, this is not (currently) possible, for the cameras pointed toward the operator's seat are turned off. By agreement with my union. No spying allowed. For now. But what if they were activated? Would I be spied upon while driving my daily run? Should such intense scrutiny of my performance be allowed? I am, after all, a "public" servant. Those who pay taxes think they pay my salary. In some small part, they do make a contribution to my paycheck. Not enough to tell me how to do my job, mind you. Nevertheless, they do have every expectation that I diligently abide by transit code and transport them safely to their bus stop. If they believe I stray from "the rules" as they perceive them, a quick call to "Customer Service" is their likely weapon. One that is held above my head as a constant threat by the ever-watchful riding public, and supported by a management that is extremely overbearing in its oversight of frontline workers.

The abuse of video and audio of our daily interactions with passengers is a very real possibility. Our management often drops the ball in its relations with us. Complaints which should never fall anywhere but into the trash bin are routinely filtered down to drivers. Untrue and unsubstantiated, many of them reach us in interoffice mail. They can be as petty as "he didn't smile at me when I boarded" to "she was too cheerful." It's extremely demoralizing to people who carry a large swath of humanity to wherever they need to go for a scant $2.50 (or less). We're highly-trained, vigilant road warriors, who by pure chance also happen to be fallible. Prone to mistakes, members of your community, human to the core. Some minor indiscretions should never land in our personnel files, but they do, even when largely untrue.

We are expected to be better than perfect. I've covered this before, so let's just say we're held to a much higher standard than our fellow beings. Maybe in 100 (or less) years, our job will become automated, but for now it's just a regular Joe or Jane just trying to earn a living. A decent one these days to be sure, but still just a job. We don't consider ourselves above reproach. We just try to get through the day with as little mayhem as possible. Sometimes though, (sh)it happens. And without much training for the perils that can pop up, we do our best. Unfortunately, that "best" just isn't enough to satisfy the Monday Morning Quarterbacks who run this transit agency.

A question was posed to current Portland operators recently, asking if they support audio and video of the operator's seat being activated. The response: about 60-40 against.

Let's explore why operators here are so opposed to being recorded. First, we heartily distrust our management. That is a sad fact. Why? Management should be focused on the safety and comfort of those who do the nitty-gritty work of transit, from the operators to the maintenance workers, supervisors and everyone else who interacts with the public we serve. Instead, it focuses on spreadsheets rather than reality, sometimes at the expense of safety. Over the past decade or more,  corporatists have overtaken us. Our dim view of those entrusted with our safety is relatively new, considering Portland has had transit for over 100 years. Once upon a time, I'm told, management and union members worked hand-in-hand and cooperated with one goal in mind: safety.

Sure, there were some disagreements. But then our right to strike was legislated out of existence, which is un-American in my view. Gradually, our benefits eroded during a media onslaught portraying us as greedy when management mismanaged and mangled our pension funds. They blamed us for their failure to fund a pension they promised in lieu of raises over the years. Secretly gave themselves raises while a bored Board of Directors sleepily nodded agreement and ignored management's misdeeds. Remained silent as assaults on frontline workers dramatically-increased, while laying the blame on our feet like an anvil of disgusting weight. Instead of screaming to an abusive public that assaulting/slandering us is unacceptable, they upped the ante of blaming operators by making it even easier to file falsely-scurrilous complaints. Suspended us for defending ourselves, even when operators suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Allowed the local media to air one-sided assassinations of our character, while dispatching its media spokesman to add insult to injury by failing to support us in a typically-corporate speak statement implying our guilt: "We don't condone this type of behavior... we are actively investigating the complaint."

Why then, would we trust management to not abuse recordings of our passenger interactions? Their training regarding abuse is limited to shielding our faces from impending punches we can't usually see coming. We're told to "diffuse" situations by keeping calm and not provoking violence. Human biology itself denies management's weak stance on operator safety. "Fight or flight," the result of millions of years of human evolution, takes over when danger is imminent; we're often unable to react as management insists we should. Instead of supporting an operator's authority on an agency vehicle, we are undercut by impossible standards dealing with the mentally-ill without proper training. Hell, even someone with a PhD in psychology would have trouble dealing with the vast array of dysfunction we encounter in one 10-hour shift!

We're expected to show up for work, no matter
the conditions, so we can get YOU to work.
Whenever an "incident" occurs on or near our bus, the data pack recording every press of accelerator or brake, interior and exterior video, turn signal activation and speed (in addition to a myriad of other functions of the vehicle) is pulled from that bus. Every action we take is then subject to intense scrutiny by committee. Although we act instinctively, we can be disciplined for doing what we think best in the moment. Sure, we make mistakes. Some can be over-zealous in our actions, others less so. Either way, we're stymied in the moment wondering what micro-managers will do to us when all is said and done. Based on its past dealings with frontline workers, we often don't know what the right thing to do really is. It comes down to the moment, when there's no management telling us what to do, or a library of precedent not readily available.

