Saturday, 28 January 2012

Three Sides To Every Story

Passenger held hostage on an OC Transpo bus, reads the headline. I'm surprised to see it in the Ottawa Citizen, as it sounds a little more Ottawa-Sunish than something I'd read in the paper I get delivered to my house.

I have nothing to add to the story, as I don't know the driver or the passenger, and I never drive that route.

That's part of her side of the story. It gets weirder.

Passenger Not Held Hostage On Bus, reads the headline. Same byline, but a different version of the story. According to a witness on the bus, the driver had activated the rear doors allowing anyone to freely leave the bus.

And that's when the twitterverse started piling on. I had a brief exchange via Twitter with the complainant. (@drivesincircles for those who want to know my Twitter handle, but be warned, I'm not all-transit on there).

A little hashtagging, searching, and reading panned out some pretty harsh abuse of this young woman. Now, regardless of how you feel about this story... Maybe you're a driver. Perhaps a passenger. Or, you're just a reader of all-things-Ottawa, let's get one thing straight.

There is no need to abuse this woman based on what you read in the newspaper. Drivers, we know how the media treats us. Much of it is uncalled for. Much of it is unfounded, or really taken to contextual extremes in an effort to support interest in a story over factual accuracy. So why on earth would you expect this story to be factually accurate?

I don't understand why this young woman would take this thing to the press other than to say she's 19 years old, and likely doesn't have the 20 or 30 years experience of reading newspapers to understand that calling a company like OC Transpo onto the carpet via the media causes them to circle the wagons and draw in the curtains the way a professional city media relations team will do. The media is quite possibly the worst place to air grievances when it comes to city staff complaints. The canned responses from the city are quite predictable. They put so much English on negative stories that Madeleine Meilleur has put an official bilingual policy complaint on city media hacks.

The driver in question may have done the right thing. His provable actions are that he stopped his bus, called the control center, and waited for his supervisor to fix the situation. We have nothing more to go on, as the rest of the story is he-said/she-said. This seems to be following policy to the letter. We have no idea what the lead-up was to this driver initiating this protocol.

I implore the folks using twitter (and her now defunct blog) to bully this woman to STOP. You weren't there, you don't know Jack. You don't know her. You haven't got the right to say what you are saying. So stop embarrassing yourself and act like a fucking adult.

I believe her when she says she wants actions taken. I have no doubt that she is being truthful in her statements about the situation and how it happened. I have no reason not to believe her. It is perfectly plausible that two rational people can overreact to one another causing an argument just like what seems to have happened here.

Ever sat in your car at a recently-turned-green light for an extra few seconds? How does the overreaction of that guy behind you strike you? It happens all the time.

I also have no reason to doubt the witness in his assertion that the driver had the doors set to "active". This would be an easy thing to miss if you were pissed off and waiting for authorities to show up.

There are always three sides to every story. His side, her side, and the truth. Somewhere in between the first two, we always lose sight of the third.

Regardless of the outcome of their 'investigation', the company should just apologize to her and get on with their business. The customer is always right. And that, is the real truth.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Hybrid Letdown

At a recent transit meeting, OC Transpo higher-ups were quoted as being disappointed in the new fleet of hybrid transit buses. The fuel savings simply aren't as advertised, and after a little research, I'm finding that Ottawa is not alone in its disappointment.

These New Flyer hybrid buses were lauded as green world heroes, capable of using as much as forty percent less fuel than conventional buses with significantly less emissions. The emissions claims produced fruit, but the fuel savings seem to have been a figure of New Flyer's imagination.

Seattle Transit is reporting that its fleet of 238 hybrid buses are not only not delivering on fuel savings, in many cases the buses are actually getting worse fuel economy than the 1989 Breda buses they replaced.

B.C. Transit reports that the hybrid buses were achieving a 10 to 13 percent savings, a far cry from the 20 to 30 percent claimed by New Flyer.

TTC in Toronto has given up on the technology altogether, citing less-than-advertised battery life and -you guessed it- poorer than expected fuel savings.

These transit properties back up Ottawa's growing concern that fuel savings are off target. 

