"How a so called “Culture of Safety” at Trimet has morphed into a system that puts customer service first and foremost and logic, reason and safety in the back seat."
There are those who don’t know this is going on so they are unable to speak. There are those who know this is going on and are powerless to speak, there are those who know this is going on and are fearful to speak and there are those who know this is going on and are glad others cannot and will not speak about it. The question is what one of the above are you?
I know that is a provocative opening but let’s take a breath and digress with a little time travel. Are you ready? Sure why not. So back in time we go to the invention of the first automobiles or horseless carriages if you will.
At that time rules of the road were set by local custom and tradition. Then along comes an automobile and things start to change quickly. Unlike a horse an automobile is a big dumb block of steel that does exactly what you tell it to do… if it functions.
When the automobile first came out people realized that they were getting faster and faster and there had to be some sort of limit on their speed, some sort of speed limit. So they came up with some speed limits and posted signs.
Question: Without police enforcement how would you rate the compliance of Automobile drivers to the old speed limits?
A: Extremely High
B: Mostly compliment
C: Oh Please Who are You kidding
We may debate if it was mostly B or mostly C but I think I’m not going out on a limb to say that it was not A.
Now imagine there were two large cities right next to one another and the people of both cities wanted to improve safety. Let’s call these two cities Southville and Northville.
Northville came up with a solution, not a perfect solution but a workable solution. They empowered Police with the power to write those that traveled above the speed limit with a citation. They would have to pay a fine if they were speeding. Imagine that world for a moment, Sounds a lot like ours right? So a policeman would pull you over, give you a speech and write you a citation. The faster you were traveling the higher the dollar amount of the fine.
Well Southville had the same speeding problem but after long debates they came up with a different solution. If you were Speeding in Southville, the police would pull you over and write you, not a citation, but a check… That’s right the police officer would give you a lecture on speeding then pay you money. The faster you were going the higher the dollar amount of the check. The Mayor of Southville, Mayor S. Turkey stated “People are going to speed no matter what you do, the only way to get them to listen and slow down is to pay them off.”
Knowing what you know about human nature, what do you think happened?
A: Northville brought Speeding mostly under control. There were a few violators but over all people traveled around at the speed limit.
B: Southville not only turned into a mess of speeding cars and accidents but it cost the city a fortune. Almost everyone in Southville would speed.
C: Northville failed, everyone would speed around while in Southville people who were paid to speed actually listened to the police and followed the speed limit.
I think a combination of A and B will be our general agreement as to the outcome. While C would most definitely not comply with what we all know about human nature.
Also I would like to point out that Mayor S. Turkey (S for Stupid they say) was crazy when he accepted the negative behavior of speeding and sought to pay for it. Just what would be the outcome for this solution? Could someone earn an income from going around speeding every day? Sure they could. Could someone going out to drink earn a few quick bucks by driving carelessly? You bet they could.
The real question is this “Would you want to live in Southville?”
So why all this time travel. Why all this story especially after such a burning hot accusation for a headline. Why not get right into the issues! Well I wanted to build some consensus about our values of safety and human nature. Far too often people leap to conclusions based on the nature of arguments, not that facts. I wanted to avoid political or biased response by simplifying the story because the story deep down inside is horrific.
Now We Can Start.
I say it all the time, “Driving the bus is a life and death job.” We hold as many if not more lives in our hands every day than any doctor or pilot. We have people in our bus, we have people boarding and debarking, we have people around our bus on foot, on bikes and in cars and what we do as bus operators has a direct effect on their safety and life.
Many scoff at this idea of bus drivers but they are sadly mistaken. I was sadly reminded of this when I saw the headlines this morning.
“Pedestrian Running To Catch TriMet Bus, Hit by Car and Killed”
A 29 year old man decided as many people each day decide, that missing a bus was the single worse thing that could happen to him. So he ran for it. It’s easy for some to look and say that’s not me, some may even laugh but I cannot. I believe in life, I believe in not just safety but protecting life. Those two things are not always the same.
Remember my example above of Northville and Southville? Both were trying to control speeding. They came up with opposite solutions, both claimed they were all about Safety, they just disagreed with how to bring it about. Though both were touting their solution as promoting Safety only one Protected Life. It’s easy to see that claims of Safety and Protecting Life are not always the same.
