A life In A Day: AKA How it All Goes Wrong.


I get many questions from readers outside of Tri-Met about what is it like to be on the extra-board. They will also ask how does the extra-board work and how is it different from a regular drivers. Well I’m going to answer all those questions today with 5 little half page chapters, it all starts good but wait until the ending cause it all goes south by the ending.

Chapter 1: The Call In

So for those drivers who have study work they know ahead of time what they are doing and when. Week to week this does not change so they just go do their work. That’s much tougher than you think but bless the regular drivers because they are the backbone of Tri-Met.

Backing up these regular drivers comes the Extra-board. Our mission is to fill the gaps of the regular drivers, due to absenteeism, sickness or if they are late. While regular bus drivers average about 9 hours a day work we on the extra board can do far more, but I’m getting ahead of the story, this is how it starts.  

On the extra board you call in after 11:30 the day before to see what work has been assigned to you. Generally there are two flavors of work, A report, a report is when you come in and sit and wait for work to just pop up. There is also the assigned run, those are Runs they know will be open and they are given out to extra-board drivers ahead of time.

I call in 11:40.

The board is done at 11:30 for the next day and every extra board driver tries to call in at once so sometimes you have to wait in a phone line.

The Station Agent answers, I identify myself. Dan Christensen operator number 3176

Here is my work that I’m given for the next day.

first piece of work.

Run:138  Train:934  Start Time:12:50 PM at Powell and 98th (Right in front of the garage.)

Finished at 3:37 At Powell & Milwaukie. This is not the usual end point but they needed to give me time to get to my next run.  Run Time: 2.5 hours in total

Second piece of work Run:199  Train:450 Start time: 4:28 PM at 82nd and Division Eastbound

finished at 3:00 AM at Powell Garage. Run Time: 10 hours

This is a lot of work so I’m happy.  The in-between time is under an hour so I’m paid for it. A little bonus but good enough I will take it.

That’s how your day starts if you are on the extra board. It starts the day before with a work assignment.


Chapter 2

Next Day.

My next day starts with another call in for work tomorrow. I write down the information then hang around the garage for my start time.

My first run is 934: it’s easy as pie and before you know it I’m waiting for my second piece of work.

The second piece of work goes wrong the moment I step on the bus. I’m relieving a driver who joyfully tells me that the seat is stuck all the way forward.

Wait what? (Fill in that sound they use in the movies, you know the one, the needle scratching across a vinyl LP)

Ok so the previous driver never even called in for help so I’m stuck with this bus until I can get it fixed or exchanged, thank you previous driver. Apparently it was ok with him so he thought nothing about getting it fixed.

I bang my knee getting into the seat. I can fit but my knees stick out like a clown riding a tiny motorcycle in the circus. This means my feet don’t fit up and down on the pedals they fit across. The worse thing is the driver hew brought me this mess is riding with me all the way to Gresham. I want to tell him several unprofessional things but I take a breath. He is standing up front trying to talk to me. I politely ask him to give me my space and let me drive. He slinks into the back.

I put in a request to talk to a dispatcher and wait as I’m driving. Then it happens. I’m coming up to a light and my toe gets stuck under the brake pedal. I manage to work it free and stop the bus but I don’t like it. Lucky for me it’s just a short hop to the transit center.

Dispatch comes on and I inform them of the issue. They say they will have someone to fix the seat or a bus trade at Gresham Transit Center.

Once at Gresham everyone piles off and I bang my knee getting out as well. For a moment I can hardly stand and need to wait until feeling comes back into my knee before I can walk.

I find my trade bus and all is well. That driver takes my bus back to the garage to get fixed and I get his bus that’s already been driving since 5 in the morning. No worries it’s good to go and in a few hours even my knee feels better (Thanks Advil)

It’s going to be a long night I figure… brother I had no idea how long.


Chapter 3: Bus Driver Gears.

Now I have a confession to make, I have gears. wait you say? Not the bus? Oh sure the bus has gears as well but so do I. You see years ago I came up with this system I call Gears. I have first to fourth gear and they represent different levels of driving when I’m out late or on long runs.

1st Gear: This is when I’m fresh on the bus, wide awake and happy. All is good, time to roll in first gear.

  • Customer Interaction: A+
  • Speeds: Normal
  • Following Distance: Normal
  • Intersection Lights: Normal

2nd Gear: Second gear is if I get stuck with an AM run, or I have a cold, Or if I go over 8 hours. Once I hit 8 hours of driving I slip into second.

