Look UP Portland! We're Watching, Are You?

Writer's Note: My son told me a bus operator in Seattle read my blog and told him: "Yeah I read a few posts. He talks too much, but he made me laugh. Too much truth there." Well, I have been known to struggle with brevity. Sometimes the job makes me want to vent as much as possible, and the word count often outlasts the average reader. Still, I'm grateful so many of you still read my often-explosive rants. While I lately have been a bit reticent to assail you with my thoughts about the job, it's only because I am picking and choosing my reasons to post, with brevity and single mindedness in mind. I'll try not to wander far this time.

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After my recent post hammering management for its own fault in this operator shortage, I wrote how they basically chased scores of valuable employees away with a ridiculously heavy-handed approach. Two days later, management released an "interim" change in how it will deal with complaints. Truly coincidental I know, yet long-overdue. It's also a bit lighter than we would have preferred. I guess tiny steps are preferable than those backward we have become accustomed to.

While the impending policy change mandates that management actually prove wrongdoing on our part before the complaint actually reaches us, it fails on other levels. The era of high-tech has created a sub-class which expects us to read their minds and stop regardless of their phone-stoned lack of communication. It seems their staring at the device, which has the ability to inform them when their bus is about to arrive, exempts them from a simple hand-wave to alert us as to their intentions while standing/sitting somewhere in the vicinity of a bus stop.

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The past decade has seen the cell phone replace common sense and responsibility. Intending passengers at shared bus stops regularly fail to to signal their intent (or not) to board. The smart phone has become an excuse for outright refusal to accept responsibility for basic common sense. While it is a powerful communication device, its constant use has rendered faced-to-face social interaction, virtually obsolete. It has also replaced engaging conversation with fellow humans. It renders people horribly out-of-touch with their own safety as they stare at a screen more intently than watching what is going on around them. They step into an intersection against a red light while trains and buses approach blaring horns to alert them of their ignorance, imploring them in their self-absorbance to blithely flip off the offending safety warrens for interrupting that incredibly-vital video they're so deeply involved with. Safety to them is evidently only our responsibility, not their own. 

People have somehow forgotten parental lessons taught as children. Look when crossing the street. Don't depend on someone else to safeguard your life. Take responsibility for your own actions. The cellphone has replaced our sense of self-preservation, shoving aside that time-worn affirmation that we're wholly responsible for our own safety. It's easier for some people to assume others are somehow committed to their safely returning home. This is an absurdity of the technologically-addicted beasts we have become this past decade. It's foolish and dangerous, yet it keeps getting worse. People have become more ignorant of their surroundings and dependent upon others to read their minds while they delve too deeply elsewhere from reality.

Countless times I have stopped at a shared bus stop, opened the door and even beeped my horn to get someone's phone-stoned attention, only to have them look annoyed and flip their hand to say "No I don't want your bus" while never even looking up at me. Or conversely, keeping their eyes glued to the phone, stepping aboard (sometimes tripping because they can't be bothered with simple actions) and tapping their fare without even acknowledging my greeting. It's rude, self-centered and demoralizing. Because they are too deeply entranced by a device erroneously labeled "smart", they have rendered themselves hopelessly ignorant.

Transit worldwide has a pressing new task: inform the public How to Behave. Maybe my next book should be titled "How to Behave In or Around a Bus, for The Dummies We Have Become". A phone is a tool, not an acceptable replacement for common sense. 

Our agency's new policy states we should make every effort to bypass somebody's inattentive behavior to give them every opportunity to board. I'm sorry, but if their attention is so diverted as to not communicate with me, why should I carve an extra 15-30 seconds (the time it takes to stop, open then close the door) out of a trip which is already late due to unprepared passengers, heavy traffic and/or any number of other conditions? Why should I further inconvenience those aboard who were actually prepared when I rolled up?

When someone files a complaint they were "passed up" it's usually their own damn fault. Bleakly dark is the common fashion color choice. Coupled with someone sitting in a dark shelter, or 10-20 yards from the POLE (the actual bus stop), their hooded heads bowed in reverence to whatever social media has them hypnotized, the quick glance of the most actively-scanning operator is likely to totally miss their presence. The cell phone has become a replacement for personal responsibility. Miss the bus? Blame the operator. That's the status quo these days, and transit management has seemed intent on supporting this insulting stance for several years. It still employs managers whose main goal seems to punish operators for insisting upon a 100-year-old transit reality which insists passengers be ready-to-board when a loud 20-ton beast rolls to a stop just feet from their inattentive asses. 

"What, they couldn't SEE me? Are they blind?!?"

Yes, dumbass, that is somewhat correct. You are likely invisible to the safety-conscious operator who is busy scanning a 180-degree field of vision to ensure we don't plow into some pedestrian or other phone-stoned motorist while fluidly-glancing at a bus stop to see if responsible transit passengers awaited, lit up and fare-ready at the actual bus stop (the POLE is the actual STOP, people, NOT inside a dark and unlit shelter). I would love to see our Customer Service reps working the incoming calls given training on how to turn frivolous complaints into teachable moments for the nitpicking public.

While recent policy changes seem to favor the operator, still lurks the chance that irresponsibility of  passengers is likely to overwhelm basic common sense. Hey, this wasn't even a thing 10 years ago, yet now we're the bad guys because technology has rendered irresponsibility supreme? Wise up, transit passenger intendees: it's YOUR responsibility to be at the bus stop 2-3 minutes early, fare ready and alert enough to signal an approaching bus of your intention to board. If you're late and running to the stop on the CORRECT side of the street, wave and alert us your intention to board. Most of us will stop for you. I will usually split the distance between you and the stop because I hate to leave folks behind who are actively trying to board.

It is NOT the operator's duty to read your phone-stoned mind. Get a GRIP on that technology in your hand! It can pinpoint our arrival by using any one of several transit apps that track any bus or train's location to the minute. It also has the ability to shine a light upon your intentions at dark stops.

Bus Operators are not stupid. We've seen EVERY excuse for a failure to show fare. We no longer care. Just get aboard, quickly and politely. The faster we can close the door and move the bus, the better. A long-awaited break awaits us at the end of the line. I gotta pee like a racehorse, buddy. Your excuses are not anything I haven't heard before. We're not supposed to give a damn if you can't pay. A simple acknowledgement of our existence is appropriate. Every passenger's click at the door is partially paid for by federal dollars. We're too busy ensuring your safe passage to worry about money.

The next time you're waiting at a bus stop, prepare yourself for our arrival. Check your transit app (I use PDX Bus) to see when the next bus will arrive. If it's a shared stop, please signal operators of different lines than yours that you don't need them to stop (use the karate chop to the neck and shake your head). Bring up your fare app and get it ready to tap. Watch for the bus and when you see it, pick up your belongings and stand at the pole. That way, all you need to do is step aboard, fare up and find your seat. By the time you sit down, the bus will be rolling again. That's efficiency, and how we are able to keep on schedule.

Wise up, transit riding public. Stop blaming US for your inefficient attention span and look UP from that damn phone on occasion. You might actually see something worthwhile you won't find on any social media platform. Portland is a beautiful city, with plenty of social entertainment worth watching. I see it every minute I'm behind the wheel, because my office on six wheels has the greatest view of any other in town. Come join me in a moment of blissfully technological absence. Watch me get you there, safely. Oh, and you're welcome.


  1. Yesssssss! So well said!

  2. Thats my neighbor!

  3. A operator laughed at me when I said I slow down at each stop where I see people I have two SIP's in 8 years I just drive and assume every person want's the bus this job is easy if you just keep your mouth shut and drive I open the door to everyone and go home safe every night.


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