Should Bus Operators Be Required To Use Public Transportation For Personal Use?

As a bus operator, one of my biggest pain points was how the people who made the important decisions didn’t actually use the product. 

I remember when MTA initially transitioned to the Baltimore Link, we had a problem with buses bunching and running 2 at a time. This was due in part to having new headways with some buses scheduled  7 minutes apart. To solve the bunching issue they released a policy telling drivers that if they saw the bus in front of them, fall back until that bus is out of sight.

 What this translates to in the real world is that if the bus in front of you is late, getting hammered, falling behind, and overcrowding. You should fall back, chill, and don’t clean up the line.

This constantly resulted in one crowded, overworked bus and one empty bus that didn’t do a thing.

This is why understanding your product on a grassroots level is important.

 I’ve written a few articles and E-Books on why transit policymakers should have at the bare minimum once a month, ride the public transit it governs. However if policymakers should have to ride the bus to understand the product, shouldn’t the drivers too?

 As operators, we can’t challenge decision-makers for being out of touch with the product because they don’t catch it. If we are in fact doing the same thing. 

 Catching the bus to relieve another bus, is not relying on company service like a lot of our customers do. We’re protected by a CBA, so in the event, something happens such as a  breakdown or a late bus, we can’t be penalized. Not to mention we’re paid to catch it. 

The public we serve does not have this luxury.

 If transit is good enough to make money on, good enough to get benefits from, and good enough to build our lives around, then it should be good enough to ride.

Maybe not.

 The truth is a lot of us would rather not deal with some of the problems we and our coworkers help create. Let’s be real, just because we are “on” the bus does not mean our experience is that of our customers. For starters, we’re the only person on the bus with a private window and seat belt.

 Our experience is not the same.

A couple of weeks ago my car had broken forcing me to rely on public transit to do simple tasks. Things as simple as grocery shopping, or going to Walmart have become day-long excursions because the #69 has been understaffed. Taking transit to get food and taking transit to pose for Linkedin photos are two different things. 

 It’s easy to ride transit when you have rideshare options or are utilizing a park and ride.

It is not easy to ride when this transit is your only option. As drivers, we can lose sight of that.

At our core, this job is a job of public service, meaning that we are choosing to be a public servants. The vessel just happens to be the bus.

 While others suggest that you just drive a sheet of metal, your purpose is much bigger in the grand scheme of things. Bus operators help sustain and manage economies. Bus operators help move entire cities. Bus operators help those who cannot afford access, gain it.

These are not my exclusive words, rather a collection of things we tend to use in arguments when our contract expires and we want more money. We have to keep that same energy when it’s our turn to consider the responsibility we signed up for.

 This isn’t about just driving a bus.

This is about helping bridge economic gaps in communities similar to the one’s I grew up in. Transit has been a staple in these areas for decades. It’s provided an opportunity for a lot of people, myself included to escape poverty.

 Whether I was riding the bus or driving it.

The honest truth is, the majority of drivers look like me and come from the areas I come from. and as a bus operator, you are a key component for hundreds of people trying to grow past poverty. This is why empathy, compassion, and understanding are the true function of our duty. 

Transit classism is a real thing, and sometimes as drivers, we help perpetuate it. Just think about how we were trained to drive an express or commuter route vs the way we were trained to drive a “hood” line.

 Having transit is not the key to economic growth and stability in our communities. Being able to depend on that transit is.

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