Have a look at a comprehensive two-year study performed by Long Beach Transit:

Table six should be an eye opener. The savings are not there. The manufacturer fuel consumption claims seem to be greatly exaggerated. 

From an on-road perspective, I have questioned one specific design flaw in New Flyer Hybrids that affects fuel economy. The windows do not open, which turns a 19C day into a climate controlled bus interior. The A/C units are used much more than they should be because of this oversight. Closed windows cost money. No joke. 

I'm very much interested as to what the outcome of this seemingly industry-wide exaggeration might be. With so many transit properties reaching the same conclusions, how long before we start to see legal actions against these manufacturers?

EDIT** As has been pointed out in the "comments" section, OC Transpo uses Orion Hybrid buses manufactured by Daimler. While the study was centered on New Flyer, the technology remains the same, as does the problems meeting claimed fuel economy. When purchasing a bus, unlike a personal vehicle, buyers will often select the exact same drivetrain components from different manufacturers. The drivetrain components used in other cities are similar or identical to OC Transpo configurations.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Who Will Borrow The Bus Driver?

Okay, so a judge, a prostitute, and a bus driver walk into a, errrr, library....

Sounds like a classic opening to a joke, doesn't it? Nope. It's the new line-up of "Books" at your local Ottawa library. Read the article. I'm not making this up. You can "borrow" a stripper, a prostitute, a Somali refugee, a judge, an HIV-positive man, a Peking Opera performer, a woman born as a man, a police officer, a bus driver or a bipolar man as part of a Human Library program.

When checking out the stripper, I suggest checking out Jimi Hendrix's "Voodoo Chile", clocking in at just over 15 minutes of quality dance time.

You may need less than 20 minutes with the prostitute. (Insert Do-Me Decimal system joke here) Hey, it's just like Stephen King books. Why bother buying it when the library will loan it out for free?

I hear the judge has been booked solid through next year. In a related story, the Hell's Angels have made a serious run on library cards.

I really only have one serious question about the program. Just who-on-earth is going to check out the bus driver!?! Is this the equivalent of publishing a self-help book called ""How To Win Friends And Influence People By Cramming Them Into A Large Tin Can Against Their Will"? Is this a ploy by the city to actually get the old crankys to actually talk to their customers? If you're borrowing a bus driver for twenty minutes to hear his story, then you're probably the same kind of kook that'd read some crappy bus driver's rambling blog... Um, never mind. Nothing to see here. Carry on.

You can spend twenty minutes with a bus driver just going the one stop between Metcalfe and the Mac Bridge on any given weeknight. Why bother with the library? If you get a surly bus driver that afternoon, you can tell the guy that the movie is never anywhere near as good as the book.

And what happens if you return the bus driver late? Is that redundant?

So many questions about this program. We'll keep you updated on my reading lists. In the meantime, I suggest they add Former Mayor to the list of human books. I wouldn't mind checking out Larry O'Brien for 20 minutes. I know that book pretty well, but I just can't get enough of the ending.

Email Reprint

"Just wanted to share some good news and a shout out to an OC driver.

I was southbound on Bank Street @ Flora and a woman was crossing in her mechanical wheelchair. She made the light but couldn’t get up onto the curb. The # 1 bus driver that had just arrived at the northbound stop to pick up passengers got out to help her up onto the curb and retrieve her parcels that had spilled onto the road. While he was doing this all the pedestrians and people waiting to board simply watched. A bylaw vehicle also stopped and the driver hopped out to help.

It was a #1, northbound around 4:45 and the bus # was 5022.

Just wanted you to know and if possible to give him a shout out for being a good Samaritan. I sent a “compliment” to OC using their online template too.


The above is a reprint of an email I received this afternoon. The driver's okay in my books, and a big Thangyaverymush to Mr. Brett for forwarding the story!

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Interlining vs Recovery Time

David Reevely does a pretty good job of explaining the perils of interlining in the above link. However, interlining really isn't the biggest part of the tardy bus problem. Recovery time is what kills the schedules. It really doesn't matter whether the bus is interlined, because the late run stuck in traffic will be late for *whatever* run it is scheduled to do next. Whether the run is the same route number or not, somebody is going to be late.

