Tag Archives: drivers

Bus driver as superhero

There are not enough words in my limited (yet stank) vocabulary to describe the level of nonsense bus riders in my neighborhood have endured since the Seattle Department of Transportation embarked upon its interminable 23rd Avenue Corridor improvement project.

Theoretically, after the work is done, the streets will be better and safer for all users, though those users will not necessarily be the people who are enduring the construction chaos. Independent businesses are stretched to the breaking point, and, as anyone in a gentrifying/fied city knows well, improvements almost always result in even more displacement.

I digress.

Bitterness aside, safer crossings, wider sidewalks, smoother pavement, and whatever other stuff work crews have been doing for the past 11 months (and counting) are good. What is not good is how bus riders have been affected by the poorly managed — and terribly communicated — construction. Bus routes are constantly rerouted and re-rerouted, with precious little (if any) notice. Riders wait for long periods at stops that have been closed because signs are placed in locations where most riders are unlikely to look.* Those who are fortunate enough to learn about a closures in advance often go to the updated pickup point, only to have the drivers blow right past them, apparently unaware that passengers of their route will be waiting there. And don’t get me started on the reroutes that happen mid-ride.

I am not telling you all of this to complain about SDOT’s and Metro’s poor coordination and communication (OK, maybe I am a little) but instead to provide context for yet another example of why bus drivers who are good at their (incredibly difficult) job are so important to our community.

Last week, our family went out to dinner to celebrate Bus Nerd’s birthday. While we waited for the 3, which was supposed to be arriving in a couple of minutes, a Metro supervisor arrived — I assume to put up signage — and let us know that SDOT was closing the street at that very moment. Before the work crew could finish putting out the barrier, a bus came through the intersection. The bus was out of service, heading back to base, but the driver pulled over to ask the supervisor what was happening. (Not surprisingly, he hadn’t been notified of the closure.)

After the supervisor told him what was up, the driver offered to take us to our destination, which was less than a mile down the same street. A woman who had been waiting at the stop with us tentatively told him she was going downtown. He smiled and waved her on board.

“I’ll get you there,” he said. (Indeed.)

I have no doubt that it had been a long day for that driver.** He was probably ready to be finished with passengers and stop-and-go travel and hightail it back to the base for some rest (and a bathroom break). But, he proceeded to stop at every stop along the road, picking up folks who would otherwise have been waiting (and waiting!) with no clue what was going on. He did his best to answer their questions, despite his limited knowledge of the situation. And he did it with a smile.

I didn’t post about it on the big day this year, so now seems as good a time as any to say: Damn straight they deserve a holiday.

***
* I wish I had a photo of the most egregious example of this, which was at the 27/8 stop in my neighborhood. Unfortunately, the camera on my six(+)-year old phone is no longer working.
** When you’re a bus driver, every day is long, regardless of the number of hours you put in.

My kind of bus driver appreciation

Since today is all about appreciating drivers, I want to tell you guys about an idea that I’ve had for many years but have never been organized (or brave) enough to act on.

You know those firefighter calendars? The ones that feature smokin’ hot first responders lounging around the fire house conveniently missing most of their gear? Yeah, those.

We need one for bus drivers. Seriously. I mean, we’ve all seen at least one driver (or six) we we’d like to “appreciate” up close, right?

firefighters

Imagine this–with bus drivers! (Photo credit: @emilyrahimi)

The calendar could be used to raise money for a transit-related nonprofit, or the ATU—shoot, for some dang bathrooms for our superheroes to use.

We’d need to find a pro bono photographer, of course. And we’d need a way to identify candidates and/or invite them to participate–other than approaching them, stalker-style, while they’re trying to do their jobs, that is. And someone would have to prevent me from giving the calendar a completely inappropriate (but hilarious) name.

But just imagine if we pulled it off!

Who’s with me? If we start now, we could definitely have it together by December.