  • Customer Interaction: B+
  • Speeds: Slightly Slower
  • Following Distance: +2 Seconds
  • Intersection Lights: Extra few seconds delay

3rd Gear: Third gear is full on caution. I use this gear when I’m very tired, or it’s very late or I’ve been driving over 10 hours.

  • Customer Interaction: B-
  • Speeds: Slower
  • Following Distance +3 seconds.
  • Intersection Lights: Double my scans at intersections

4th Gear: That’s 12 hours plus of driving. Or if Im very tired of driving. 4th gear is also used at night when I’m returning to the Garage after a night run.

  • Customer Interaction: C-
  • Speeds: Much Slower
  • Following Distance +4 More Seconds
  • Intersection Lights: Double my scan when approaching. At red lights I point at lights with my left hand. Keeps my mind on the light even when I’m scanning. This way you never get that sudden shock after you pass a light, that little voice that says “Wait was that green?”

Some of you may hoot and holler about the customer service interaction degrading. To some who live in the mythical land of perfection every passenger should be treated as a god. I wish I could live in that place, I do try my best but after 12 hours… well I’m no Superman. After 12 hours i’m 100% focused on Safety, customer is on the back burner.


Chapter 4: How It all Goes Wrong

Words from Trainer Pete: “There is no precision commuting, it is by its very nature an imprecise thing at best. When all seems well, expect it all to fall apart”

I remember those words from good old Pete my trainer. He was the last of the old dogs. The guys who drove shift stick busses long before Tri-Met was even made. He told me this on my first day of driving and It has stuck with me ever since.

Trouble for me started on the very last leg of my 4 bus. All I had to do was get from Downtown Portland to St. Johns area. So the middle of Portland to the far North West tip for you non-Portlanders.

I was almost to the top of the ramp of the Steel Bridge coming out of Downtown Portland when the car in front of me stops. I think it’s stalled so I wait a moment. I’m hemmed in on my left by what is called a “Mountable Curb”. This is a small barrier that cars can drive over… cars not but not busses. Mountable curbs will high center a Low Floor bus and you the driver will get blamed for it. So I have to wait.

After some minutes the driver and his passenger seem to be arguing and people from the cars behind me start walking up to offer help. I secure my bus, hop out maybe they need a push I figure but the trouble is worse than that. Not only is the tire flat, it is bent 40% off center from the other front wheel… Looks like this low profile sports car met my friend the Mountable Curb.

 The Unmountable, Mountable Curb

The Unmountable, Mountable Curb

I get back to my bus and call my dispatcher. tow truck needed!

Then something happens. The Driver and Passenger take off running.

Oh dear, I call my dispatcher back and he calls the police.

Tow truck and Police at what? almost three AM, how long will that take.

The Police show up 20 minutes latter and 15 minutes after that the tow truck is on the seen. He has to break in because the runners left their keys in the car and left it running. It takes him all of 25 seconds to break in. He lifts the car and every bit of radiator fluid runs out. Thank you Mr. Mountable Curb.

With a quick sprinkle of absorb the Tow Truck driver is done and I’m now over an hour late at three in the morning and I still have most of my last run to do.

Chapter 5: WHY YOU LATE!!!

You got it. Despite the lateness, despite being tired as hell, there are still people waiting for my bus. These are people who do not choose to ride the bus, these are people who have no choice but to ride and they are not happy.

Everyone I pick up want’s a personally hand engraved explanation of why I’m late. I’m already in 4th gear so the best I do is grunt and point back into the bus. They are not happy and nothing I can say will make them happy. Lucky for me the people who were on the bus while I was stuck explain it.

All I’m doing is staying 100% focused on my driving skills. Keep head scanning, 4th gear following distance, double check intersection, point at red lights, stay frosty.

I’m told by those boarding everything from I suck to you don’t know your job. I don’t care. I’m just driving safe. None of them know how long I’ve been driving and I’m not telling them.

One by one I drop them off until I’m done.

Now comes the hardest point of all, I have to drive from one side of Portland all the way back to the far far other side to my garage. That’s right away I go. It’s 4th gear all the way. I’m moving from tired to sleepy and I know there is a countdown going off in the back of my head until I’m unfit to drive. I’m ready for it if I reach that point I’m pulling over.

Lucky for me driving in 4th gear is such old hat that I make it.




Slight Knee pain

I’m so late the Morning drivers are all there ready to leave. I started on Tuesday just past noon and we are four and half hours into Wednesday.

I blabber mindlessly, fill out paperwork and stumble home.

I would call in at 11:30 for my next day's work, They tell me then to be back my 3:00 PM for a report at the garage. Just another day.

That’s what it’s like as an extra board driver.

Now you know, now you go out and Roll Easy.