Saturday, 11 March 2017

The Tweet

God, I hate waiting in line. The more often I order something online, pay for something by tapping, order something on-demand, download a movie or book, send an email or text instead of calling, the more I expect from companies that provide me service.

I have actually hit "refresh" before I've given a page a full three seconds to load simply because I expect the internet to provide me with instant information. You likely have too. I'll bet you've even given up on a page after two tries, assuming that something is broken rather than just queued up due to demand. We expect so much from customer service these days that even a few minutes can be the difference between rave reviews and foot-stomping protest. This goes double for transit. Ask any bus driver, and they'll tell you a story about that person that chewed them out "that day" because they were a minute or two late. To put that into perspective, a minute or two could be two or three red lights or the loading of someone who uses a wheelchair.

So this tweet came across my screen a few days ago, and I can't stop thinking about it.

Now you can call me biased here because I am. Of course I am. This is a coworker of mine, and a personal friend. In addition to that, I am both a bus driver and a member of her union. You can go ahead and line up all the strikes against my position on this matter. I get it.

But let's talk for a second about the driver.

Imprimis, she is an absolute rock-star of a person. This is the type of person you want your kids to hang out with. Bubbly, smiling, intelligent, friendly, centered, helpful, empathetic, and she'd be happy to give you the shirt off her fiance's back if you needed it. Her socials are filled with pictures of smiling people, smiling family, and her own smile. People do that around her. You can't help it. But if you'll take a single thing out of this, she is a human being, and a darned fine example of one.

Secondly, she is an absolute rock-star of a driver. The fine folks that get to ride her bus as regulars know what to expect from her. A smile. An answer to a question. A smooth ride. A hello. She is the type of driver who will go out of her way for you. We need many more of her in this company. She should be mentoring other drivers that need extra coaching, lord knows there are few that could use it.

Thirdly, she is terrible at one thing: Being a robot. Now I'm not sure if her "Robot" dance is up to snuff, but in terms of lasting an entire day without taking in fluids or lasting an entire day without expelling fluids, she is an absolutely terrible robot. In this vain, her human frame has let her down, because she has been publicly called out for it.

You read the tweet, and you're thinking what the author was thinking. "There were people on the bus!".

But I'll beg you to think about some circumstances here. The company allows drivers to exit the bus along the route to "refresh" themselves, so long as they're on time. There is a good reason for this. The 118 is an hour and ten minutes long. At one end is Hurdman, at the other Terry Fox station. If you need something to drink or eat during your 8 hour shift you do not have the time to seek out either. A coffee or a washroom break may not be an option at either end for three or four hours. It needs to be pointed out that bus drivers do not get scheduled breaks. An 8 hour shift is 8 hours of straight driving. So if after 4 hours of driving you feel a little sluggish, your choice is to either mop through it or stop somewhere along the route with your passengers on board to grab a coffee or use a public washroom. This is life as a bus driver and no matter how hard you hit the refresh button, the need for a drink is still followed by the need to pee every single day of our lives. We are in fact human. Really!

I have written this before and I apologize if this seems repetitive, but if I break down complaints like these to their core principle, I'm left with thoughts of George Orwell's 1984.

When I make a complaint to a company, I call them or email them. My beef is usually settled through the direct action of talking to someone who is paid to solve these types of issues. If there is an explanation needed, I get it, analyze it, and react to it.

But Twitter, this bees nest of dissatisfied people seeking justice is a conduit to a whole nation of hashtagged complainers. We metatag our anger for sortability, with no real oversight of validity or quality. We report our dissatisfaction to the hive, letting big brother know that something has happened to someone, and that the whole hive should validate us. Where a simple email to the company would suffice, we publish the photograph of a truly good person in the hopes of publicly embarrassing her and the company she works for.

This is not how I thought Big Brother was supposed to be. It is instead the actions of a needy and whiny Little Brother, tugging on the world's pant-leg because telling on that sibling might get a pat on the head from Mum and Dad on Twitter.

All I ask is that you give the driver that few extra moments you denied the slow loading page, and give her a chance to refresh before you give up on what she offers this city.

Maybe we could recognize our humanity a little in that moment. Hers, yours, ours.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Why Can't We Be Friends?

I love the headline of this article by David Reevely.  

Some time has passed since the death of that young lady on Laurier Avenue, and my social media feeds are littered with the same rhetoric, angst, and finger-pointing between cyclists and other drivers. Car drivers think they own the road, and cyclists don't follow rules. It's the same argument over and over. 

"The first step to safe streets is really wanting them."

The real question this headline is asking is not one about infrastructure. When you really look at the dangers cyclists face, it always boils down to the same basic arguments. Car drivers say cyclists are lousy road users, and cyclists retort that car drivers are lousier road users.

Both positions are absolutely correct.

Car drivers roll through stop signs and lights, often speeding up to clear intersections when they really shouldn't do so. Cyclists roll through stop signs and lights, often speeding up to clear intersections when they really shouldn't do so.

Car drivers ignore right-of-way rules and use the size of their vehicles to block cyclists from passing them, and seem ignorant to the laws of giving space to cyclists. Cyclists ignore right-of-way rules, often using the small size of their vehicles to turn themselves into opportunistic pedestrians squeezing into small spaces between cars when waiting in the queue would be the safer option.

Car drivers will do anything to pass a cyclist, often taking unnecessary risks rather than waiting for a safe passing point. Cyclists will do anything to get to the front of the queue, forcing the cars that just took these risks to pass them yet again.

