Friday, February 28, 2014
GREAT STORY FROM A REGULAR READER
Having been a transit operator in another large city, I retired in 2005 after 30-years and 5-days of service. Bus driving was a childhood dream of mine as some kids wanted to be firemen or police officers, I wanted to be a bus driver. So after receiving a degree in education and getting laid off from a teaching job after one year, I thought I'd go apply for bus driving positions to give it a try until I could find another teaching job. I applied to quite a few transit agencies on the west coast. This was back in 1974-5. One of the first agencies that was hiring and allowed me to take the next steps in the application process was Trimet. So I go to Portland and take the test which was something of an MMPI-type of exam that evaluated the psychological profile of the applicant. I took the test which had nothing to do with driving, fare collection, or anything that I thought was directly related to the job. I then was called into a room where they told me that I had flunked. They went on to say that I did not have the personality to drive a transit bus. Transit operators deal with hundreds of people a day they told me and they didn't think I could handle it. They went on to say that perhaps I would do okay driving a Greyhound where contact would be with 40-or-so people during a shift. I was informed, however, that my test score didn't fall into the range of results of the control group of successful transit operators who had already been tested.
I remember walking away that day and saying to myself "bull shit! How can they determine from a test like that (with questions being similar to "who did you feel closer to as a child, your mother or father?" etc.), that I would not be a good bus driver??" I was pissed and dismayed at the same time. My part-time jobs in high school and college were sales clerk positions at a prominent department store so I was accustomed to dealing with the public. How dare Trimet tell me that I can't handle people!
Several months later, I was invited to take the test at the agency in the city where I eventually got hired. At the time, the test they gave was an elementary and poorly written one which I thought at the time made more sense than the one Trimet gave. It dealt with rules of the road, making change, etc. I passed with flying colors and was subsequently put on the list to start training. I subsequently started training classes in November of 1975 and graduated on Christmas Eve Day of that year.
The first year or so of driving a bus was absolute heaven ...my dream come true in a sense. I qualified on every route in the system in record time where it surprised not only my fellow operators but management as well. I went from garage to garage working overtime so I could acquaint myself not only with all the routes in the system but the equipment as well. In working so much overtime, I was making more than five times as much than I was as a public school teacher. So I continued to work for the transit agency. I kept thinking to myself "man, Trimet's test IS bull shit! I'm a successful transit operator, what were they thinking? That test doesn't measure shit!!!!"
But it didn't take too long of working a lot of overtime and really getting exposed to the grittier side of driving a bus before I started having an attitude change. About three years in, I started looking at passengers in a different light. I started moving away from an attitude of doing my best to serve the bus-riding public to being the captain of the ship and people on the ship have to conform to the way I want them to behave or I'm going to let them know just who is boss. That's not good, as you well know observing your own former colleagues. But it's a common attitude developed by some transit operators who really shouldn't be doing the job in the first place.
So as the years went by, I came around to admitting that Trimet was actually RIGHT! I do NOT have the personality to be a transit operator. I do not have the ability to handle hundreds of different types of people a day. I have no idea if Trimet is still testing prospective transit operators in that manner but they should be if not. My circumstance convinced me that the test was in fact valid. Trimet was years ahead in their thinking by testing applicants in that manner back some almost 40-years ago.
I went on to do various first-line supervisor duties at the transit agency for awhile, dispatcher, controller, schedule maker, road supervisor, instructor, etc. but I actually missed driving a bus. Again, ideally, it's my dream job. I love the physical act of driving the bus and if the passengers were nice, polite, and behaved in the manner "I wanted them to," then it's the perfect job. But I didn't enjoy being a supervisor so I went back to driving full-time. And I could make more money driving by working overtime so it was an easy decision. I became more and more frustrated through the years, however, and ended up just hating the job and not being pleasant to passengers at all. More than once during my career I came very close to quitting entirely. I think it always came back to the physical aspect of just enjoying driving the bus itself. I hated dealing with the public but I just loved driving the bus.
In the end, I'm glad I stuck it out for driving a bus for that agency was a state pension job which allowed me to pile on the overtime in the last two years to average well over 100k/year for those two years to allow for full retirement pay while in my mid-50s with thirty years of service. It provided me with a very good pension similar to what a mid-level manager retiring at the same time would have earned. However, no medical other than allowing for the group rate if so chosen. In addition, after finding your blog and spot checking it now and then, I obviously am glad I did not get the job at Trimet. The agency where I worked wasn't always managed well but doesn't sound as if it comes close to the problems which McFarlane is dragging Trimet through.
At any rate, I'm not sure if you are still reading this but I'm just banging away at the keyboard rambling on here. My original reason for writing you is to apologize for posting to your blog. The first time was a rant on the left mirror issue which is a pet peeve of mine for as I posted "there but for the grace of God go I." I could have very easily been a Sandi Day as I twice came so close to just about mowing over pedestrians while making a left turns. I wanted so much to reach out to Sandi at the time and still do. Talking to management and the safety personnel where I worked about the left mirror issue was futile and although they have taken a few steps to correct the situation, they are still not doing enough. If I was in better health, I'd probably want to be an activist in getting transit agencies to realize just how dangerous it is to have a left mirror mounted in a position where it blocks so much of a driver's view.
Again, recently, I posted comments on your blog that were not appropriate pertaining to what I though might be a racial component to make that operator go ballistic on a passenger in Nebraska. And also posted some comments today pertaining to the Tom Blegg beating which I probably shouldn't have been posting. I will do my best to refrain from doing such things again.
Two things, however, if you're still reading this, 1) can you give me a link in your blog that explains why your pension continues to be reduced? I don't understand why and can't find where you may have explained it, and 2) the link to the post where you so excellently described why transit operators get burned out and develop bad attitudes as it fits my scenario so precisely.
I have great regard and respect for your efforts in standing up for what you think and feel is right. If I lived in Portland, I'd be livid with anger at how much of my tax money is essentially being wasted because of the mismanagement at Trimet. Kudos to you. Keep it up. I wish you success in fighting for anything you feel is unjust. You have my complete admiration.