“Hey Victoria bus riders! Or bus lamenters…whatever. You can come in, too.”

Image Source: http://i.huffpost.com/gen/770893/images/o-VICTORIA-BUS-facebook.jpg
Image Source: http://i.huffpost.com/gen/770893/images/o-VICTORIA-BUS-facebook.jpg

This opinion piece was originally posted to the rants & raves section of Craigslist

Hey Victoria bus riders! Or bus lamenters…whatever. You can come in, too.

I am a Victoria area bus driver, and I personally get (and see online) a lot of the same kinds of questions and complaints about drivers, the bus system, schedules…all of it. So I thought it would be fun and nerdy as hell to write a letter to anyone who cares to read it and try and answer some of those questions. But first, a quick disclaimer…

I do not speak for BC Transit. I am just an anonymous driver who loves his job and generally has a pretty great time doing it. Additionally, I try NOT to speak directly for other drivers, save where I feel confident that we have consensus. This is just my rambling. Take with the appropriate measure of salt. Also, I believe in public transit. I grew up relying on it, and use it whenever I can. So now you know my bias 😉 Onward and upward.

You’re late!

Ah yes, the classic. My favourite response to this? “Yes, I am.” Believe me, we knew we were late before you even woke up this morning. The farebox has a clock, most of us wear a wrist watch, we have cell phones that double as clocks (technology these days) and some buses even have a clock somewhere on the dash. We also have the schedule right in front of us. We know we are late. We sympathize, but the reality is that we can’t do much about it. Driving faster leads to accidents (both inside and outside the bus), skipping stops pisses people off, taking shortcuts leads to accidents AND pissing people off…you see where this is going? Traffic, accidents, passenger loads, the weather, a detour, a broken down bus, some drunk guy losing his dinner on board…we can’t help those things. They happen, and we do our best to keep the system chugging along. Telling us that we are late, or especially asking for an explanation as to why, does not help you get there faster. But we’ll do our best for you!

You’re early!

Hopefully this doesn’t happen nearly as often as being late. It is the cardinal sin (next to hitting stuff, of course), and it sucks. Remember, I am an avid bus guy, and ride it all the time. There are a few things to keep in mind. First, drivers have this thing called a paddle. On it are all of the routes that particular bus will be on, and the times it should be departing each timing point (those are the stops listed in the paper rider’s guide). We don’t have a schedule for every stop in the system. All I know is that I have 12 minutes to make it from Tillicum Mall to Uptown. If I arrive on the 12 minute mark, YAY! If I arrive early, I wait. And hope that I didn’t miss anyone. If I notice that it is happening regularly, then I try and find ways to slow up so I don’t arrive at Uptown early. Not the easiest thing to do in traffic…

That means you really should be at your stop 5 minutes before the bus is scheduled to arrive. If the bus is earlier than that, you either have a driver deliberately blasting his way through the route (in which case, call it in. Other drivers may hate me for saying this, but the goal is to pick people up, not leave them standing), or something went seriously wrong with the schedule.

It is also possible that the buses are running so late that while you may THINK the driver was 6 minutes early, he/she was in fact 24 minutes late. We all know that Bay Street is a gong show. I was doing the #10, which in the middle of the day ran every 20 minutes, with 2 buses servicing the route. Traffic backed up, we both fell behind about equal amounts. When I was about 10-15 minutes late, passengers boarding were very agitated. As soon as I hit the 19-20 minute late mark, they didn’t even know anything was wrong. Their bus came on time, and I was half a lap behind. Fun times in the Garden City!

The drivers are all jerks. They never say hello, or even smile.

Unfortunate, but true in some cases. I’ve ridden with guys like that, and I just don’t get it. I have spoken to a few of my comrades though, and they let me in on a secret. Many of them used to greet every person that boarded and were very personable on the job. What killed their motivation to do it was people tuning out with earbuds in, not responding at all, and ignoring the driver’s attempts to be friendly. Be the change! Say hi first! Or, if we beat you to it (a personal goal of mine), RESPOND! Just pull out one earbud for a split second, say hey, and then go zone out.

You never wait until I sit down before going. Are you TRYING to make me fall over?

We actually have a pool to see who can get the most on board injuries.*

*not even remotely true

Officially, we are supposed to give you a reasonable amount of time to find a seat. That basically means if you pass up six seats and make your way to the back, we ain’t waiting. We don’t have time. Remember the whole “you’re late!” discussion? Deal with your bus pass, phone, purse, tennis balls, whatever AFTER you sit down, if it concerns you. The times when we WILL wait is if you ask specifically, or if you have an obvious mobility or balance issue (anyone with a white and red cane, some elderly folks, etc). For all of you skateboarders out there, we love you. We could be driving a bowl of jet-powered jello, and you still wouldn’t fall over. Respect.

But still…your driving is a little rough. OK, a lot rough.

Fair criticism. Sometimes it is. Most of us are aware and trying to be more gentle. But seriously…have you seen our roads lately? Shelbourne? Bay? Superior? Fort? Those ridiculous roller coaster things on Burnside? Additionally, some buses just plain ride smoother than others. The worst offenders are well known to us. I can feel myself bouncing around just by thinking about them.

You left me standing at the stop!

I’m a night driver, so this is night specific. The only way I will ever leave you at a stop is if my bus is full, I couldn’t see you, or you showed no interest in catching the bus.

