Thursday, July 16, 2009


Dispatch from the commute: A TriMet driver's got something to say

Posted by Joseph Rose, The Orgeonian July 16, 2009 08:23AM

Today, out of fairness and a desire to once again show that I'm not out to kick around TriMet drivers, we offer up a dispatch from behind the big, stressful wheel of a bus.

First, some context. Two weeks ago, I wrote about an Oregon City woman who felt a bus driver had been overly hostile to her family on two occasions along the No. 33 line. During the last encounter, the driver threw the woman and four children off the bus and into the pouring rain because she didn't have enough fare for one of the kids.

TriMet seemed to side with the rider, saying it was a perfect example of how a little give by bus drivers might go a long way toward helping the agency's reputation as it moves forward with unpopular cutbacks.

As you can imagine, the story wasn't popular with operators, many of whom wrote and called to accuse me of writing a "hit" piece. The mother of a driver even left a phone message, demanding that I do another story about how her son and his transit compatriots are under so much pressure to keep their route schedules they skip bathroom breaks.

Then there was operator Chris Hanen, who wrote me a letter, encouraging me to ask "What causes the drivers to be rude?" Well, here it is in its entirety:

Dear Mr. Rose

As a TriMet driver of over 16 years. I found the story you wrote about rude drivers a little biased. You reported the effect but what you should have asked yourself is, "What causes the drivers to be rude?"

We all have bad days but that is not what is going on here. Drivers are not given enough time to use the restroom, eat a snack, have a cup of coffee or just have a few minutes to themselves before having to turn the bus around and do it all again.

Stressed drivers don't provide very good customer service. The difference in bus lines is drastic. Some lines have ample time which will have no complaints while other lines like the 33 for example will have more complaints. I used to enjoy my job a lot more than I do now.

A passenger who has been riding the system for many years said to me, "I never see the bus drivers smile much any more like they used to." That should tell you a lot. With the new cuts in service, it's not going to get any better.

TriMet saves a lot of money by cutting break time from runs. Lots of blue shirts are not happy about the way management has chopped time from the runs the past 7 years. Saving money makes Fred (Hansen) look good though. And all his new trains that go where buses used to. Do you think WES service will be cut? It's costing a lot to serve only a few.

Trains are not a bad thing but too much too fast doesn't serve the public as a whole. Low ridership runs don't even have a chance anymore. Buses feed the trains not the other way around. We have been expanding train service at the expense of bus sevice.

He signed off as "Nice Driver. Almost all the time!"

Bottom line: This year's service cutbacks aren't easy on the operators either.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I'm not on a crusade to make the hard-working -- and often under-appreciated -- army of TriMet operators look bad. Despite what that note attached to a clipping of one of my Oregonian columns on break-room wall says (yes, I know about it), I'm also not in cahoots with TriMet administrators to force concessions in a contract year.

One, I didn't even know negotiations were going on. And TriMet managers also have plenty of issues with what I write.

Don't believe me? Just ask Al Margulies, who drives the endangered No. 67 in Beaverton and runs the "Rantings of a TriMet Driver" blog and its sister site, "Who is Joseph Rose and Why Does He Hate Bus Drivers?"

Recently, Margulies challenged me to ride his route with him. I did. We talked. He gained a better understanding of the watchdog role of every journalist, and I stepped off his bus with a greater appreciation of what operators face on the road.

The offer is out there for any driver. Ask and I'll ride with you.

Of course, for the sake of full disclosure, there have been times when I've been an anonymous rider and witnessed behavior that made me wonder why the drivers behind the wheel chose their profession.

On one ride, I held on tightly as an operator seemed to be on a mission to blow through every red light downtown. And I'll never forget the driver who jumped out of his seat at a stop, glared at his passengers and shouted, "Whoever's got their earphones blaring that music better turn it down or you're off at the next stop!"

I looked around and realized I was the only one listening to music. Another rider, obviously in shock, looked at me and said, "I think he's talking to you."

Weird. First, the "headphones" were actually those tiny iPod earbuds. Second, the volume was low enough that I had no trouble hearing the driver. Also, it was hardly skull-shattering hip-hop or hard rock.

I was listening to Miles Davis' "Sketches of Spain."

The driver must have been a Coltrane fan.

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