An operator's decision in the moment should be respected. If we make a mistake, we know what the consequences could be. Not having the benefit of adequate psychological training, it's a crap-shoot whether we choose the "right" solution to any problem. Unless our actions are outright bullshit, we should be supported. Instead, we're trained after-the-fact and expected to know ahead of time what the hindsight professionals will tell us. It's pure bunk, and any level-headed individual would likely agree.

The other side of the equation? There are some who believe recording us could support our explanation of a given situation. The possibility of management "spying" on us is relatively impossible with current staff capabilities. One Station Agent explained there are but two people charged with the duty of reviewing data packs pulled for any number of reasons. Since there are hundreds of buses/trains in service at any given time, the thousands of hours of data would be impossible to review unless a few hundred more people were hired to monitor us daily on a full-time basis. It's just not cost-effective, nor is it morally-acceptable to pay for such intense scrutiny. Many in management actually do appreciate us, even though it's hard to believe given the pressure we feel to be perfect in every aspect of a very difficult job.


Having an accurate digital record of a violent incident perpetrated against us would help prosecutors convict our aggressors. Instead, they're faced with trying a case without much evidence. Anyone with a basic understanding of our legal system would agree this is a conundrum. Additionally, we might win an argument against a false accusation in a complaint if digital evidence upheld our account. There are many instances where recordings could support us in this often unforgiving profession.

We scream about the injustices we face, yet our refusal to be recorded sometimes acts against our best interests. If we do our job as honestly and diligently as humanly-possible, we shouldn't fear constant recording of our actions. Yet, we do.

Management itself is the major stumbling block in Portland. It remains so, despite its plodding attempts to appear supportive of us. Next month, it will roll out a 70% effort to show us its support in its "Lame Attempt at Transit Operator Appreciation Day." Night workers are largely ignored on this annual dog-and-pony show, while day shifters are treated to praise and on-the-ride appearances by the top brass. Big deal. Want to show us you truly do appreciate your frontline workers? Drop the bullshit and start picking up after yourselves, because you're missing the biggest piles. Then maybe we'll trust that you wouldn't misuse the recordings of our actions in the seat.

Trust us to do the right thing, and show us honest respect. Quit giving the public unfettered access to a faulty complaint system. Defend us in the media, and encourage positive coverage of the good deeds we do daily for those we serve. Drop the obvious falsehoods instead of allowing them to reach us after a long day dealing with those who create them. Train your customer service reps to filter out the white noise. Properly investigate any reported incident before summoning us to face the music that is too often an off-key rendering of a recurring tune. Entrust operators to review some of these complaints before they reach operators, to see if they pass a smell test. We can employ common sense to any scenario people call in about. Most of all, we should be afforded the benefit of the doubt; a great majority of us try to do what's right, even on a bad day.

Show us respect, or we'll continue mistrusting you, Management. Until then, no video, no audio. The rest of the nation allows it, but you're failing at the job of supporting frontline workers. Until we can trust you actually do have our best interests at heart, you're not worthy of watching me fart in the seat.

I truly appreciate you reading my blog,
whether you agree or not. Thanks to your

support, FTDS just recorded its
275,000th hit!


Sunday, February 10, 2019

Nopocalypse '19

It was actually snowing as the sun shone under a bright winter's sky.
As if to say, "Ha, WeatherDude, you failed."
 

Deke's Note: Sometimes, you just gotta drink until the pain goes to a place that doesn't bother you. No, I'm not an alcoholic. I wait until my week is done, then I tip a few whiskeys (or whiskys) to alleviate the aches and pains of an aging bus operator. This is simply a writing exercise performed following a 54-hour week behind the wheel. I'm under the influence now, but not then. Here's my take on the snowstorm that never was, or might still happen when the weatherman is under the influence and feeling invincible.

When I was a newbie, each day was an adventure. Now it's a race to see if I can make it to the end of another day of driving. The past few days have been an exercise in faith (of my own intuition) vs. the sensationalism of (fake) news weathermen wreaking havoc with hysterical weather forecasts. I should trust myself more than I do them. While January was nice and dry/sunny for this time of year in Portland, I knew something would come about to slap us upside the head weather-wise in February. Here it is, and instead of the face-slam, we were treated to a HAHA in which the weatherman was drastically incompetent... again.

