Sunday, June 12, 2011

These guys could be Metro's "driver of the year"

Yesterday, I boarded the 5:46 PM bus for King County Metro Route 150 out of Kent Station. I paid my fare and was about to sit down when the driver, a rotund, balding white man, said something to me. At first I didn’t understand what his issue was, but then he pointed at a cup I was holding. It had no lid on it, that was true, but it was mostly drained of liquid except for some remains of coffee clinging to the ice at the bottom of the cup. The driver told me I had to take it outside. What? I was only going to be on the bus for five minutes, and it was just ice and I wanted to save it. Now some drivers are “nice,” and some are not; some are reasonable, and others are not. You never know what kind of driver you will get. This driver was clearly of the variety whose used his “discretion” to bully people. No, I was told, it had to be covered. OK, I had a plastic bag, so I proceeded to put the cup inside the bag and tied the top, so that it would be “covered.” But no, it was his way or the highway. What an arrogant jerk. I mumbled under my breath “Maybe I should take the next bus,” and proceeded to get off the bus to deposit the cup in the nearby trash can; I intended to get back on the bus since I had already paid the fare. But as I was proceeding thus, the driver shut the door and started driving off; I yelled “You Nazi.” Why? Because Adolf was in there chuckling to himself, apparently quite pleased that he had an opportunity to work out his bigoted angst in a discriminatory fashion.

Every time some “incident” happens on a Metro bus that involves some undisciplined passenger, the local media is quick to make with the “statistics” that make it appear as if buses are full of dangerous and violent people, but the fact is that such “incidents” are quantitatively infinitesimal compared to rude and discriminatory behavior by some Metro bus drivers. It goes beyond a driver sitting at a park-and-ride taking his or her break, and then pulling out several minutes early when they see someone running toward the bus, just because he or she likes exercising the power they are given to be jerks. Metro buses do have an advertisement inside the Route 150 buses providing an anti-discrimination statement given in several Asian languages, but not in Spanish; the problem is that other than the drivers, the people most likely to engage in discriminatory behavior are Asians and white female passengers. The only languages the anti-discrimination statement should be in are the same languages the “ride right” posting is given in: English and Spanish, since Latinos and blacks are the groups most likely to experience discrimination—which shouldn’t be a surprise, since these are also the two groups that experience the greatest amount of discrimination in this society as a whole. And I have more than once heard drivers making disparaging remarks about Latinos—which of course doesn’t surprise me either, since I’ve never seen a Latino bus driver for Metro, and I believe that there is a culture of prejudice (one unfortunately shared by some black as well as white employees) at Metro.

I’ll recap a few—and I emphasize just a “few”—of the “incidents” I’ve experienced:

• When there was still surface bus travel in downtown Seattle, I was waiting at a stop near the public library; I observed with a certain amount of incredulity as a driver apparently decided she didn’t need to stop and pick up that annoying, insignificant person, if it prevented her from getting through that yellow light. I didn’t just stand there and stew; I started running in the direction of the bus, and caught-up to it four blocks away. I asked the red-faced driver “Remember me?”

• There is a stop at 196th and 68th S in Kent. The drivers never stop at the designated stop because it is too difficult to get around the curved curb to move into traffic; why Metro has not moved the stop location to take this into account is beyond my comprehension, and apparently theirs as well. On the other hand, the drivers pick-and-choose where they will stop; if they don’t like the way you look, they stop anywhere except where you are standing. On one occasion I was standing at a spot that was more or less in the vicinity where a driver “typically” stops, but one particular driver decided he really didn’t like me, and not just zoomed past me, but past the “official” stop and proceeded to jump the curved curb because he was driving so fast. When I caught-up to the bus, I gave the driver a long stare, but surprisingly for me I said nothing. When I took my seat, I noticed that the driver was glaring at me from his rearview mirror; I started staring at him back. This continued for several moments, until the driver told me to get off the bus because of my “attitude.” I got off the bus, but I told him I was going to contact Metro about him. This contact resulted in the only apology I ever received out of my many complaints to Metro—except that it wasn’t in regard to this episode, but an addendum: This was the same rude driver who did not read the DOT notices posted at several bus stops informing drivers that a certain road was closed after a certain hour, and they had to take a detour. This driver drove obliviously down that road until he encountered DOT workers who told him he could not go through; he argued with them for ten minutes, apparently because he didn’t want his supervisor to know about his screw-up. Eventually, a Metro supervisor appeared, and because there was no way to make a U-turn, the bus had to be carefully backed up for about a mile; by the time the bus was “back on track,” an hour had passed. I noted in my complaint that this driver never once apologized to passengers for the inconvenience due to his incompetence.

• An incident involving gender politics: I was waiting at a designated stop; there was a female waiting as well, except she didn’t want to be contaminated by me, so she stood some considerable distance away. The bus came by, but instead of stopping at the designated location where I was, the white female driver stopped dead at where the woman was. This is the way I look at this situation: The female passenger-to-be was expressing her prejudice against me, and she should not incur any benefit from it. I walked quickly toward the bus, and got to door before this other person did, but the driver thrust her hand toward me and with that arrogant glee that one might expect from a misandrist, feminist type, forbid me to enter the bus before the female. After I boarded the bus, I informed the driver that I refuse to be shit on regardless of who does it, and discrimination comes in many forms; this seemed to let the air out of her conceited gasbag, and she sort-of apologized when I exited the bus.

• A Latino woman (she appeared to be an indigenous Indian) and I were standing alone at a bus stop in Kent when we saw the bus turn the corner. There were two white people running toward the stop in the same direction as the bus; about 20 yards from the stop the bus driver began an absurd series of starts and stops; I watched incredulously as the driver tried to get the attention of these two people so they could get on the bus before we did. The driver even opened the door to try to nudge them inside, but they ignored the bus and kept walking; in fact, they were not even getting on the bus at all. When I boarded the bus, I asked the driver if he had read the anti-discrimination posting inside the bus—as if it mattered: Metro bus drivers are pretty much allowed to abuse their “authority,” and apparently have no fear that they will be brought to book.

• I was waiting for a bus at a designated stop when the driver zoomed past me and made a dead stop at crosswalk. He let out a passenger and quickly slammed the door shut—except by that time I had caught up to the bus, and my arm was stuck in the door. The driver had driven several feet before he noticed that there was an arm sticking through the door. From the time I boarded to the time I exited ten minutes later, I put the driver on notice that there was no way he was going to get away with this. However, I took pity on him because by then he appeared to be pissing in his pants, and he was apologizing profusely.

Most people probably would just let these things go, because they believe that there is nothing they can do, or they believe that the driver is permitted extraordinary privilege; I on the other hand take nothing lightly, especially when it is wrong. It may be that some Metro bus drivers are venting their frustrations on “easy prey” because of the effects of budget cuts on bus service, which affects their job security. However, they still should remember that they have no livelihood without passengers—most of whom are forced to spend an exorbitant percentage of their take-home pay on bus transport—and from taxpayer contributions. People might look different, but their money is all the same color, and because of that all passengers deserve the same consideration without resort to personal prejudice. Considering how many complaints I have lodged at Metro, that message just isn’t getting through some dull skulls. Oh, and by the way, who is named “Driver of the Year” is not determined by customer satisfaction ratings; it is essentially a popularity contest conducted by fellow Metro employees.

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