Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Investigate Me? Go Ahead, Inept Boneheads!

Where we operate, our "office."
We see all your antics from this lofty perch.
Imagine one of your loved ones killed as the result of impact with a Portland transit vehicle. The mere thought of losing them is enough to drive any of us mad with grief. Invariably, the first thought people have when this happens is, it's the operator's fault.

Ugh! This upsets me at many levels. First, any operator's main goal is to traverse the thousands of obstacles put between us and our end time is to arrive without any incident whatsoever. We are highly-trained and vigilant during our time on duty, determined and committed to keeping our fellow Portlanders safe. Second, we do so with full knowledge of our fellow citizens' inability to watch out for their own safety. This fact alone makes us even more vigilant in watching for imminent disasters.

Now, a terribly unfortunate parent, whose child was tragically struck down by a transit vehicle, has successfully lobbied our legislature to pass a law requiring a panel of non-transit citizens be employed to "investigate" any collision between transit vehicles and the public. No mention was made in this news report as to what the poor lad did to contribute to his tragic early demise. It also failed to report how the MAX operator has replayed the incident thousands of times in his or her recounting of the incident. Chances are very high that the lad was not watching out for his own safety and crossed in front of a moving megaton vehicle. We're very sorry for his loss, but I'm betting that operator saved more lives in their years of operation than they will ever be given credit for.

Why is our transit agency's management not held responsible for educating the public on the dangers of interacting with our heavy vehicles? It is horribly irresponsible in allowing the media to castigate its very operators with whom it is responsible for training (and protecting from unfair public blame) to avoid such disasters. It does very little to educate our fellow citizens on how to be safe, relying on lame and sparse posters rather than taking an active part in warning people of the dangers involved when in the presence, or aboard, our vehicles. In my opinion, given the public's refusal to take responsibility for its own safety, our management should be trumpeting LOUDLY what actions could ultimately save our precious fellow-citizens' lives. But hey, just like the local media, it seems more intent on blaming US rather than taking any responsibility for its own failures. I feel horribly disrespected as a vigilantly-safe operator that my transit agency, and my union, has not taken to the airwaves in defense of our collective vigilance in ensuring YOUR safety. This failure is disgusting at the least, and horribly dangerous to the public at large.

In the past decade, an individual's personal responsibility for their own safety on our streets has deteriorated to the point where it is now someone else's duty to ensure they remain safe. Many operators believe people have grown careless and often foolish in their lack of awareness of the dangers around them. They dart between cars in front of our vehicles, flipping us off and cursing us when we honk to alert them of our presence. Hey folks, we're just trying to let you know that your actions caused us great stress at the thought of your death due to your ridiculously-unsafe actions.

The last thing we want is for you to end up a victim of a collision. We saw you, and likely predicted your foolish stunt, seconds before you committed an act which could have resulted in a fatal interaction between us. Because of our professionalism, your lives are spared thousands of times each day. Yet your inability to recognize this goes unnoticed and largely unappreciated. Then, one horrid incident changes the lives of the loved ones left behind. Once again, the operator is automatically blamed, whether intentional or simply implied via the news media's frenzy to blame anyone but the victim. It's bad business to blame the dead for their own actions leading to their demise. What becomes more important is to find someone else to blame, and that lands squarely upon US. Fuck that, we did everything we could to prevent it!

Note the disrespect from bikeportland's Jonathan Maus, whose quote was both injurious and insulting to the professionalism of Portland's transit operators. "Until now," he wrote on the blog, "the agency has always investigated themselves when one of their light rail or bus operators hurts or kills someone."

Wow, Mr. Maus. While you have in the past accused me of not considering other points of view, this statement mirrors the onus of impartiality pointing directly back toward your own reflection. It implies that any injury or death involving a transit vehicle is automatically the fault of its operator. In most cases, the blame can be laid directly at the hospital bed's feet, or sadly directly within the casket of the victim. Still your words leave no doubt as to your inability to comprehend the degree of probabilities which assail those of us you choose to blame.

Yes, our transit agency takes each incident involving contact with our vehicles seriously. Even when so minor as a mirror strike, our Accident Review committee watches video and determines whether the operator involved was remiss in their duties. If we err in calculating the distance between said mirror and the collision point, we are assessed with a Preventable Accident. This remains on our record forever. If any operator is charged with five of these within a certain period, we are subject to suspension, or more likely, termination. This policy is to ensure operators remain vigilant in our duties, and is always foremost in our minds while operating a transit vehicle. Joe Camaro is nowhere near as safety-conscious as your trusty transit operator.

In the rare (yes, rare) occasion where we make contact with a fellow human being or another vehicle, our review board is even more vigilant in determining what caused it. The prevailing question is: Did the operator do everything possible and as they were trained to do, to prevent it? If we make even one error, it can be assessed a PA. When we appeal this decision, we must prove we did exactly as we were trained to in order to prevent contact. It is a very intense investigation which leads to this moment, and nobody takes their part lightly.