A driver holiday by any other name…

Today is the seventh year that Bus Driver Appreciation Day has been a thing. In the last couple of years, it has really picked up steam, with transit agencies from across the country–including King County Metro–promoting the day. Along with the agency involvement has come a minor, seemingly innocuous change to the name of the celebration–to Transit Driver Appreciation Day.

No.

Of course all transit drivers are fantastic and important and blahblahblah, but the purpose of this day, March 18th, is to honor BUS drivers. A good bus driver is like a superhero. Maneuvering a gigantic vehicle in traffic while managing passenger needs, trying to keep a schedule, not kill anyone, and deal with occasional (or not-so-occasional) drama has got to be ridiculously difficult—especially if you never get to go to the bathroom.

As for me and mine: We’ll stick with the original name.

C & B heart bus drivers

When “growing up” = getting behind the wheel

This morning, NPR ran a story about a teenager’s first time driving herself to school. A reporter followed Rebecca Rivers, a high school junior in Canton, NY, from the breakfast table to the parking lot of her high school. (It wasn’t my idea of riveting journalism, but then again, I recently wrote a post about all the parks I visited on the bus this summer. To each her own.) The point of the piece was to focus on an important “rite of passage” in the life of an American child.

During the interview, Rebecca talks about why the milestone of driving solo is so important for her.

When you’re driving a car, you’re totally in control—I mean except for the other drivers. You’re in control, and you get to decide which roads you drive on and which route you take home and where you stop, and there’s something incredibly wonderful about that.

While I can certainly relate to her feelings of exhilaration—I experienced those same feelings when I learned to drive (well) over two decades ago—I would argue that they have very little to do with controlling a vehicle and very much to do with experiencing a first taste of independence.

Much of the reason we associate cars with freedom and control (despite the fact that they have actually stripped us of control of our communities) is because we have created a culture in which they are required for mobility. Kids can’t wait to drive because they want to go somewhere without an adult.

Would this first solo drive have meant so much–Would it even have happened?–if Rebecca had grown up with a bicycle and safe, dedicated paths to ride on? Or if there was a frequent, reliable, free (!) transit system in her town? Or if she had been given the freedom to get around without her parents before she was old enough to drive? Or if there were more constraints on when, where, and how fast cars could travel?

We’ll never know. What we do know is that very few kids in this country grow up with dedicated bicycle infrastructure or frequent, reliable transit–or, for that matter, the freedom to take advantage of the options that are available. Instead, they are shuttled to every destination in the back seat of the family car.

As we continue to indoctrinate our children into an archaic, inefficient, dangerous, and irresponsible transportation system, we are dooming them to a future of poor health, frustration, isolation, and unprecedented environmental catastrophe.

We can and must do better.

Eastbound 3, 4:30 PM (or, Learning to love sardines)

As a veteran bus rider, I have had to deal with my share of unpleasant travel experiences. Like most sane people, I dislike bad bus rides. But—and I preface this comment by acknowledging that I have a rather unconventional world view—for me, it is often the “unpleasant” bus experiences that reinforce everything I love about the bus.

Case in point: Our Friday afternoon trip home from summer camp at Seattle Center. The kids and I decided that we could not endure one more stop-and-go, 45-minute ride on the 8 (the beautiful* thing about Seattle buses is that they sit in the same traffic as Seattle cars), so we zoomed downtown on the Monorail in the hope we’d find a 27 waiting for us when we arrived. We weren’t fortunate enough to catch our infrequent favorite route, but we didn’t have to wait long for a bus; the 3 pulled up less than a minute after we arrived at the stop.

There are few bus experiences less pleasant than a rush-hour ride on an overcrowded, stuffy, slow-moving trolley in the middle of summer. Except, that is, a rush-hour ride on an overcrowded, stuffy, slow-moving trolley in the middle of summer—with two amped-up, overtired young children in tow.

The bus was standing room only when we boarded at Pine. As we started to make our way to a decent hanging-on point, two passengers in the front got up to give us room to sit together. As I sat with Busling on my lap, Chicklet next to me, and our bags at my feet, more and more people crowded on.

