There is a certain happiness sighted when your bus comes along. It is of course a small specialized form of happiness and will never be a great thing.

-Richard Brautigan, The Old Bus

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Bus drivers (not) doing the right thing

As I mentioned the other day (really, go see for yourself here), the wife is back riding the bus after taking a break from relying on Sacramento Regional Transit while she coped with the even more annoying task of battling breast cancer. High-fives all around for the wife surviving cancer treatment and not losing her desire to ride the bus and the train and the bus and walk to work and walk back to the bus to the train to the bus to home all the while leaving her car at home.

Anyway, as you might imagine, a person of such strong fiber has rather high expectations when it comes to bus drivers. Here's a little tale from the little lady:

I began riding the bus and train to work in March of 2008, suspending my commute in August to start medical treatment and resuming almost exactly a year later, with Spring blooming and a "new lease on life."

During my previous fling with transit I did not find much to remark upon - probably a good thing, except that I still feel bus drivers should get monthly recognition for good passenger service (and we need cup holders on the bus!). Good service includes ensuring that the elderly and others who have challenges can ride the bus in reasonable convenience and comfort. That didn't happen the other day, to RT's shame.

Some drivers are quiet and formal, others are relaxed and sociable. Either way is fine. What's important is to feel that your driver is competent, alert, in control of the bus. You want to feel confident that the driver will enforce rules, and not allow misconduct. That's one advantage over light rail. On the train, the driver is detached, remote; you're on your own. But at least it does have that ramp, and people know to leave the seating area behind the driver at the front of the train free and clear.

There are occasions when I or other passengers will gratefully sink into the only empty seat in the front of the bus. But I, and most people, reseat ourselves immediately when an elderly or disabled person or someone with a shopping cart or baby cart gets on.

So I was aghast and outraged the other day when a small, elderly woman with three grocery bags got on the bus as three young students sat glued to the seats reserved for seniors, and the driver did nothing. The woman had to squeeze herself and her three bags into the window side of another seat around a very large and uncooperative woman who appeared offended that she had to accommodate this woman and her bags.

Now, I won't mention the young woman in the single seat behind the driver, intently reading her book and looking up defiantly as passengers boarded. A mother with a baby carrier, a stroller, and a bag got on the bus. She wasn't disabled, but she may as well be if she has to travel with all that gear -- it's hard enough with a car. I doubt she was one of those "choice" riders out for jaunt to Nordstrom. That seat behind the driver would have been a practical and considerate convenience. Instead, she was able to sit next to an accommodating lady (facing the sullen girl) so that she could park her stroller and hold the carrier in her lap.

I figured even though the girl was crass, the mom was reasonably situated. The large lady was large enough to need the disabled space in front, so I couldn't fault her for sitting there, although she could have been less belligerent.

However, on the front bench facing the driver appeared to be two college students, one girl with cropped hair and lip piercings, a young man of moderate dress; that is to say, not in baggy pants and various hats and bandannas, but jeans and shirt and jacket: clean cut. They smirked as the little old lady, about 4' 10", struggled to get around the large woman and situate her three bags. She was obviously an immigrant, powerless and mute: stockings rolled up to her knees, kerchief around her white wispy hair. (Most elderly Americans who ride the bus wouldn't think twice about kicking someone out of their area, and vocally.)

I waited for the driver to turn around and instruct the students to move. After all, there were plenty of empty seats towards the back of the bus. The signs say the area is reserved for seniors and the disabled, right? Isn't the driver the captain of his ship? Isn't he there to ensure that passengers conform to basic rules of conduct on the bus, for the convenience of all?

I stared at the driver, then at the students, then at the old lady, and the mom, and back to the driver, and out the window; contemplating my cowardice. In a younger day, I would have said something to the kids, or gone up to the driver and asked him why he didn't make the young people move.

Now I'm like most people, worn down and nonconfrontational.

But I can still let RT know this driver was wrong and offensive. It's another reason why people don't ride the bus. My thought as a passenger is that if someone is bothering me or otherwise offending society, this driver is going to be a lump and do nothing.

I hope I never see that again.

(The bus was the #84 that stopped at Folsom and LaRiviera at 6:20 pm,
Monday evening, April 27.)
We'll give the wife a pass on not knowing her bus number. It was actually the No. 80. She takes the No. 84 in the morning. The two hourly buses covering different areas of North Highlands overlap to provide half-hour service between Watt/I-80 and Watt/Manlove.


cindyn said...

Sac RT has a Facebook page now - saw the sign on today's #30 bus - and is inviting "fans." I ride the bus by choice, but I'm not sure I'm ready to sign on as a fan. How about your wife?

John said...

I'm a big fan of organizations like RT paying attention to modern social media platforms. The person maintaining their Facebook page, should start a Twitter account. Twitter could be used as an adjunct to the "alerts" system. The news tweets from various local news sources are actually useful and, of course, drive traffic to the sites. Something of a social media win-win.

As for the wife, she hasn't discovered the joys of social media -- doesn't tweet, doesn't have a Facebook profile. She has considered blogging, but that enthusiasm comes and goes with the SMUD tree trimming crews. She is NOT a fan of topping trees to protect power lines.