At TriMet we have great trainers and many great policies that promote not only Safety but also Protecting Life. That is not true of all policies however. There are many policies that on the surface as just like Southville, it sounds like safety but it’s not a Protection of Life.
This condition is made even worse by an over emphasis on customer service, by this I mean not receiving complaints. In this quest for zero defect drivers, operators on often receiving reinforcement to follow policy and to not be concerned with Protecting Life.
Rather than telling you all the ways this is done, I’m going to address a single issue specifically.
The Pedestrian running to the bus and being struck and killed is a perfect example. The truth is at TriMet we train riders to do this every day. In this instance we are Southville, waving the flag of Safety while secretly promoting endangering Life.
TriMet doesn’t care what a pedestrian does before they board. They can run through traffic, they could duck under a train at a crossing, they can jump in front of your bus. They could run out in traffic to slow a bus down so they can reach a bus stop first, they can throw things in the road, they can push children in strollers in front of a moving bus, they can push their bikes in front of your bus, they jump out in the dark dressed like a ninja, right in your way, they can put sticks, staffs, walking canes, shopping baskets in the road in front of you. They can jet diagonally through an intersection causing cars to jerk in front of your bus all to get you to wait long enough for them to reach the bus stop. I could go on and on about how people try to drive my bus from the outside of my bus, how they try to control my bus with their bodies. Every driver has seen this and every driver hates it. TriMet doesn’t hate it though. To Trimet it doesn’t matter.
No matter how careless and dangerous, no matter how reckless or suicidal. Trimet wants you to pay them off Southville style, they want you to stop and give them a ride. In fact TriMet insists that you do. They don’t have it in writing so much as they have the punishments for not picking them up well defined. Most drivers can tell you about being brought in to a manager's office over such an issue, because to management everyone deserves a Southville pay out, no matter what action they take they deserve to be paid for it by getting a ride.
So many times drivers have made the argument that if you pay people off for doing the wrong thing they will do it more. Just like in Southville, if you pay people to speed will you get less of it? It’s not that any single driver was really endanger of an accident, they simply don’t want a dangerous behavior to receive a reward and thus be promoted.
This is logical, rational and most of all it is Protective of Life.
Our favorite Mayor S. Turkey of Southville is alive and well at Trimet when we are told “Riders are going to do it anyway so you might as well give them a ride.” besides they will say, “you were not even close to killing them, they were just running across 5 lanes of traffic.” That’s exactly what they would have said about the man struck and killed, if he had made it and that bus operator had taken off without him, refusing to pay him off.
Drivers argue back to management that it’s not about any one instance it’s a behavior. A behavior that if left unchecked will mathematically lead to life threatening consequences. That if you pay those dangerous actions off who take great risks and inflict danger on you, other drivers, cyclist and pedestrians. All you are doing if you pay them off is just passing the buck down the road to the next Operator. Maybe next time it’s dark or raining then? Maybe the driver has been driving for 10 hours, maybe they missed their last break and is worried about reaching the bathroom, maybe they are distracted by all that is going on in their bus and POW!
That’s acceptable to TriMet management. Because they can then blame the Driver of the future it’s not on you in the now. Management is not like bus operator’s, we are part of a community. As part of a community you do not put others in that community in danger. When you walk out of the “Office” of managers and look around you say to yourself “If I do what they want someone here, maybe someone I know will pay the price.” Imagine how that makes you feel.
It’s not always your fellow drivers that pay directly. Sometimes it’s just a guy running across a road and someone else in a car or truck pays the Southville bill courtesy of TriMet, all the result of bus drivers paying off dangerous behavior with rides.
Have I seen this before?
Sure I have.
The guy who constantly thought that riding up on his bike as you were pulling away from a stop and knocking on your bus was acceptable. If you didn’t pull over and pick him up what then? Couldn’t he call in a complaint and into the office you would go. A little conference time with Mayor S. Turkey of Southville. “Don’t worry, nothing bad happened, if it ever does it won't be you, just pick’m up” because the worse thing is a complaint so Driver, obey!
Then one night you are driving bus 72 on 82nd ave. and look across the road and see something behind a stopped bus. You see the tangled bike and then something else. Something that looks like it’s broken in two… no that’s not… no! only it is. Another life snuffed out because for decades TriMet has been DEMANDING drivers pick people up no matter what they do. Because the worse thing is getting a complaint right? That death thing didn’t happen to you just kick that can down the road. Only I’ve seen it happen to drivers I know.
