I was in the bathroom at Powell Garage doing my ritual washing up after a long day at the wheel. I hear a strange metallic clank sound behind me. Turning around there on the floor was a Colt .38 hammerless revolver sitting on the floor. A hand came out from under the stall and franticly snatched it up. I could see clothes on the floor of the stall, the driver was changing into work uniform and it was clear they were taking the pistol with them out on their late shift.
Here is the deal, I’m sure this driver is not alone. I’ve seen an assortment of self defense weapons show up over the years. Drivers know they are alone, that they are likely to be strapped to a chair when it all goes wrong and they know, deep inside they know that, Nothing being done will make them any safer. Before anyone leaps to the pre-programed positions on Guns let me explain that it’s not just guns. Also, there is much more to this.
Media: There is a saying in the media, “If it bleeds it leads” this means that until there is blood on the ground a subject is unlikely to grab the headlines. This is the nature of the media but the gap between reality and headlines can be filled with misery.
Tri-Met: The company I drive a bus for is also not in a hurry to bring up anything likely to be negative. Asking Tri-Met to manage themselves is like asking a second grader to guard the candy. I think everyone intuitively grasps the fundamental problem of asking large institutions to be their own watchdogs, the incentive are all wrong.
The Public: on the other hand the public moves along wanting only busses to show up and the drivers to be on the upside of grumpy. They want a nice trip and to get where they are going on time. That’s why they are on the bus not the train. They are worried about their lives there for they let Tri-Met make all the calls. They only get involved when the blood laden media headlines stir them up.
Bus Drivers: Even the bus drivers are divided, most bus drivers are commuter bus drivers. Getting people to work, school, doctors and stores and getting them home from work, schools, doctors and stores. To them life is good, everything is fine. Violence and problem is rare for these drivers.
Other Drivers: Other drivers drive after hours, they drive routes that have less consumers, people going to school and normal life things and more people going about a life far more shady. These other drivers are on the receiving end of most criminal or dangerous activity on a bus. Most of all they drive at night, night is literally when most of the dirt goes down and they have a front row seat.
Don’t get me wrong, bad things can happen any time on a bus. I’m painting with a broad brush here but when the sun is down and the ridership slacks off that is when you see far more problems per trip.
To these Other Drivers of city busses they know the truth that late at night, they are all alone. They know the truth that getting on the radio and calling for help is almost never going to prevent an issue. At best it will get help to you after an issue has already bubbled up and exploded in your face.
From bus drivers getting stabbed to busses being shot at it’s all happening. Though no driver has been hit by gunfire yet there is nothing, NOTHING! that prevents this. I’ve had gunshots around my bus, had the bus behind me shot right through the front window. I’ve had the windows and side of my bus shot at and hit. So let me tell you it is happening.
To the Other Drivers the statistics of safety that get tossed around mean nothing. The Other Drivers know that most of those so called “reductions” in criminal activity are happening in those day runs, easy commuter runs and on the light rail. Meanwhile on the bus, those Other Drivers, are left to fend for themselves.
Enter The Harry!
Harry Saporta Part of the Leadership team. He is the “Executive Director of Safety and Security”
Let me start by saying this. I have no axe to grind with the management of Tri-Met. I would hate to do their jobs. I do on the other hand have a strong strong feeling for Safety and the Truth. I always want the truth no matter how that makes me or Tri-Met appear to the public. I believe saying the truth can get you a black eye, but no more black eye’s then you deserve if you are doing something wrong. It also forces you to change in good ways and earns the respect of those around you.
So one Day Harry Sapporta Comes to Powell Garage. He came to us for this most rare of rare visits bringing along the head of the Transit police and a few officers. He came to tall us about safety not talk with us. After his long opening speech touting a miraculous 25% reduction in criminal activity he made the mistake of asking if anyone of us had any questions before he continued on. The hand full of drivers there at the Garage that afternoon, no more then 12, grumbled in dubious silence.
No one said a thing so he was about to go on when I raised my hand. To this day I kick myself that I did not start recording this on my iPhone. It was obvious he came armed to tell not to listen, He came ready for us to believe and to comply not to be challenged.
I asked him where did the 25% reduction in Violence come from? Bus or train? He didn’t have the breakdown off hand.
I asked him where did the reduction come from day or night… again he did not have the details but he could get them to me and never did.
I asked him where were the security assets deployed to by percent Bus or train? He didn’t know. Promised he would get back to me and never did.
I asked him do they aggregate all criminal activity on bus and train over time so we can see trends and deploy resources to respond to this data. He literally pretended to not know what aggregation was. I asked the police if they understood, if they get compiled criminal data on the areas they cover… they said yes. He did not have an answer.
To this day I don’t know what is worse, that Harry Saporta really did not know what data aggregation was (hardly seems possible, Right?) or that he knew, but thought that I would buy his act of not knowing. This frustrated me and told me he was not going to be honest so rather than stop I pressed the throttles forward. You can prove me wrong, I’m ok with that, but if you try to put me off by hiding behind pretend ignorance you are getting my arguments full on.
I asked him why a driver who has a knife pulled on him by a rider was told once the rider left the bus to keep rolling. No report. In other words that would not affect that 25% reduction in crime, right? No report = no problem. Harry did not have the answer.
I asked him why when I listen to the Tri-Met scanner I hear dispatch telling drivers to keep rolling and that no report is needed all the time. I asked if they are not skewing the data unknowingly by not including things that used to be write ups? Harry had no response but told me he did not think that was happening. (Obviously he does not listen to the scanner)
I asked him why when I had an assault on my bus of one passenger to another including one knocked out. No one was called and no one responded. Both stumbled off the bus and I was told to keep rolling. No report. How many times had this happened on this line? was this a growing problem? who could know! because who could tell! no data means everything is getting better. Harry had no response to that.