By the time we reached James, Busling was asleep, and Chicklet was engrossed in a comic. I silently thanked the bus gods for what was shaping up to be a complaint-free journey. Unfortunately, they weren’t as kind to the 10 people waiting to board at the courthouse. Though we had long since run out of room, the driver jumped on the mic and asked all of us “channel our inner sardines.” Everybody chuckled and squeezed back farther. We managed to fit three more before he shrugged apologetically and closed the doors.

Those of us fortunate enough to be riding managed to keep our cool, despite being pretty dang hot. I offered to help a man overloaded with stuff and struggling to find space. He slid his backpack under my feet next to our bags and handed me his container of takeout, then looked at Chicklet and said, “I have six of those.” (He meant daughters, not My Little Pony comics, as I originally assumed.) As we crept along, I learned that his children ranged in age from 26 to 10, and one of them was turning 24 that very day. He had already called to wish her a happy birthday.

Everywhere around us, riders were having similar interactions. It was one of those magical rides where folks made room, made conversation, and made the best of things. For the time we were together, we formed a tiny, temporary community.

What’s a little crowding compared?

*And by beautiful, I mean idiotic.

Thanks for the ride

It is hard to put into words how much our bus family appreciates the hard-working men and women who get us where we’re going safely, day after day. Our prayers are with Mr. Deloy Dupuis, the 64 year-old 27 driver who was shot in the face while doing his job yesterday morning. We also pray for the family of the shooter, Martin Duckworth, who was killed by police shortly after the incident—and for an end to the senseless gun violence that plagues our nation.

KC Metro’s finest, part VI

There are few Metro press releases I look forward to more than the Operator of the Year announcement (OK, there are few Metro press releases I look forward to other than the Operator of the Year announcement. But still.) That is why I was surprised when, this afternoon, one of my coworkers casually mentioned the latest recipient as if he were old news. Folks, I am late (with this, as with everything these days), but in case you haven’t already heard…

2012 Operator of the Year

The 2012 OOY is Robert Duncan, a(nother) Seattle OG and 30-year Metro veteran. Mr. Duncan is apparently a “smooth operator” (though not the smooth operator) who drives the 311.

“Robert joins Metro’s elite group of top drivers – the best of the best,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine. “He knows the system inside and out, and customers appreciate and depend on his reliability and helpfulness.”

Duncan is a Redmond resident who works at Metro’s East Base in Bellevue. He was born in Seattle and attended Roosevelt High School, North Seattle Community College and the Washington Police Academy. He first joined Metro in 1977, and drove part- and full-time routes in three stints spanning about 30 years. He recently earned a 28-year safe driving award.
These days, Duncan drives Route 311 part-time. That means his “decades of experience and knowledge are still on the road, and that’s a big benefit to customers,” said Metro Transit Operations Manager Jim O’Rourke.

Commendations and kudos from customers and colleagues say Duncan is a “smooth operator” who “does a great job” and “is a plus for Metro.”

To be a good bus operator, you have to be a people person, said Metro General Manager Kevin Desmond. “Robert exemplifies Metro’s 2,700 drivers – he’s a driver who loves his job and cares about our customers.

Congratulations (and thank you!), Mr. Duncan.

My (second) favorite holiday

Bus Driver Appreciation Day is around the corner–March 18th, to be exact. Don’t forget to show your bus drivers some love.

Not sure how to express your appreciation? Here are a few tips.

1. Say “thank you.” Many of us already take the time to thank our drivers as we get off the bus. (These days, the rear exit system in King County makes this more difficult for KC Metro riders, but some of us still shout it out.) On the holiday, make a special effort to thank your drivers when you board the bus. Something simple like, “Happy Bus Driver Appreciation Day,” or “Thank you for your service,” is all it really takes to acknowledge your drivers’ hard work—and maybe even make their day.
2. Be a good bus citizen. Make your driver’s day easier by helping someone on or off, giving up your seat for an elderly or disabled passenger without being asked, or picking up trash if you find some near your seat.
3. Submit a commendation. If your bus driver does a great job, let the agency know. Commendations are tracked, included in drivers’ files, and are often considered as part of operator of the month/year decisions. Most transit agencies have an easy way to do this through their website. Or, simply pick up the phone and call.
4. Put up a sign. Create a handmade sign or banner to put up somewhere along your favorite bus route. That way, all the drivers who cover the route will feel the love.
5. Give a small token. Some agencies have policies against giving drivers gifts, but we’ve heard from a number of drivers that cards and small, edible treats are very much appreciated.