OK, if you painted your face blue and were brandishing a sword, yelling “FREEDOM!!!!”, I might pass you up. But I would at least have the courtesy to open the doors on the way by and cheer you on.*

*also not true

Two quick things here. Firstly, our eyes are attracted to light and movement. So if you are wearing all black (or anything not bright, for that matter), sitting in the shelter…you don’t stand a chance. If you stand still at the stop, you may just blend in with the telephone pole and the garbage can. Very simple…if you want the bus at night, step forward wearing something reflective (or with your handy cell phone/flashlight in hand) and stick your hand/light out. Don’t do a little dance…I don’t know what your special wave means. I’ve had guys do the foxtrot only to tell me they didn’t want my bus. (I’m late! Time wasted!) Step forward, hand out. Done. Don’t want me? Ignore me. Step back, shake your head.

Funny story. I almost missed a lady who was wearing grey pants and a green jacket. She was standing on a sidewalk, with a retaining wall covered in moss and grass behind her. Some of you people should be teaching the Canadian Forces your camouflage techniques, ’cause dang.

You almost hit me!

AAAHH!!! Scariest thing ever, right? Aside from the obvious “help us see you so we can avoid you” speech, some people at bus stops have a death wish. Toes hanging over the curb, head sticking out over the road, playing chicken with an oncoming bus. It doesn’t help that our mirrors are right at head height for those of the taller persuasion. We are watching these things, honest. But help us out a little. I spend half of my night trying to creatively enter a bus zone so I don’t hit you, or dodging wayward pedestrians crossing the street wherever the hell they want. We know you have the right of way, but the road was not built for you. It was built for vehicles. Don’t invite that kind of trouble, and we’ll do our level best to not be troublesome.

And cyclists, we know we have a special circle of hell reserved for us in your hearts. I am a cyclist by the way, so I am not deaf to your plea. Having shared bus/bike lanes doesn’t make any sense to us either, but we have to live together, so we may as well make it work. My only real issues, and I know not all of you are like this, involve lighting and right of way. Riding your bike in town is always a risky proposition. Doing so at night, in the rain, is terrifying. Even with your lights and reflectors, the glare off of the roads and from people’s headlights is just brutal, and you are tiny. You vanish easily, even when we strain to see you. Take my advice, ride like everyone is trying to kill you. This whole weaving out and around the bus thing is as agitating for you as it is for us. If you can’t take to the sidewalk, consider holding up for a second and let us get a head start. If you ride sans reflective clothing and lighting, your days are numbered. Please don’t make us both statistics. Ride safe, and you can ride again!

Thank you!

You’re welcome! No, really. Victoria is a special place, and you people show us your respect with the constant thank-yous. It is talked about internationally, I assure you. So thank YOU!

You guys think you are above the law. Your driving sucks.

That’s only partly true. Driving a 40 foot, 20,000lb+ bus in our cramped little city comes with some challenges. Here are some common scenarios…

Changing lanes in an intersection. Having a bus stop on one side of the intersection and parked cars blocking the lane on the other side, I’m not really sure what else we can do here. And of course that devilish left turn onto Fort from Douglas SB. Hauling my 40 foot self across two lanes of traffic in the space of a block (or less) just isn’t fun. But the show must go on.

Turning into the wrong lane. We call this the “transit turn”. Normally, if you are in the far left lane turning left, you should arrive in the far left lane again when you exit the intersection. Because the business end of the road for a bus is the far RIGHT lane, we have to get over very quickly. So we jump a lane. Otherwise we miss the stop.

Running red (orange) lights. OK, this is NOT a bus driver problem, this is a Victoria driver problem. Seriously, y’all are awful at this. Here’s the deal with buses and controlled intersections. We have to make the go/no go decision (remember the point of no return from your driver’s handbook?) FAR earlier than you do. We have several tons of unrestrained precious cargo on board…we can’t just stop whenever we want. Well, we CAN, but said cargo would not like that experience very much. So if I commit to go through an intersection (which can happen easily half a block away, depending on speed and conditions), I am COMMITTED unless some kind of immediate safety risk presents itself. That still leaves a lot of time for a stale green to go yellow, then red before my entire bus clears the intersection. Or the intersection of Burnside and Tillicum? The WORST! Pulling away from the stop, the light turns yellow. You are going too fast to stop before the intersection, but not fast enough to clear the space before the red light. Stopping in the middle of it is right out, so the only way around it is through it. Don’t look at us…talk to the city engineers. At least the downtown lights have true countdown timers.

You cut me off!

If I had a dollar for the amount of times I got cut off in a bus in a single shift, I could donate my wages to charity and go out for dinner that night. I know, I know…tit for tat, right? This usually happens when we are coming out of a stop. We just need to learn to get along. For instance, it is the law to yield to a bus. I have patiently waited in traffic, signal on, while car after car puttered by, not letting me out. So I stick my nose out. Not INTO traffic, but enough to wake up the guy behind me and gently encourage him to wait. Schedule, right? I just had three passengers ask me why I’m late. Don’t be the reason I give to them. Honestly, you guys being impatient with us makes us impatient with you. Total catch 22. Be nice on the roads, we all have to share it. And YOU! The dude who will not, heaven help you, be found dead behind a bus and will drive into oncoming traffic to get around me. I signaled, I waited, I pulled out when safe, and you would have none of it. And then I was right behind you all the way through town. Aren’t you glad that your life-endangering manoeuvre got you there a grand total of 4 seconds earlier? You can’t beat traffic, dude. Trust us. We know better than anyone. Leave earlier next time. At least you have the option.

This is getting long. Maybe there will be a part two. Some parting wisdom…this is of dire importance.

We hear everything you say on the bus. All of it. I hope you’re OK with that. The late night post-club conversations are particularly entertaining. And usually a little shocking. OK, a lot shocking.

Ride on! See you on the streets.