Question after question I asked him, our “ Safety Specialist” and he had no response just promises. The drivers were cheering me and at one time even the Police were laughing at him.
It was shameless.
Finally Harry threw up his hands and said “What would you do!”
Of all the dirty tricks, the false surrender is really one of the lowest. I reposted with two statements “I want you to do your job, are you telling me when you ask me ‘what would I do’ that you don’t know how to do your job?”
Crickets… he fidgeted.
I offered to trade him jobs more fidgets.
I let him off the hook. “I’m a bus driver, I drive busses, I’m not asking you to come drive my busses, I’m not asking to do your job. I just don’t understand that if we are not collecting accurate data how we can be sure what you are saying is true? If we are not comparing data over time how can we be sure that a sudden 25% decrease in criminal activity is not due to selective data? How can we pinpoint the real problem areas if we are not getting the real data, if we have too many biases built into the system.”
Harry then fell back on acting like
A: like he did not understand
B: like I did not understand a thing about what I was talking about.
To the other Drivers and the Police this was not the case but to Harry it was really his only trick left.
I asked the drivers for a show of hands of who thought the bus drivers were really 25% more safe? not a hand went up.
I was told that attacks and assaults on driver were still rare. I pointed around the room at drivers who had been attacked, assaulted, spit on, or grabbed in the last year. Apparently just by luck a large percent of all the assaults at Tri-met were in that very room? What are the odds? With three garages and we were at the afternoon lul in drivers! What strange coincidence! Shouldn't that tell him something?
He tried to change the topic but another driver came to my rescue and asked him the same questions.
Oh but we were out of time… They just had enough time for the Transit Police to speak. Harry promised to get back to me.
Quick, you have 1 million dollars to bet on this question.
1: Harry got right back to me with the Data?
2: Harry engaged me, obviously a motivated person who cared about safety in some sort of process where my interest and passions could be used to help others.
3: Harry never got back to me
4: Harry never got back to me and I haven’t seen him at Powell Garage since.
Make your bet now. You could double your money! Hold on to your bet until the end for the answer
It was obviously suck it up and take it time for those Other Drivers. This story is told by those who were there as a joke every time the “stats” come out about how much safer we are. It will include a pantomime of someone throwing up their hands and saying “What would you do! What would you do!” I’ve even run into the Transit Police who were there, “Oh no here comes the Tiger” they say when they see me. “Don’t mess with the Tiger!” I always give them a growl and paw the air.
What is frustrating to those Other Drivers is they are constantly getting the message that says “You Other Drivers are on your own.” Drivers respond to this in their own ways.
What else did you think would happen.
If something is going to happen it’s going to happen.
Hey nothing happens to me (Says someone 6’+ tall or 220+ pounds)
I believe everything they tell me, “It won’t be me” (The Normandy beach response.)
There is a 5th response. I saw that on the bathroom floor of Powell Garage.
Someone willing to break the rules and arm themselves.
Who can say no really? You have a family, You know help is minutes away and you are strapped to a chair. Does being a bus driver mean you must be defenseless? Are you willing to bet your life on what we are told? How do you look in the eyes of a family bread winner and say “No. In no way do you ever possibly arm your self. To be a bus driver is to take what ever violence comes your way.” I can’t look people in the eyes and say that.
So do regular drivers arm themselves? No, most don’t. Do the Other Driver's arm themselves, yes! a growing number of them do. They share this information sitting around the tables at work. “Oh what’s that?” they will say looking over a shoulder. That’s how it starts and that’s how it grows, just drivers talking. Drivers who refuse to be sheep.
I don’t care about the gun control issue so please just stay away from your pre-programed responses. Besides it’s more than guns. I’ve seen everything, knives, mace, gas pistols, Saps, all manner of tactical equipment of devious nature. All equalizers to protect a driver's life in a time a need.
Someday it will happen, the blood of a bus driver will be spilled or a bus driver's life will be taken. We have seen it across the nation happen time and time again. Trust me when I say this, that there is nothing being done and the safety numbers are a fiction at best. Big institutions seldom regulate themselves well, we see examples of this all over our world don’t we?
Still someday a driver will die, and it will lead in the news. There will be a big outcry. The bad stats will come tumbling forward in torrents. Tri-met will vow to do more. Until then those Other Drivers, Those late night drivers, those drivers on the edge of civilization, well who can blame them for wanting at least a fighting chance.
I have time and time again flirted with this question myself, “what if the laws were changed so that drivers were allowed to arm themselves legally if they chose to?”
I’m not talking about a law demanding that they do arm, just a law preventing transit agencies who receive state funds from preventing drivers the legal right to exercise their right to be armed. What would happen?
Do you think Tri-met would keep doing nothing if they knew that a law like that was under consideration? or do you think they would try to do more? Hard to say. Something tells me they would do anything to head off that sort of law. They would suddenly be very interested in fixing things.
I’m all for drivers protecting themselves. At the end of the day no one should give up their life to drive a bus. No driver should arm themselves if they don’t wish to do so. On the other hand if those Other Drivers want to arm themselves in compliance with the laws of this state then why should they be prohibited.
Sadly we will have to wait for that dark time when the drivers blood hits the floor. It may be next week or next year or a decade from now. It’s really to do with chance because nothing is there to stop violent actions from happening at all. Maybe then there will be an outcry loud enough, When the Media, Management and the Public are all screaming hysterically… Wait what am I saying! What are the odds that good will come from that!
No. those Other Drivers are going to have to do it alone and it may never change.
The answer to the Harry Saporta question is 4, No engagement, no response and never seen him again at Powell.