If I get Smooth Jazz on Monday, I’m giving him this.

10 years in

This month marks the 10-year anniversary of my full-time relationship with Metro. The milestone snuck up on me, which is actually a good thing, since I’m not in the mood for a retrospective, and I don’t have any wise words about what I’ve learned in a decade of living, working, and parenting without a car. Honestly (in case the five full months without a post didn’t clue you in) I haven’t felt much like writing about the bus at all.

What’s on my mind most of the time is how our family is going to continue to make this bus life work. We’ve lost a lot that we counted on: two of our nearest bus stops, frequency and hours of operation on two of our most-used routes. If the legislature decides–for the fifth year in a row–not to let local communities decide how to fund their own transit service, we stand to lose much, much more.

And we’re not the only ones. All over the state, people are losing transit service they rely on, while we profess a desire to care for our most vulnerable citizens and wring our hands over global warming, air pollution, and ocean acidification. The fact that transit advocates have to scrap and hustle (and beg) just to get enough money to preserve basic bus service leaves little hope that we will ever find the will to make the long overdue, revolutionary changes our transportation system desperately needs.

So the thing is, I’ve been tired–of trying to make things work with diminished access and diminished service, and of fighting an uphill battle to fund transit statewide. I allowed myself to feel discouraged. And really, really angry.

But then, I had coffee with Christine.

Like me, Christine is a bus chick. Unlike me (knock wood), Christine is expecting. Earlier this year, she contacted me over the internets to pick my brain about busing with babies, and I was more than happy to share what I know. I suggested meeting for coffee, because I knew she’d never read the 300 pages I would have typed if I had shared my thoughts over email. I don’t like to brag, but if there was such a thing as a PhD in riding transit with kids, folks would be addressing me as Dr. Bus Chick.

But I digress.

At some point during our conversation, Christine remarked on the relative dearth of negative posts on my seven-year old blog and noted that I almost never write about the challenges of bus parenting. I do intentionally try to keep my blog positive, but until my chat with her, I hadn’t really considered why.

It’s not that there aren’t challenges (are there ever!). It’s not that I am trying to paint an unrealistic picture of what it is like to parent without a car. It’s not even that I have an optimistic nature (see above). I tend to write about the positive side of carfree parenting because the challenges of living this way are already known—or at least, they are imagined.

There is a reason why so many people think I’m crazy. Why I’ve been interviewed for TV and radio for doing something that thousands of parents in this county do every single day. Why, after a decade of watching us live this way, friends and family still regularly offer us rides. It is because most people who have a choice would choose differently. This means they have already considered, imagined, and just plain made up all of the reasons why it would be stressful and inconvenient to try to get around with two kids and no car.

What most people haven’t considered is just how exhilarating, bond-enhancing, and three-dimensional it is to ride the bus with your children. How your kids get to experience their city from ground level. How they come to know each season intimately. How they run into church members, neighbors, school mates, family friends, and medical assistants from their pediatrician’s office. How so many of the regular drivers recognize them and give them suckers and transfers and high fives. How they learn every sidewalk crack, every overgrown bush, and every window display in your neighborhood. How they love the silly games you make up to pass the long waits. How you have time to read them so many books that soon they are reading books to you. How you can hold them close and talk in their ears and smell their hair while all of you zoom past the Space Needle, or across a bridge, or through a tunnel.

That is what I write about because that is what I know. It is why I ride. And it’s why I never stay tired for long.