Thursday, 8 November 2012

What Is He Thinking?

You're pulling into Hurdman station on a 114 coming from Elmvale. It's morning. You have coffee in one hand, and a bag in the other. You can see through the front window that there's a 95 just pulling into the stop. You want that bus. It'd be so seamless if that 114 could get through this stop sign, pull up behind the 95, and you could hop on the rear doors and sit in the sideways-facing seat near the door. You know the seat, the one where most folks respect the personal space rule and allow two people to occupy three seats. You are going to make it. There is time. Look at all those people boarding that bus. No way you miss this.

The 114 pulls across the intersection with a rush, its silent hybrid motor giving a little extra push as the driver lets into the accelerator. But what the hell is this?  The driver of the 114 has stopped short! He's stopping in front of the Quickie! Plans foiled! Alert! Alert! You try to rush past the hoard that is now exiting the bus, but you can read the tea leaves. The 95 is not 60 feet away from you, and the people entering the 95 are swirling around in a circle and emptying from the platform into the bus like some kind of bizarro draining bathtub, until the door closes behind them with a whoosh and the sound of an air-brake releasing. The 95 steams off as you try to ascertain whether the bus driver can see you in the mirror, or maybe not just simply see you. You want him to feel what you feel.

You can see this drama play out a hundred times a day on any platform in the city. But what does it sound like from my side of the wheel? I'll give it a shot.

God it's busy today. I have no idea if the bus in front of me is missing, but I sat at St. Laurent station for an eternity. Every time I'd get the doors closing, someone was running down the stairs and this guy in the back was holding the door open for them. Next thing I know, I had a knocker at the front door who wanted information.

"When does the 101 come?"
I'm thinking "Holy crap... she thinks I know when every bus arrives at every stop in the city."
"A few minutes" I said.

By the time I finally got the doors closed, I was 3 minutes down. That'll be 10 minutes before I know it if I don't get the hammer down here. I rush the bus through to Train, and head west.

I get the bus into Hurdman station, and watch as my 60 foot bus goes on a 2500lb diet. The knot of people surrounding the doors has let out like marbles scattering from a dropped felt bag. Everyone rushing in every direction. The chaotic exodus becomes a rising tide as people start to stream back onto the bus. I watch the rear door in the internal mirror until I can see no one trying to step in. I flip the switch and note that I am now 4 minutes down, and heading to downtown. Once the doors close I look in my left side mirror. I have my signal on, and I'm trying to nose my way into the flow of traffic. I can't believe how busy Hurdman station is for traffic these days. You've really got to watch where you're going.

Perspective is a funny thing, isn't it?

Ask any passenger along Fisher avenue, and they'll tell you about "that time" the driver clearly saw them waving on the other side, but didn't stop.

Ask any driver who's spent quality time driving an 86, and they'll tell you about that time they stopped on Fisher for a passenger who was on the opposite side, only to have that passenger nearly get intimate with the bumper of a fast moving car that they didn't see in their myopic bus-flagging frenzy. It happens so often, it's scary.

Ask any passenger who has forgotten a bus pass and been denied entry, and they will tell you that drivers should use discretion, that some drivers are cool, and that they always pay.

Ask any driver on a main line bus how many times a day they've been told about a forgotten pass. Seven times today alone. I am not joking. One passenger got really personal with me. After being called a few names, I reminded her that I am also a lousy husband and a terrible father. This drew a few chuckles from my regular passengers.

I think drivers and passengers alike need to try to see things from both sides of the wheel. I don't know if that means town hall style meetings, or just better policies and schedules, but wouldn't transit be a better experience if drivers and passengers had a better understanding of each other's needs and pressures?

I think so.

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