Mr. Weatherman gave the grocery stores a windfall when he predicted "14-18 inches of snow on Saturday and Sunday." Even that dreadfully-tasting hipster kale was stripped of Freddie's shelves by Friday night, not to mention the cheapest 18-racks of brewskies. Knowing the folly associated with heeding the predictions of Portland's overpaid weather dudes/ettes, this Homey didn't buy into that game. We've been burned by sensational forecasts before, only to have a real snowstorm catch us by surprise when nothing was forecast. Besides, my apartment's management is too cheap to provide us with a freezer big enough to simultaneously stock much more than a few bags of veggies or fries. It's more cost-effective to wait it out, then walk over as necessary and purchase whatever remains on the shelves. (They couldn't even give us a fridge with a rack inside the freezer, let alone one that's wider than my pansa.)

There's a grammatical error here...
Picked up my bus today just under 10 minutes late. Kudos to the driver I relieve. That's pretty good, considering she was running with full chains on dry pavement all morning. (Thanks, Mr. Weatherdude Failure.) I can't blame management (this year) for making the call to put hard chains on our duals, because every channel seemed to be screaming "SNOWFALL OF THE CENTURY." Turns out, a few flurries here and there, but nada everywhere else. I just shook my head and told myself, "you've got this Deke, whatever Ma Nature feeds us." Turns out it was just another Super Sale advertisement for the grocery stores. As a newbie, I might have shivered a bit in anticipation of a rough day. Now, it's an exciting challenge to ensure I avoid sliding into trouble. It turned into a disappointing chunka-thunka roll into unnecessary bondage.

I rolled hard chains onto dry streets all day. It was 25mph the duration of my 12-hour roll. Luckily, my normal onslaught of Saturday passengers chose to stay cozy at home, and I ran on-time about 90 percent.

Waking earlier than usual after my late-night weekday run, I stumbled out of dream nirvana shortly after the first snooze alarm to squint through the blinds. Whiteness flurried about, my car sitting under four inches of powder. Big freakin' deal, I thought. Still, it didn't mean I could slack. No telling what the rest of town looked like after last night's Snowmageddon '19 forecast. Better get there early and not risk an oversleep if something en route to work slowed me down.

After a scant five hours of pillow time, I stumbled into the shower and dressed myself a full 45-minutes earlier than I normally do. Gotta get to work, it's the transit operator's code, I said to myself. No snow days for bus drivers. Those are for corporate wussies, not front line transit workers. It's a matter of pride to a seasoned operator: show up no matter the conditions, and do your job. We take working America to work, and take pride in it. And they depend upon us to get them there. Nurses, maids, construction workers, doctors, restaurant personnel, transit management... we get you there. Corporate America, students, teachers... you can take the day off if an errant snowflake drops into your yard, but everyone else is expected to be there. And we're your ride.

As I rattled along the dry pavement all day, I marveled at how few people believed the forecaster. My bus was only half as full as a normal weekend day. Just as well. At 25mph maximum, I rolled along on time all day until the end. My last run just happens to be the final full-length run of my line, so running late is okay. I don't want to leave anyone behind, or they can expect an expensive Uber or Lyft ride home in freezing temps. So late I am, on the last run. No big deal anyway... I get paid by the minute either way.

Rolling to my road relief 45-minutes earlier
than usual.... it was all for naught.
Most people were simply the normal "thank you" riders. It seemed our weather was a total letdown. All the preparation and hype warranted not a single "thank you for working today." It was just business as usual. "You got me there, good enough," was the vibe I felt from the passengers. Nothing special, just another weather anomaly, nothing to get excited about. Just as well... after 40 hours on a Jerry Springer route, this is my chillaxation roll.

SNOWpocalypse '19... so far, it's "NOpocalypse." I could be wrong, but my bones tell me it's just gonna be business as usual in Portland the next few weeks. My forecast: cold, windy and wet. The rest is pure speculation. Typical Northwest weather. But mark me: next winter holds a special sequence of slippery shit. We're due for a big one. Just not this year.

Don't slip when you happen to diss the weather dude, y'all. It might hurt ya.



Monday, February 4, 2019

Wherefore Art Thou?

Very few comments on this blog any more, here. What gives, oh readers of Deke's posts?

When you say something, I read it, and usually I respond. So what gives, y'all?

I see hits from Canada, and I hear YOU. Rarely any words from my own country. And what about those of you from beyond? Ireland? Spain? The United Kingdom? Russia? You tease me with your presence, but you remain silent. SPEAK!

Damnit, please.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Operator Exonerated, Hooray!


Can you see an operator in the seat here, without zooming in?
If so, your vision is better than my corrected 20/20.

