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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, May 20, 2019

Thomas Dunn, We Honor Your Sacrifice


Deke's Note: Readers of this blog have, over six years, grown with me through my evolution as a transit operator. It was my sole intention when I began writing to show what I  think and feel "in the seat." After years of self-examination, especially over the past month, I now realize where I am, and why I'm still here. Only a handful speak for US. It is thus why I cannot, will not, stand down. This post is dedicated to the memory of Thomas Dunn, Irvine Fraser and all who have been brutally attacked or murdered while doing their job.

Over the past several months, you have noticed my unbridled anger. I've been furious, actually. A reader mentioned this after one of my fiery posts, and it made me wonder. Was I mad? Yes. I realized this after agonizing soul-searching and reflection. I am angry. Why? Simply because I'm scared. Terrified. Worried. Frustrated. And ultimately, alone most of the time, especially in the jaws of the dangerous beast our management is too quick to protect: the constant troublemaker on transit.

A few days ago, Operator Thomas Dunn of HART (Hillborough Area Rapid Transit in Tampa, FL) was fatally stabbed as he drove his bus. Mortally wounded, Mr. Dunn stopped and secured his bus before paying the ultimate sacrifice of a public servant. His professionalism as his lifeblood poured from him saved his passengers from injury.

I sobbed as I told my wife this tragic story, because it's a fate we all could succumb to as transit operators. The sad thing about it is: we'll just be replaced without much more than a fare-thee-well from our management. I doubt they'd even show up for our funeral.

Safety be damned. We're just lug nuts on the wheel, even though we're the ones constantly facing the danger. Management sits back and relaxes while we face the tragic consequences of their heartless rollback of transit code in order to satisfy some spreadsheet warrior's push to keep our buses "on time." Such bullshit puts us all in danger, but that doesn't seem to be important.

HART management's press conference afterward was another example of corporate nobodies spouting superfluous nonsense in defense of some fantasy "safety culture" as their operator lay on a slab in the county morgue.

Mr. Dunn had appealed to his agency's board five months ago after being assaulted, being spit upon and suffering an injury to his arm.

"It seems to me," he told them, "Admin is taking care of Admin and not taking care of the spokes in the wheel that actually make this company work."

Sound familiar? It does to me. His agency's CEO and Director of Security told the media after Mr. Dunn's gruesome murder on their bus at their news conference about the tragedy that "safety is our number one concern." Bullshit. They ALL say that, but we know better. They study, study, and study some more, and ultimately fail the test. Every...damn... time. They bragged about the passengers' safety, but no real information was given about the failure to protect Thomas Dunn. Not... one... word.

Operator Dunn was a father of six, serving a public just like we all do each day of every year. He transported people safely to and from their destination, and his asshole murderer must have not wanted to follow the rules of transit. Our late brother may have said something to that effect, insisting code of conduct be obeyed. Not having any protection, Mr. Dunn was killed just for doing his job.

We lost our ATU International President this week, and I'm sure Larry Hanley would already be in Florida raising hell with the incompetents who run HART, if he was still with us.

Many of us in Portland have appealed to our local transit agency board, to little or no avail. I tried once, and was met with bored nods and sleepy glares. We have pleaded with them to get this right, if nothing else. They're all protected in their ivory world, none of them having driven a bus. They have not felt the danger we face every day we work for the agency they oversee. Our own management brags about safety on the system, but the assaults and incidents against drivers keep piling up. Just last year, two people were killed as they defended two girls from a deranged assailant.

Instead of taking proactive, protective measures for our safety's sake, management is more concerned about harassing us over cell phone use, on-time performance and allowing the homeless to use our vehicles as rolling motels. They don't care about the service animal frauds (unless one of these mutts attacks a true service animal, at which point they blame US), and they don't think parents should have to take their children out of strollers and fold them up. When someone on board starts spouting insane nonsense, threatening us and/or abusing our passengers, our management is more concerned about their "freedom of speech" than with our safety and ability to maintain a reasonably-safe and peaceful ride for those who actually pay to ride. No wonder ridership has been declining the past several years. Management protects the wrong segment, while championing the "rights" of the wrong.

What about our right to safety and security? We're not allowed to carry anything that could be considered a weapon, and if we use a tool to ward off an assailant we are subject to suspension or even termination just for protecting ourselves. No sensible adult would find this acceptable, which says something about our management which is not even close to complimentary.

