- By now everyone knows the 65/67 schedule is among the worst in the system. At least, passengers and drivers know. Scheduling knows too, but their data shows 70% of its trips run on time, and the only reason that could be true is due to operators killing themselves to keep schedule. When I’ve driven it, I’ve noticed behaviors like these:
- My leader leaving early, thus forcing me to pick up more passengers.
- My leader not pulling out at all, “hiding,” as it were, so that I go in front of her/him and have to do all the work, picking up the double load of both their people and mine.
- Trips that would normally pass Nathan Hale High School when it lets out “hiding,” not pulling out, so that I have to go in front of them and get slammed with students.
- Worst offender: an operator who combined much of the above and went one further. She sat at Northgate, leaving right behind me instead of the correctly scheduled 10 minutes in front of me, only picking up passengers when I forced them on her via skip-stopping… and who then vanished into thin air just before we hit UW Light Rail, instead deadheading back to base via Montlake Blvd and I-5. I was left with over a hundred people at the light rail station and only a 40-footer to carry them in. Unconscionable.
- Here’s another one from across the lake, smacking of a similar stench of laziness: Bellevue Base operators veteran enough to know better than to leave Issaquah 8 minutes early, so that they slip in right behind an inbound 271 starting at Eastgate, such that they don’t have to pick anyone up all the way through Bellevue. Meanwhile, passengers who needed them in Issaquah have missed them due to the unexpected early departure.
Gosh, these guys are in a hurry to get to the terminal. What's so exciting about the U District layover?
Then there’s downtown.
- Why do I see diesel operators blowing past their fellow trolley operators putting up poles? Do they know how tricky that is? Why don’t they get out and help, or at least use their coach to block the roadway from cars getting too close to their fellow operator in the street?
- The one that still nags at me is a northbound 70 who, at 11:30 at night, skipped northbound 3rd and Pike, the most important bus stop in the city, blowing past passengers with destinations, forcing them to wait for the next bus at a time and place where you really don’t want to be kept waiting around. I couldn’t believe it. The folks on the street were nonplussed. Maybe he was new, or forgot, or didn’t know any better?
- Nope. When I got to the U District terminal, I saw the same coach. I knew his piece of work had one final inbound trip, but instead of running it, I saw him turn right on 45th and head for I-5, to deadhead back to Base. Why didn’t I call it in? I’m too nice.
- Another night my leader on the 7/49 came back to me. A nice new fellow, younger hapa man like myself.
“No, why? Who is it?”
“I dunno, but he’s skipping the first few stops of every trip. He’s not picking up the guys here, or at Henderson.”
“Oh my gosh,” I said. “That's ridiculous. He doesn't want sleepers, is that what it is? Or street guys? He's not supposed to only pick up people that he likes!" I snorted at the very concept. "He should just suck it up and do the friggin' work!"
2. The Big Idea
In my opinion, trying to remember a lot of little rules isn't as effective as remembering one big idea. Don't bother trying to retain everything in this post. Let's just focus on the big idea. What’s the big idea? This is the big idea.
As in, the verb. Do the work like you give a [expletive of your choice]. Like you care. About the people, about your coworkers, about yourself. Take some pride in your work. All the actions above share a common element: laziness.
Does being lazy and incompetent make you feel better? No. It’s no way to pass through the years. That’ll wear your identity of yourself down to something small and ugly, and you won’t like what you see in the mirror. Maybe you’re already there. The way out is to feel good about what you do, and the impact it has on others.
In other words, the big idea is: Work together. Slow down. You don’t need to blast down 3rd, passing coaches on the right and cutting them off, like the 70 I share 3rd with every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evening. I have no idea what’s so exciting to him about 3rd and Main that he’s in such a mad rush to get there. I’m genuinely terrified when he zips around me, whipping that 60,000 pound vehicle around like it was a plastic Tonka at the beach. Doesn’t it feel better to drive slower? To have less stress, not more? Am I crazy or something?
3. Always Forever Now
It’s not about rushing. These aren’t taxis. You’re paid by the minute, not by how dangerously you get there. Maybe you've been told that your job is to get people from point A to point B.
That is incorrect.
Your job is transport people safely between point A and point B. You don't have to get them to point B. You won't be penalized if something happens and you can't get them there. You just have to run it safely and provide good customer service right now. This block. It's about the quality of time spent while you're getting them there.
Passengers don’t know this, but operators do: breaking your back driving fast will give you almost zero time difference in terms of terminal arrival time. Sure, you got to Henderson two minutes earlier and made an extra green light. But was that really worth it?
Take your time. And remember that your actions have real ramifications to the operators in front of and behind you. If you leave early, you're making things tough for your follower. She’ll have to carry what ought to be your people. This of course makes things tough for passengers too.
If you catch up to your leader, get close to him so you can help him, get some of his people, and take the load off. He should know to skip zones where he doesn’t have dropoffs, which is where you can swoop in and help out. You don’t even have to pass him. I love helping other operators. It makes me feel great, part of something.
4. Let’s end with some Positive Examples.
- I love telling an exhausted Mary at the U District terminal, as I once did when she was having a truly awful day, “Mary, just relax. Go get a sandwich and zone out for an extra 10 minutes and leave after me. I’ll do a double load this trip.” The way her face lit up; someone cared about her. She wasn’t alone.
- Or working something out together. I caught up to Marina northbound on 3rd, and we worked it out between us, all smiles: “Why don't you deadhead to Broadway, and I'll get all of all the downtown people. Faster for everyone, right?” She was thrilled, and able to catch up on schedule.
- Letting buses in for the hard turn on Bell. Or 15th and 45th. Giving room for opposing bus to turn– and seeing them wave thanks to you.
- I remember myself and another operator putting up a third guy's poles, over and over again. He must’ve had a faulty bus. We went all the way up 3rd like this. We laughed about it. He was so appreciative. Doesn’t it feel good to be less alone?
- The wave of gratitude I get from a passing operator when I use the side wire at southbound Union or Jackson and they’re able to pass.
- Or the pleasure of untangling someone’s ropes. Helping them by showing them you can use adjacent wire to get around a deadspot, or here’s how to restart a coach. Or let’s figure out what’s going on here, together. Do we need to wait for air. Is the door air release turned off by accident. These moments are lot less stressful with someone else there in support.
5. Help other bus drivers.
Help them with their sleepers. Help them with their poles. One day, you will need their help. We're on the same team. Let your fellow operator in on 3rd Avenue. Help your leader with the passenger load if you catch up to him or her (deets on both types of skip-stopping here).
Spend some time with the system map. Figure out where the major routes go, and how to get to common destinations so you can answer questions and get a feel for where people are going and what they transfer to. As a supervisor told us when we were starting full time, “take some pride in your work. If you don’t know what bus goes to the U District, or how to get to West Seattle, you need to go get a job working somewhere else.”
I'm not telling you anything you don't already know to do. You're a professional. Slacking off can be addictive, but being your best self just feels better. Everything I know about bus driving I've learned from you guys. I look up to you. Let's not let each other down.
Care. That’s all I suggest.
I need to balance the calling out I'm doing above– here are two links appreciating my colleagues, and a third chock-full of tips I've learned from them that I live and die by. It's because I care that I'm as frank as I am above.