I’ve had that exact Mayor of Southville Speech, all drivers do some day. The people telling you what to do have almost zero chance of being involved when the time comes for that when Southville can can’t get kicked down the road any more. When the time comes for the real payment for rewarding the bad comes due, management is nowhere to be found. That price is always paid by the operators who are either involved directly or have to witness the effects that get passed on to others. All thanks to Mayor S. Turkey of Southville USA.
So what could be done?
Create a code for such endangering and put a button on our touch pads for this behavior, Say a code 100. If you code 100 a stop, meaning someone was endangering, then any called in complaint about a bus driver passing up a rider hit’s the garbage can. In an era of camera busses this can easily be proven. If action is not seen directly , the old excuse that “I was just standing at the stop, doing nothing and the driver went right on his way” can be disproven. This creates an incentive for drivers to do the right thing and a disincentive for riders to do the wrong thing. It’s not perfect, it’s not 100% foolproof but over time people will adapt and learn.
2. TriMet has all sorts of safety campaigns. Right now we are having one promoting being seen at night. It’s a good campaign. It’s time to start the “Be Sane! Be Safe” campaign. Posters, radio and tv spots clearly stating that if you endanger yourself, others or the bus the driver may choose not to board you. Put posters on the bus. On the door put Code 100 and circle and slash. let everyone know what a code 100 means. Do a press release and tell the public that drivers will make a safe call whenever they have must.
3. Empowering drivers to make the judgement. Clearly you cannot deter all endangering actions. Sometimes a bad rider is going to get on because you have to stop and open your doors for others. Let the drivers know that if a code 100 gets on it’s ok. You won’t be able to avoid them all. It’s an avoid if you have the opportunity and it does not effect others. What you are looking for is the long term accumulative effect of Code 100 vs Pay out with rides.
Over time this will have a positive life effect, because lives will be saved. You could even find people at a stop warning others not to Code 100. Who knows where it could lead but one thing for sure, it will lead to a different town than the Southville we have now.
TriMet needs to stop punishing drivers for doing the right thing. Customer service is not more important than Safety and it is nowhere even close to Protecting Life. Let's get rid of the Mayor S. Turkey responses and start dealing with the reality of making sure we provide a positive incentive to ride the bus. Let’s get rid of the old Priority list of TriMet and replace it with a new one.
Trimet New Values
- Protect life
- Customer Service
Maybe you think I’m talking crazy, maybe you think I must be out of my head. Perhaps you even live under the cloud of propaganda that leads you to believe that TriMet wants to protect life, has a culture of Safety and does not put customer service complaints above common sense. Ok Maybe that is what you believe, but allow me the following.
No other form of mass transportation encourages endangering behavior.
Try running out on a runway in front of departing and taxying airplanes to get to your flight? Do you think the head of Delta Airlines is going to give that Pilot the old Mayor S. Turkey speech when they don’t stop to pick you up?
How about pushing a stroller with a child in it in front of a moving Am-Trak train to slow it down to allow you to walk to the train station and board? Do you think you would be embraced and warmly welcomed onto the train with perfect customer service?
Maybe a guy in a boat charges up along a departing cruise ship and starts banging on the hull so he can board because he wasn’t at the terminal when it pulled away? Think that guy is going on that cruise?
Getting crushed by a landing gear, going under a train, getting sucked into the propeller of a ship or getting hit by cars or bus while trying to get to a stop… It all ends the same way, as we saw in the news today. The only difference is one of these forms of transportation embraces this behavior and the others don’t. I will let you guess where Mayor S. Turkey is employed.
In the first paragraph of this tale I asked who are you. I know who I am. I know what is going on, I'm fearful for my job, yet I'm compelled to speak the truth anyway.
No more kicking the can down the road.
- Protect life
- Customer Service
PS: Don’t think I don’t have more than a little fear about posting this. TriMet does not like anyone challenging their words, especially anyone of us who operate a bus.
I don’t think they are the way they are because of ruthless intention. They are the way they are because of inappropriate priorities and a top down "Yes Man" Approach, that’s a forgivable and a correctable error. That they defend these lethal priorities and management styles as the “Only Way” that I cannot forgive them for. Sadly it means things will not change until things change from the top down.