Deke's Note: Fair is fair. In my book, I pledged to continue working with our management in hopes we could forge a positive relationship. This post is dedicated to the notion that good can happen when the facts are honored.

Some time back, a young operator I've become very fond of was unjustly accused of having a cell phone in his hand as he drove a bus. This complaint came from someone high in management, new to our transit agency. I was furious as I listened to the operator explain to me he did not, in fact, have a cell phone in hand as he drove bus.

"Are they fucking crazy?" he exclaimed. "We were taught from Day One not to do that. What, just because I'm a 20-something kid in their eyes, I automatically have to have a phone in my hand even when I'm driving a 20-ton machine?"

He was frantic. A very dedicated, serious and intelligent guy, he feared for his job. What he had in his hand was actually a route description, since he hadn't driven a Line 15 that included a difficult U-turn in the middle of a narrow street. He didn't want to miss a critical point, and was periodically checking the directions as he drove. We've all done this, in fear we would end up in a place that's very difficult to get out of without assistance.

The "management" guy supposedly "was positive" as a pedestrian of our lad's holding a cell phone, even though he witnessed the driver from across a street, through a windshield that's very difficult to see through from the outside. It was an obvious lie... nobody can see that well; and I know this operator well enough to be assured of his honesty.

He appealed the case, after he was suspended for five days; on the simple word of a pedestrian with supposedly super-human vision, across a busy street. Upon further investigation, onboard video could not support the claim our operator had a phone in his hand. His appeal was successful, and his suspension was overturned.

In all fairness, I must applaud management's decision to exonerate the operator. We're often subject to false accusations without a fair assessment of the facts. Many blatant lies are called in as complaints, and remain on our records, often resulting in harsh and unjust discipline. The SIP (Service Improvement Program) is the punishment we receive performing under extremely difficult circumstances while dealing with outrageously-ridiculous passengers. They make stuff up on a daily basis, just to show us "who's boss." We tell them to obey transit rules, they retaliate by calling Customer Service and completely fabricating a situation, conveniently leaving out their own faults or misdeeds. Unfortunately, management tends to side with the passenger. If we weren't honest, we wouldn't have passed their silly personality profiles in the hiring process. It's a program that often leaves us feeling as if we're automatically guilty, and our own evidence is disregarded.

Passengers are often incredulous when I explain they can also call in compliments and commendations to the same line on which complaints are lodged. Management simply fails to inform the public of this. By simple wording, commendations are not encouraged. People are quick to criticize, slow to commend. It's sadly just human nature.

In this case, management came through for our young brother. It saw there was no evidence to convict, and exonerated him. I applaud this action. It gives me hope that it is possible to win even when someone in management is the false accuser. Hopefully this transit newbie manager learns a lesson here: we are the professionals, and management should be working with us, rather than against us.

Here's hoping this silly SIP process gets a much-needed makeover, because it's pretty ugly as is. Our management should do more to support us instead of vilifying us for silly and unjustified shenanigans. We know how to do our jobs, and expect to be supported. In this case, justice prevailed. Thanks, management.

Trained to Avoid Tragedy


Deke's Note: One of my reviewers recently wrote that I "ranted" a lot in my book, JUST DRIVE - Life in the Bus Lane. Yes, I did, and sometimes I still do. Repetition tends to get the point across. This blog began as a simple chronicle of the daily life of one bus driver. Me. It has become my therapy to write about what happens "out there" as I guide a very large vehicle through an oft-unforgiving world. This time, I offer you a glimpse of my thoughts on a tragic Portland story which began nine years ago...

A group of friends left a comedy club, likely laughing and talking about the show they had just seen. Some blocks away, a bus operator was driving her route, scanning for any number of people or vehicles that could suddenly appear in the danger zone just ahead, or to either side, of her windshield. There's no telling how many lives she had saved prior to this next few moments, but that became null in the minds of the constant and unforgiving jury we face as bus operators.

Moments later, two people lay dead under her bus, three of their friends injured. It was a tragedy for all involved. We all live with this possible nightmare, hoping and praying we can avoid it. For the driver, it's something she will always see in her rearview. She was vilified for what happened. Every action she took that night was minutely-scrutinized, and she ultimately became another victim in the horrific aftermath.

Every time I ride a bus operated by one of my brothers or sisters, I'm picking up some safety tidbit from them. We're masters of predicting possible outcomes just by watching the unfolding movie that plays every time we start our vehicle. Over the years, we hone our skills of scanning and predicting/reacting to countless scenarios. Prior experience comes into play, which aids us in making split-second decisions that save lives every moment we're in service.

