Deke's Note: Some of you might be thinking, "Has Deke finally lost his mind?" Perhaps it was lost long ago, but I keep on because I cannot believe this is how things should be. It's just an inner flame which has always smoldered within, urging me to argue against ridiculousness. Many of you agree, some maybe not, that transit could be better if an actual front line worker was at the helm. Some of you have actively argued against my quest given a lack of "managerial" experience. I get it. But still, my devotion is more to you than to any personal ambition. I'm tired of our being disrespected and held down when our efforts make their jobs possible. If YOU won't take this step, then I MUST. It stems from my parents' beliefs that bullshit can be overpowered with common sense and dedication to honorable principles. If we allow the current situation to continue, we might as well consent to irrelevance. I refuse.
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How do we move forward with a fresh face at the helm? Hire one who has not risen through the ranks of Corporata. It begins with a thorough shakedown of the status quo. It would be a massive shift from top-down to bottoms-up, leaving the metropolitan populace with more questions than answers at first.
We are not beings accustomed to radical change. We have lost our collective ability to adapt to massive shifts in what has become normal. This past year has challenged our collective sense of what should be versus what is. We're more adaptive than we give ourselves credit for. Instead of fearing such a massive shift in leadership, I ask you to instead consider it could work.
You Know Your Job Best
As GM, I would surround myself with many of you who consistently trumpet innovation. Initially, I would leave the regulatory to the bureaucrats as I learn its intricacies. It may seem risky, but I learn quickly. I can smell bullshit miles distant. My main goal would be to re-structure the wheel and immediately begin mending the fences between management and union membership. How, you ask?
I believe the most pressing issue is R-E-S-P-E-C-T. First, immediately moving from a ceremonially-distanced office, my place of business would revert to the Garages. I would move from each location daily, opening my door to those who have been distanced from "leadership" for decades. Since transparency is the greatest way of instilling trust and earning respect, my goal would be to roam amongst those who roll wheels. I would encourage people to speak up about what they believe could help us all, and study each suggestion. Many would be implemented immediately, others given every opportunity to become reality. I would hire several front line workers to replace those currently above us who have stumbled.
Most important, I would not, could not, leave the union which represents us. I would insist dues be deducted from my paycheck, therefore keeping me part of an institution which has long outlived the transit agency by 50+ years. This would demand my focus be upon those whose dedication makes non-union jobs possible in transit. It would make me even more accountable to the ideals I present here: total restructuring of the transit wheel.
It would be best if Customer Service included a full-time, experienced Operator on rotation in the call center. This department should be given full-investigatory power to look at tapes and listen to audio, to determine who exactly was driving at the time. They should be allowed to contact the complainant during the investigation. If complaining passenger is found to be misrepresentative, uneducated as to transit code, or simply lacking in common sense, the complaint should be turned into a teaching moment. Before any complaint is received by an Operator, it should be fully-investigated as to accuracy. This would eliminate the common "Bullshit!" response by an Operator. We all know when we screw up and when we are simply insisting on passenger compliance.
If a complaint is found to be false or a misunderstanding of transit reality, it should fall upon Customer Service to call the complainant, educate them on the rules of transit and thank them for calling. Period. If for some reason a complaint is determined to warrant Operator interaction, it should be done from a less-drastic point of view. Perhaps the Operator did do something warranting correction, but is more a Teachable Moment than disciplinary. If an Operator shows a pattern, they should be given every opportunity to correct it before any action be taken against them.
As GM, I would direct that NO suspensions or terminations would happen without my approval. Until management learns how to lead correctly without unnecessary punitive actions, The Buck Would Stop Here.
Passengers Have Responsibilities
Transit is not a right; it is a paid service and a privilege. With privileges come responsibilities. We need to re-instill respect for the front line workers rather than allowing the riding public to overrule transit authority. In turn, front line workers should be given back the power to rule the road, rather than having to second-guess a largely-inconsistent management. There is a time-honed manner of transit: passengers should know what is expected of them, and respect the ride. Period.
I would insist passengers adhere to the Code of Conduct. Be ready to ride, pay fare, and behave. It's simple. Don't argue with the Operator, don't cause trouble. Be expelled from the ride, suffer an exclusion for a month. Repeat offenders would see a stiffer penalty. Third strike would result in permanent exclusion. No whining, appeal or special treatment. Attack an operator? Immediate and permanent exclusion from riding any transit vehicle. Pack up and leave the city.
The pendulum of responsibility has swung too far toward the pampering the miscreants it discourages decent people from riding transit vehicles. Remove the problem, increase ridership. Show some resolve, and the trouble-causers might think twice before disrupting the ride. Too many Portlanders are wary of riding because our transit management is too soft on those emboldened by a lack of authority. Reward the responsible riders and remove the troublemakers.
Increasing transit police presence is imperative. Attacks on front line workers have increased dramatically over the past several years. Management has gutted the transit police, under pressure from a community vested in the "All Cops are Bastards" movement. They call for "defunding the police" without any comprehension as to what that means for the law-abiding public. Yes, I agree unnecessary violence in policing is a problem needing immediate reversal. It doesn't mean we should turn to "community policing" because this could lead to a vigilante-style society which does nobody justice.
A decimated transit police division puts transit workers in grave danger. Our lives depend upon protection because we are not allowed to protect ourselves. Don't believe me? Just ask any of over 200 transit workers who were attacked in 2020. Many have been suspended or even fired because the "Operator used excessive force" when defending themselves against an attacker. I'm sorry, but if someone is attacking me, they deserve my full defensive excesses, no matter the damage I inflict upon my assailant. If someone uses a deadly weapon in an attack, an Operator should be afforded equal force in defending ourselves, because of course we cannot have any weapon on our person. Nor can we flee, stuck in a small space with little room to maneuver.
Leave Fido at Home
It is irresponsible to those with true service animals to allow people to bring their pet aboard without fear of reprisal. A Service Animal is one that has been intensely-trained to serve someone with special needs. Someone who brings an untrained pet aboard is an irresponsible danger to all on board. If their dog attacks a Service Animal, they are putting a person with disabilities at severe risk. A disabled, or God forbid, dead Service Animal causes great distress to its associated human. It has happened many times where a Service Animal has been attacked by Fido. The flimsy "he's my companion animal" excuse should never be allowed. Every pet is a companion. A Service Animal is a faithful, highly-trained servant.
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To summarize, our new GM must have credible working knowledge of the real world in transit to effectively lead this, or any, public transit agency. I'm not easily impressed with someone who has a lofty résumé full of VP/Manager/Master's/or similar credentials. We have suffered enough under their collective inability to understand rubber or rails. Let them fill positions where their experience is needed. Make the GM a leader of people who understands the human element of transporting people.
My father was once in middle-management. He was a Manager for the State of Arizona and was tasked with hiring people whose job was to help others. He was widely-respected and loved by those he managed, simply because he trusted them to do the right thing. When they made a mistake, he gently corrected them. Dad taught me, "You are bound to make mistakes in life, and good people will train them out of you. Poor management will punish you unnecessarily."
I'm not sure I want to meet those in current positions of upper management, because I might not like what I see. Given the opportunity to lead our transit agency, I would look long and hard into the souls of those entrusted with your safety, and act accordingly. My only hope is when you look into mine, you'll like what you see.
* * * * *NEXT UP: Part Three will focus on implementing changes which positively affect those who have been negatively-effected by decades-long cuts in benefits transit workers earn. I would also launch fixes to improve this high-stress occupation, including health and child care, apprentice programs, retirement benefits and the value of honoring those with decades of experience. Stay tuned.