Recovery time is the time between where a bus finishes a run and starts its next run. If a bus is consistently getting bogged down in a part of the city, then planning should increase the recovery time allotted on a run and begin the next run at a later time, or send an "extra" bus to fill in for the late bus. Either option costs the city money, as you have two buses covering the work that was allotted to one bus.

The solution for the customer is increased recovery time between runs for certain buses, or more "Extras" on the road to cover the scheduling errors and unforeseen circumstances.

It's all about performance expectations in the planning department, and the never ending quest for efficiency.  As demonstrated by David Reevely however, efficiency sometimes comes at the expense of good customer service.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Something Else Stinks Now Too

Well, the city has spoken.

According to this morning's Ottawa Citizen, I am not allowed to ask you to move back if you smell. Now, not that this has been a real problem with bus drivers, let's get that straight, but a squeaky wheel gets the grease, and now Misty Parent can stand right beside her driver and there's nothing he can do about it but hold his breath.

A victory for smokers rights! I'll adhere to the rules and guidelines, that's my job.

One note of warning though. If you stand just close enough, my vomit may splash your shoes.

Think we drivers should organize a Mexican bean burrito night, followed by a Garlic King Shawarma breakfast day of protest?

Who's in?

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Smoker Raises Stink

I love the title.  Smoker raises stink over bus driver

I love the whole image of a smoker "Raising a Stink". I mean, that's what they do, right? Okay, okay. Not all smokers stink, only the ones who smoke. If you smoke and don't know this, please take my word for it. Or, just ask anyone else on the planet who doesn't smoke.

What exactly is wrong with asking a person who smells to move back a little so that you can breathe? Now, this is my own personal opinion here, so don't take this as some kind of policy statement from the Company, but when a person has just finished a smoke, walked on a bus, and carried all that tobacco-ey goodness around them -with them... what on earth is wrong about asking the person to move a little further back so that you don't have to breathe in smoke while you do your job? This may come as a huge shock to smokers, but after you haul in your last toke, and flip your burning garbage on the ground where kids can pick it up but more likely WE have to pick it up, you exhale the stench of your tarring lungs mixed with lingering smoke for quite awhile! It makes me want to vomit when I smell exhaled smoke! No joke! Why do you think so many people around you move away from you when you pick your spot on the bus?

Why would a person refuse to move back, anyway? Do you really like bus drivers? Nobody likes bus drivers! We are onto you, smokezilla! You're standing up front because everyone else on the bus will make you feel awful by staring at you in their "You Stink" faces. She felt "harassed"? This, the same woman who self-admittedly had to call the Company to get an explanation of the hierarchy between people in wheelchairs and people carrying strollers? Can we get a reality check, aisle 178? Fold your stroller so the guy who can't walk can get on the bus, and just MOVE BACK! What is wrong with people? 

I've been told that I'm mostly a balanced writer, taking up many sides and putting much thought into what I write. But I have my hot-button topics like anyone else. It deeply bothers me when able-bodied parents refuse to fold up and move their strollers for folks in wheelchairs, and it deeply bothers me when people smoke like a chimney right up until the moment they board, and then blow a wad of smoke in my face until they get off the bus. 

Admittedly, I don't understand smokers, especially parent-smokers. Ten dollars a day to stink. You throw your garbage everywhere. (I mean get an ashtray, you idiots.) And then when somebody complains that you're standing close enough to them for the person to breathe in your offensive smell, you cry human rights.    

I'll tell you what: Email me your place of work. I'll show up tomorrow wearing a few freshly applied bottles of Old Spice, and I'll stand next to you for as long as you can stand it. Whenever you smoke, I'll reapply. We'll see if you last the four or five minutes you found so reasonable to inflict on the passengers of that bus.

Y'know, Rosa Parks had a real human rights issue on a bus. You on the other hand, just stink.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

The Art of Saying No

This is a republish of an article from last year, before this blog was vandalized. I'm reprinting in as an email request from a reader. 