Car drivers have a right to use the road. Cyclists have a right to use the road.

So why can't we be friends?

When we boil down the complaints of road users, we come to the rather obvious conclusion that road safety is less about infrastructure, and more about attitude. Our attitudes on the road have become so absurd that we have actually coined a phrase to externalize the personal liability of our own stupidity. "Road Rage".  This is a term specifically designed to let your inner asshole off the hook.

We drive and ride around like our own priorities and agendas are more important than anyone else around us. This arrogance is the precise reason why we have actual written laws to force people to move over for emergency vehicles, to let buses out of bus stops, and not run over kids alighting a school bus. 

I'm a guy who spends a whole lot more time on the road than most, and I have seen things that most people simply wouldn't believe. I've seen cars take a shoulder to pass my bus while I'm deboarding, and cyclists pop onto the sidewalk into a crowd of passengers. I've seen cyclists pass countless cars on the right who are signalling a right turn at an intersection, and countless cars who have turned right across a bike lane "right hooking" the bike.

And don't get me started on how many reckless texting morons have nearly killed me on my motorbike.

Sit at a green light for three seconds, and someone behind you will call you an idiot. Make an error at an intersection and block a crosswalk, and someone will call you an idiot. Make a U-Turn anywhere in this city, and someone behind you will call you an idiot. Make a lane change preventing someone from passing you, and someone will call you an idiot. Have a moment of indecision in an unfamiliar intersection, and someone will call you an idiot.

Or just read the comments on an article about a young lady who just lost her life, because people are calling her an idiot.

Our attitudes on the road center around our inability to recognize that we have ALL made every single mistake listed above, and many more that I have not listed. We don't think of ourselves as idiots when we err, but we have also ALL called someone else an idiot for making the very same mistake we have most certainly made ourselves.

Our lousy, arrogant attitudes start the day we learn to drive. We sign an insurance policy that states a very clear response to any mistake we may make in the future. "In the case of an accident, do not admit fault."

And we do not admit fault ever, because we are all infallible.

"The first step to safe streets is really wanting them."

Infrastructure is a good start, but the real challenge lies between the ears of both drivers and cyclists. It begins with a long look in the mirror. 

Maybe once we recognize how our vanity mirrors reflect our own lousy attitudes, we'll start to see the young lady in the mirror beside us, and prevent this from ever happening again.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

TSB Report

The final report from TSB has been released.

The TSB isn't a body that assigns blame, or makes circumstantial conclusions. For this, I am glad.

For most people, reading this report will be a somewhat dry experience like reading a science textbook or the instructions to building a table. For many people who cross those tracks, or have crossed those tracks, it's something entirely different.

I can't comment much on what happened that day beyond what everyone else has already written. I have the same facts as anyone else.

What I can comment on is the changes that have taken place with an internet enabled transit industry.

We are inundated with screens behind the wheel of our buses now. Not just here at OC, I'm talking big picture, all across North America. On a double decker bus, I have a 7 inch screen to watch the upper deck. I have a 10 inch screen which shows GPS, fare, and messages from control. I have a 4 inch display for bus events (check engine, low fuel etc). I have a two inch display for route signage. I have a Presto display that flashes red when it goes out of service. I have a radio with a number display, that I have to punch a code to call control. Next to it is a phone that is exempt from Ontario's distracted driving laws. I have a rearview mirror to watch the inside of the bus. Above that mirror is the next stop display. Some days, I have a bike in front of me with a milk crate obstructing my view.

And people talk to me. And I talk back.

The report states that a 2 second glance at the screen above the driver's head could have made the difference between being able to stop, and not being able to stop.

I have caught myself looking at that screen for much longer than two seconds. I have heard the thump of a coffee mug hit the floor above me, and I have stared at that screen for long periods trying to determine if someone has fallen down or if I'm required to stop.

This happens often.

Teens getting rowdy? I look. A loud bang? I look. Someone asks me if there's space? I look.

There are so many distractions while driving a bus these days. We used to have a CB radio, and a button we pushed to print a transfer. Before that, there wasn't even a button to push, we had a notebook full of transfers we had to rip off as people paid.

Simpler times.

Have we come too far to get all of this junk out of our line of sight? Distracted driving goes beyond the cell phone. How many screens are too many? At what point do we realize that we have normalized the process of being meaningfully distracted?

I think this report, and the media coverage of it has been a little distracted too.

There were two engineers on that train that have not returned to work. There were passengers on that train that had to make same horrific exit from their train as our passengers did. I feel for them. I feel for their families.

What changes could be made for these engineers? How could their vehicles be changed to increase their safety? Rail accidents happen all the time. Why doesn't this report seem to address the factors within the rail cab? I'm not trying to assign blame to these people, I'm concerned that VIA engineers are just supposed to carry on without a second thought.

We debate stopping thousands of buses per week (blowing thousands of liters of fuel up the stack in the process) at level crossings as a knee jerk response to this terrible accident, when requiring the stoppage the 16 four-to-six car trains that pass this crossing each day before this crossing would make much more sense.

It really has been an emotional day.

I honestly cannot believe how these pictures still affect me. I cannot imagine piecing together this horrible picture, one piece at a time, putting together a jigsaw puzzle that will always be missing six of its most important pieces.

We miss all of you terribly, and we are thinking of you.