Celebrating My Return to Line Training

Patrick's Note: Seems I've wandered from this blog of late, but it remains with me each heartbeat. Where I once flooded these pages with posts, now I write occasionally. After a long week of helping new hires smooth out their skills, I'm full of newfound hope for Portland transit.

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Life as a bus operator is more than rolling through the curves and bouncing over Portland's ill-kept pavement. It's a deep connection with those whose lives comprise a city's heartbeat. 

As I have become a decade-long guardian of passenger safety, my own soul has been through dozens of catharses. Rolling through the best, and worst of times, dodging physical or idealogical bullets. Weavinga safe roll through a myriad of angry protesters demanding we strive to do better for one another, I have felt the city's pulse. I have also contributed to it whether consciously or viscerally. 

Along the thousands of miles logged, I have made scores of deep connections with Portland's enchanting residents. Some have become friends, even as decades-hardened operators once warned me against cultivating such connections. It's just how I have always rolled, folks. If you're intriguing, I will engage you. If we connect, it's a wonderful moment in time. Some of these casual relationships may take extended time to develop. Once they realize I consistently guide them safely to their destination, the bars which isolate them from my constantly heartfelt greetings gradually bend. Only to dissolve, as they realize I truly care their  safety. Even those who cause trouble on my ride deserve the best I can offer.

After a two-year hiatus from accepting trainees onto my ride, I recently resumed Line Training. After decades of only adding one dollar per hour for this valuable service to Portland transit, they finally raised it by 350%. Management changed our title to "Line Coach", but I resent that. To guide newbies, give them the benefit of my experience and resulting knowledge of this profession, is not "coaching". It is the final stage of their "training". Their weeks of prior training propelled them into my world. They have progressed to the point where they are ready to experience what I do every day "out there". 

Random image in marble,
downtown restroom. To me,
it resembles the face of
a new transit operator
facing the rigors
of our profession.

Throughout the shift I teach them how to refine what they have been taught, through my own perspective and experience. Each Line Trainer provides them tips gleaned through many miles of mistakes and lessons learned. In some ways, our discussions can be even more valuable than what they have already been taught. While my Trainer's words remain a decade later in the recesses of my memory, those of my Line Trainers echo even louder for they come with real-life experiences.

Teaching others helps me slip out of bad habits, for I don't want to teach someone to do this job incorrectly. No matter how we may believe our years make us better, time also can guide us down the wrong paths. So this added responsibility forces me to guide my Beast even safer than before. Win-win on both ends, I hope.

The past week, I have been treated to four new operators on my bus. Each has survived not only a rigorous interview process but also six weeks of intense training where half their class may have been cut. Only the cream rises to attain Line Trainee status. Even then, some may not make the final cut. Of a class of 30, maybe only half will actually graduate. A Line Trainer not only teaches, but consoles fears of failure through calm guidance. We advise these new hires how to avoid pitfalls, mistakes which could cost them not only a job but also another's serious injury or death.

To those who ride our vehicles, be assured the Operator is much more than the "monkey" some think are capable of providing your safe ride. When I began this strange odyssey in 2012, we only had one "Hell Week" of Line Training. Now, newbies must endure 10 days of possibly the most-stressful part of their training. It's a good thing Management has done here. Extending Line Training will result in more-confident new hires likely to progress long past their probation, while prior classes probably resulted in only a 25-30% success rate.

Our newest Operators now graduate straight into full time work 50-70 hours a week, rather than being restricted to Mini Runs (30 hours). Many are immediately thrown onto the Extra Board, where they will have a minimum of 15 minutes to prepare for a route they have never experienced. With that extra week of Line Training, they are more apt to survive the treacherous rigors than their predecessors have. Although it's rare, I find myself applauding upper management for this decision to extend training during perhaps its most-valuable segment.

My best wishes to all four this past week's students on my bus: Armando, Luis, Ben and Matt. Each of you has some work to do yet, but I'm confident in your abilities and I'm sure you will excel to achieve decades of safe service. Just remember my mantra. Adapt it to fit your own soul, but it has buoyed me through some of my toughest moments on the job:

"Be Safe. Be Kind. Be Considerate. Be Thoughtful. Be Polite. Be PATIENT. Be Vigilant. Be Smart. Be Smooth. But above all, Be Safe."


  1. A two year hiatus. Found out the extra pay was raised by “350%” so you figured you’d give it another stab since the pay increased. So very noble of you sir. Hopefully you can now feel like your worth your pay. A true noble act would be willing to do it even at the old rate.

  2. It’s “noble” to provide a valuable service for free? No. That’s called being a sucker. My time and expertise ain’t free.

  3. Much like the railroad, the more "real life" training the newbies can get the more likely they will survive. Money well spent.


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