The committee is comprised of managers (who are always on the lookout to castigate us for the tiniest of infractions), operators, safety committee members and union officers. They view video of the incident and discuss every moment before, during and after the incident. How did the operator react prior to contact? Were they aware of everything around and behind of their vehicle? What factors contributed to the incident? The operator involved was immediately pulled and given a random drug/alcohol screening, and that is a vital factor in their deliberations. What of their safety record prior to the incident? What day, what time in their service did this occur? Had they incurred complaints regarding this type of situation before during any point in their career? Were any factors present which would point to the operator's ability to avoid such an incident? They also consider the actions of the "victim(s)." Were they watching their cell phone rather than what was going on around them? Wearing headphones? Arguing with a companion?

We are expected to be professionals, and we are. Believe me, the last thing we want to see is anyone or anything making contact with our vehicles. Yet Mr. Maus' comment implies that we're automatically assailants, or at the worst, murderers.

Oregon City, the birthplace of the West Coast.
Transit operators are fully-trained professionals who take our jobs very seriously. Each year we are subject to "check rides" by trainers who meticulously note every part of our actions at the wheel. They give us pointers, counsel us on bad habits they observe, and give us instruction on anything we need to improve upon. Most operators welcome healthy criticism and work hard to improve every moment we're in service. I certainly do. In addition, we're all taken off the road one day each year to receive additional training and instruction in Recertification Class. This too is the direct result of a grieving parent's insistence that we be held to higher standards than other motorists.

While I agree to the importance of our annual Recertification, management has watered it down so much as to become just an exercise in boorish corporate bullshit, full of edicts from those who have never done the job. This makes it a sad joke among us. If it contained more substantial training regarding the finer points of vehicle operation, it would be more effective. Instead, its recent goal has become to regard those with decades of safe operation as "cowboys" rather than an opportunity to learn from them what their honorable service could teach us all. Once again, the corporate takeover of transit illustrates the blunders of management rather than a celebration and honoring of the wisdom of millions of service miles could offer.

Other classifications of professional drivers are not given as intense scrutiny as your transit operators. And yes, we take it all as seriously as we're expected to. We tend to ignore the corporate bullshit fed us, but perk up when the trainers discuss something pertinent to our jobs.

The one thing that struck me when I heard this news of the TriMet Crash Advisory Committee was, "Sure, okay, but what about when a private motorist strikes and injures or kills another on the roadways we share?" Sure, they're often subject to alcohol/drug screening at the time of the incident, but how often are their driving privileges revoked? When the failure is determined to be the fault of the motorist, they likely retain their right to operate a vehicle, without so much as a slap on the wrist. In our case, our very livelihoods are in jeopardy. A safe and highly-experienced operator could be removed from service in lieu of a horribly unsafe private motorist. And this makes us ALL less safe on the road.

We see so many infractions of motorists who are inexperienced, impatient and foolishly-dangerous in their actions I believe over 50% of them have no business driving. Our trainers taught us the Smith System of Driving, which insists we scan constantly and watch for dangers 12-15 seconds ahead. Those who fail to do so are a liability to everyone else on the road. Where is their motoring ability questioned? In the news media, is there any follow-up as to their driving record or mental state at the time of an incident? No. All that is reported is that a collision occurred, and whether the motorist "was cooperative during the investigation."

I would become disgustingly rich if my profession allowed me to train other motorists how to drive as my father and transit trainers did me. It would cost people $250/hour for my millions of miles of experience instructing them how to become safe and predictive drivers. For 10 hours a day, I would make much more than I do transporting my fellow Portlanders every day. Most of whom I would instruct likely have had multiple citations or collisions on their record. Many would flunk my test, and would make our streets infinitely-safer.

As a former over-the-road tractor-trailer operator and private motorist, I have had one citation and zero collisions in 50 years of driving. Take that into your advisory committee and shove it as far as it will go. Each member of this bullshit council should have their own driving record scrutinized as intensely as those of my fellow operators. I have no qualms about judging you for your horrid actions behind the wheel, because I own the moral high ground here. Plus, I will forever trumpet my fellow operators' safety over yours every moment of every day we're in service. I wear this badge and share it with fellow operators in the utmost pride, when I say I operate my vehicle safely every second I'm in service. If you or one of your loved ones makes a serious mistake in front of my vehicle, rest assured years of service and experience will guide me in ensuring their life continues, as the passengers on my bus avoid injury due to the stupidity of whatever I encounter ahead. If fate dictates the opposite, please do not automatically blame me, because I will do everything I can to save your loved one. It's what we do, every second of our service to our community, here and everywhere we roll.

As for my fellow brothers and sisters who have suffered the horrid scrutiny afforded them at having been unfortunate victims of an incident involving the loss of life, I offer my condolences yet fully support their actions. I am fully aware of the obstacles they face, and confident they did everything they could to avoid the disaster they are unfairly-accused of causing.

If you want to "investigate" us, fine. However, I'm doubtful this can be done impartially. Take that, Mr. Maus and everyone else who believe transit operators are anything but the safest on the road. Your arguments are bunk. I'll remember it every time a bicyclist flips me off after I have saved their unsafe ass. You're welcome, and I wish you a safe journey in spite of yourselves.

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