What happens to those who terrorize fellow passengers in the air? On interstate rail? On ships? They're immediately and forcibly held for arrest at the nearest possible point. In our case, these fools are often gone before authorities arrive. We're the most vulnerable of transit operators, yet legislators complain that we ask for "special treatment." Fuck you, legislators. I doubt you have the cajones to do this job, let alone persevere for decades under the threat of your very existence. Get off your lazy thrones and ACT before this murderous trend explodes. Come ride with me, and I'll show you several instances of people who deserve prison time for their unwanted antics on public transit. But no, you're too scared to do what we so desperately need out here. In other words, you're completely useless, not worthy of my vote.

Brother Thomas Dunn, who died
while driving a bus. His sacrifice
deserves MUCH more than
"love and prayers."
Our plight is evidently boring to the local news media. Unless something bloody happens, they're too busy whining about the "rights" of the homeless population, which is often the largest segment of troublemakers on transit. Hey, I'm sorry so many people are on the streets, but it's not my fault. Nor is it that of the thousands of my co-workers who are the "spokes of the wheel." Perhaps if the federal  government during the Reagan administration had not ended funding for mental health services many of these people need, they wouldn't be wandering the streets causing trouble and leaving mounds of garbage in their wake. God knows our state, local and federal governments tax the hell out of us, but the money keeps flying out of our pockets while we keep getting beat up, or in Mr. Dunn's case, murdered.

All the tension builds up as we're constantly verbally and physically abused. It boils to a head, and when we respond, we're called on the carpet. Nobody calls our management on its failures, because transit is a rogue government within itself. It's not subject to any oversight. The "Bored" of Directors is not elected, yet has the authority to levy taxes. Management does nothing to educate the public we serve about how to even ride transit or what rules govern its use.

So hell yes, I'm angry. I grieve for the father of six children who must now endure without this great man. I'm also disturbed and often scared. On my Friday nights I'm able to drown that week's pressure cooker with a little whisky to still my nerves. By the end of the weekend, my blood pressure rises and the anxiety level starts to climb. I'm irritable at that point because I don't know what critical issues I'll have to deal with the next five days. Still, like thousands of others who share my profession, I show up to work not knowing whether my wife will become a widow before the end of my shift.

Sure, transit is installing barriers on buses, and puffs up proudly about this, as if it's the ultimate stop-gap to the violence we routinely face. Their ignorance is frustrating. It takes time and money to install these baubles, they tell us. Unfortunately, barriers leave us vulnerable. A tall person could still reach around or over it to attack us. Plexiglas will not stop a bullet. We also have to occasionally leave the seat sometimes.

Expand the transit police division, and make their patrol areas small enough to ensure they're available when needed. Hire more supervisors and make their districts smaller and overlapping, with shift changes that make them available every moment we're in service. Have cops ride our buses and show a presence that discourages disruptive or violent behavior. Cite motorists who road rage us and refuse to yield. Educate the riding public about how to ride, how to behave on public transit. Insist passengers adhere to transit code rather than catering to their worst behavior. Back the operators who routinely face disrespectful treatment every moment we serve. In short, get off your  lazy and ineffective asses and PROTECT US!

For this entire week of service, I invite all who roll wheels to join me in wearing a black armband in solidarity. I'll do so in honor of my departed union brother, Thomas Dunn of HART. Please join me. Love and prayers for his family at this point will not dull their pain. Our lives are at stake, and it seems the only people who actually give a damn are those of us who do this job.

Roll safe, I hope and pray for you all.

Love,
Deke N. Blue

7 comments:

  1. Where do we get an arm band??

    ReplyDelete
  2. ........ and I'm sure Larry Hanley would already be in Florida raising hell with the incompetents who run HART, if he was still with us. TRUE WORDS but where is ATU? IVP/Trustee is still not in town! PSTA Union across the Bridge was in front of a camera the same night, demanding safety for their operators. WHERE WAS ATU?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Heartbreaking, sad... and perhaps management needs to see the various videos that were posted on social media of the operator after the attack before emergency responders arrived. Perhaps they should see with their own eyes the ultimate price their employees sometimes pay.

    Shutting up before I start to rant now. My heart goes out to Mr. Dunn's family, and I pray none of them or anybody who knew him saw the posted videos...

    ReplyDelete
  4. To his credit, our new ATU President Costa was in Tampa meeting with the local and management after this tragedy. This was immediately after the attack. Reports surfaced later that our own GM here hadn’t heard of Mr. Dunn’s murder. Makes me even angrier our “leader” has no clue what happens “out there.” smdmfh

    ReplyDelete
  5. I don’t understand why they can’t follow the rules. More transit police on the buses. Yes!!especially those troubled routes 72 9, 20 Drivers know the lines we need them!

    ReplyDelete

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