Remember, our bus is 40-feet long and weighs 40,000 lbs. It has an air brake system which requires a steady and firm application of the pedal to smoothly operate. This is a very heavy object which can kill someone at speeds as low as 5mph. Multiply weight by speed and it gives you the mass of a moving object. A 20-ton vehicle moving at 5mph pushes 200,000 lbs. of mass. Yes, it's a deadly machine.

When this tragedy occurred, much was asked about how we're trained. It's understandable that when anyone is hurt by a professional driver, their training and safety record is questioned. A former tractor-trailer operator, I thought bus operator training would be easier and less demanding than that of my former occupation. However, I found that it's even more detailed and intense. Not only do we deal with human cargo, but we are constantly operating in high-density traffic conditions versus the over-the-road truck driver, who covers vast distances via mostly freeways. Our trainers are very serious about the dangers bus operators face every second.

What fails to be mentioned after a tragedy is how many thousands of safe, incident-free miles are logged by the operator involved. Although we undergo an intense training regimen and are constantly under the microscope of an over-zealous management, little is said about how amazingly safe we actually are. Safer than private motorists by far, given the amount of "fender benders" not involving transit vehicles compared to incidents which do involve us. We're considerably safer than for-hire driving services, delivery vehicles, police officers, and others with whom we share the road.

Yes, we are safe drivers. We have to be. So are school bus operators, who carry even more precious cargo. We need to be vigilant not only to keep our jobs, but also because we know how dangerous our vehicle can be. Drivers who continuously make mistakes without correcting them face suspension or even termination. A good bus driver is constantly self-evaluating and trying to correct mistakes before they happen, ultimately saving thousands of lives over a career. For me, it's a daily regimen to work on aspects of my driving that concern me, so that I can be as safe as humanly-possible every time I'm out there. We are also bombarded with safety messages about dangerous points on specific routes, construction schedules and traffic changes city-wide. If you want to be a safe driver, sign on to be a bus driver. Our safety tends to follow us into our personal vehicles as well.

One fact I've mentioned here before is the sheer numbers professional transit operators compile each year. On a 10-hour route, I've calculated that I stop my bus about 800 times or more a day, 4,000 times per week. That's not just at service stops but also includes intersections, to avoid disasters involving bicyclists, pedestrians, skateboarders, pets, jaywalkers and others. Multiply 4k by 52 weeks, and we apply stopping brake pressure approximately 208,000 times in a year.  The average bus operator drives a bus over 100 miles each day, as opposed to the average motorists who logs about 20 or less. We do this without distractions such as cellphones or thumping stereos, but also deal with unruly passengers who have no idea their shenanigans could cause us to miss something serious which could lead to injury or death. Without a doubt, we are as a group, the most conscientious motorists on the road at any given time.

Yes, mistakes happen. It's an unfortunately inevitable statistic. When you consider the incredible numbers involved in transit, it's a testament to the professionalism of operators how many incidents we avoid. We move over 330,000 passengers each day in Portland. To expect sheer perfection is inhuman, but it's expected of us. And yes, we deliver the safest ride at the least expensive price of any people movers. Unfortunately, the father who wants us tested or trained even more, lost his precious daughter. It's a devastating tragedy that will follow him to his last day, a nightmare every parent fears.

Every time I get into the seat, I say a silent prayer for all who will be on or near my bus that day. I repeat a mantra developed early in my career which helps me remain focused on the serious job ahead of me. Those transit workers who read this can probably attest to the fact that most drivers have something similar which helps them remain focused on safety. Transit operators are what we are; keeping people safe is what we do.

So the father of one who was killed in that downtown crosswalk in 2010 is supporting a bill in the Oregon Legislature requiring bus operators take a written test every time we renew our license. I'm not against this measure, but I think it should be amended to include all who renew their licenses.

We're required to keep abreast of laws and safety procedures, and we're trained each year through recertification and check rides. No other profession I'm aware of is as intensely-scrutinized for our driving skills and practices as transit operators. Private motorists take instruction as teenagers, develop terrible habits, become road-raging maniacs as they age without further training; yet we're the only ones who should be tested? Any logical-thinking person would agree this is a backwards, lopsided philosophy.

It's getting so crazy on our streets I would support a bill that requires extra driver training for anyone renewing their license every second interval. Also, anyone caught road-raging or being cited for outrageous stunts on the road should be required to attend an intense regimen of driving safety classes. Some citations warrant immediate suspension of driving privileges. Any vehicle is a deadly weapon in the wrong hands. And folks, there are a lot of hands on steering wheels these days.

Safe travels, dear readers. And peace to those who have lost loved ones on the road. We all mourn with you.




The Sun Sets

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