It was nearing 4:30 on a Friday afternoon as I pulled into the northbound stop on St. Laurent at Innes road. There was a standing load on my (what was then) 85 route, and the end of the line couldn't come fast enough for me... only three stops to the freedom of a well earned weekend.

Standing at the stop were two women, one a young version of the other. The young lady stepped on, placed two tickets in the fare box, grabbed a transfer, and looked back at her mother who had two Pizza Hut boxes in her hand. That is when the argument began.

"Sir, I'm just two tickets short."

These are the words that cause more stress to transit drivers than any other words a passenger could utter. Rationally, my job is pretty clear in this regard. Collect proper fare, provide timely service. It's not exactly rocket science. This must be the only industry in North America where a customer would argue over whether a service should be provided to them for free, so long as they are nice about asking. I have never been to a movie theater and overheard a customer try and finesse his/her way into a movie by stating "I am just a ticket short". Ditto the grocery store. Bread is cheaper than bus fare, but would anyone really expect the cashier to let it slide out the door for free?

"I'm really sorry, but I have to ask everyone to pay."

That is my standard response. It doesn't matter how old you are, what you look like, what you are carrying, that is always my first response.

"Do they take it out of your pay cheque?"

I could see that this had taken a turn for the worse. Understand that at this point, all I had said was one phrase. I didn't ask her to get off the bus, I didn't say it in a rude manner, I didn't judge her. I only toed the company line. Collect proper fare, provide timely service.

Years have passed since this incident, and a bit of revisionist history may be present as this incident is not an isolated one. Years of having similar conversations may have jaded my memory a bit, but the rest of the lecture I received went as follows:

"Do they take it out of your pay cheque? Seriously. I am ONLY two tickets short."

I replied that I have to ask everyone to pay, and two tickets really is the entire fare.

"They must take it out of your pay cheque then right?"

I replied "No, they don't. But they ask me to ask everyone to pay."

"What is it to you anyway? It's not like they count this stuff you know. You just want to be an asshole. A big power tripping asshole. Oooooh. 'I drive a bus!'. You know some drivers are cool. They would give someone a break. You could use your discretion. You could let me on."

She stepped off the bus at this point, and I looked back at (who I had assumed to be) her daughter to see if she was going to follow. She did follow, looking a little embarrassed at the situation.

At this point with both of them off the bus, I looked back at the front seats to try and gauge what the other passengers thought of the situation. I couldn't get a good read, but in my moment of distraction the woman yelled at me that I was "The Biggest Asshole In The World".

I beat out Bin Laden, Saddam, and child molesters alike. It's me. What a prize.

I've done a bit of soul searching over the years as I deal with the public. I've come to the realization that treating people well is a great feeling. It makes my job better, and it makes my life better. The concept of 'paying it forward' is such a happy place to live. The more I do it, the better I feel. Having said that, I still use the same phrase "I'm really sorry, but I have to ask everyone to pay." when faced with someone who asks to board for free. Paying it forward does not mean I need to be a doormat.

Using discretion is a funny concept in the eyes of the general public. What exactly is discretion? In this driver's opinion, discretion is reserved for situations that passenger cannot reasonably be expected to pay. It's midnight, last bus, I lost my wallet. Or, you're a regular customer who forgot your pass... I know you have one. The big blackout a few years back... no one could use ATMs.

But standing on the corner of St. Laurent and Innes, two pizza boxes in hand from across the street at 4:30 in the afternoon? You want to pay by finessing you way onto the bus? Maybe you just have a good story, and you'll hope I'll buy it? Maybe you're a really pretty woman who will smile at me? Two weeks ago I had a woman stand beside me chatting flirtfully for 15 minutes, only to work herself into asking me for a free day pass. "I wouldn't normally ask this, but..." The whole conversation was tailored to convince me to 'use my discretion' and give her a free pass. So the next few people who ask to board for free... would I then revert to my standard response?

Believing a good story, or giving in to a friendly flirt, and then telling someone else that they need to pay...I wouldn't be using discretion there. 

That would be better defined as "discrimination". 

And who, really, wants us to use that?