Some thoughts for my colleagues:
- If you're unfailingly kind, and more specifically, respectful, to the people, fights will basically never involve you, but just occur between others. This goes a long way toward helping you feel safe. Don't antagonize people. Yes, you will see people making stupid decisions. But for your sanity, put your judgments about who's lazy or undeserving aside. Leave that between them and the Universe.
- Your strongest tool is good customer service. This is why I don't like shields or barriers: they limit my ability to use my strongest tool. I feel safer without them. It's amazing what you can do with genuine respect in your eyes and voice. Don't play God and don't play cop; try to be a saint instead. It's not as fun, but there's less paperwork...
- Do not collect fare. (my words, not Metro's.) Issue transfers upon request. You barely need to read the rest of these– that's ninety percent of your problems solved right there.
- Because we're not bouncers, you can't really make anyone exit. You can only ask them to. But demanding them to gives them the opportunity to say no. And when they say no, the power structure collapses and you the driver are stuck with having to call for help. Your big tool is working with them, not against them. Kill them with kindness. Look, I understand you guys are having a disagreement. I respect that. But we can't be doing like that on this bus with all these people. It's bad manners. You're better than that, man! My female friends are better at this type of deescalation because of the mountain of bull they have to tolerate in the workplace and elsewhere. Deescalation training, even if self-taught, gives you a lot less headaches in the long run than gettin' physical. In a phrase: ask them, don't tell them.
- Sometimes you can ask the bus to decide. As in, guys, we're gonna take a vote. Should we call it in and get stuck waiting here 20 minutes so we can move on in peace, or should we put up with this guy so you all can get where you're going. Sometimes that alone will motivate folks to take matters into their own hands and solve the situation for you. It's also an offhand way of telling the person they're on a public stage now, and that if they continue, repercussions will ensue. And hey, if the crowd doesn't mind whatever it is, well, great! Moving on then!
- You may not need to do anything. A surprising number of these incidents resolve themselves.
- You set the tone by how you greet incoming passengers. This shapes the environment more than you may realize. But beyond that– you don't need to micromanage the crowd. You can't. I'll repeat what a chief once taught me, when I was stressing about an unwieldy regular: The other passengers are adults who can take care of themselves. If they can't take care of themselves, they will tell you. You don't need to be their Dad.
- You may not be able to control people, but there is one tool you have access to that gives you tremendous power: you can choose to stop driving the bus. Use this power sparingly, because it has the potential to piss people off! You need the bus on your side for this to work. You get the bus on your side by being consistently friendly. If something happens that's serious, consider stopping driving. It needs to be something worth calling security over. Guys, we can't drive the bus if people are fighting because it's not safe. Or, as you open all the doors: I'll give you guys a minute to cool off and figure it out. If you're cool, then we can go. If not, we'll hang out here.
- If you can let people have the last word, you'll have a lot less problems. No snarky comebacks; you're a professional, and you're getting paid. Let it die with them thinking they got the upper hand.
- After something happens, spend a little bit (but not a lot) of time reflecting on what you would do differently next time. What could you have done to deescalate the situation? What could you have said, or not said, or said differently? Now you've got a script for the next time it happens. You'll be ready.
- Recycle your mind at the start of each trip. It's a new day. Yes, you won't be able to stop stewing about something happened in the last half hour, but don't allow yourself to think about anything negative from more than one trip ago. That's ancient history. Right now there's someone getting on, and they have nothing to do with whatever was going on before.
- Stay sharp even on your last trip. It's never over till it's over. Why, you may wonder, do so many bus driver stories start with, "it was my last trip in..."? Because there's a temptation to check out before you're off the clock. Resist that. Stay your best self one trip at a time, for the whole trip.
- Remember: fights on buses are actually quite rare. Yes, we have more accidents and security incidents now– because we have more new, untested and untrained operators. This should be a surprise to no one, as this job requires a lot of time to acclimate to, and time is what new drivers are no longer given. Recognize that as an operator you have an enormous deterministic impact on the tone of your bus and how people treat you– especially if you do all the above. Don't let fearmongers make you think otherwise, and don't let that one awful night out of the year change your general approach, the good energy that worked so well on all the other nights. There will be the rare fluke, and that's okay. There's no script that works for every situation.
- If your mood starts to slip, remind yourself to flow with the people, not against them.
- Take a deep breath. Deep breaths make a difference, and they're always available as a solution.
- If you like, come out for a ride on my nighttime 7. Drivers aren't getting the deescalation training they need from up above, so let's help ourselves and learn from each other. Look out for each other. When I pass a bus that looks like it needs help, I call out and ask if they're okay. They almost always are, but doesn't it feel good to check in and be checked in on anyway?
See you on the road!