Thursday, October 8, 2015

Timeliness is next to godliness

There are a million reasons to be late;
there's no excuse for leaving early.
-bus operator proverb

It's tempting to think of buses and other forms of transit the way we think of the planets in our solar system: objects on a fixed trajectory orbiting the same fixed path. Or, to continue the cosmic theme, like Halley's Comet: an object with a reliable return time. We may put far fewer miles on our buses than those celestial bodies, but those miles put a heavy toll on heavy machinery which invariably leads to unreliability. In other words, a late bus. A late start is just as frustrating to the driver as it is to the passenger. We want to get where we have to go, too. As a.m. bus operators, it is our responsibility to ensure a timely pullout from the garage and avoid the dreaded 'delay of service'. This means more than putting time table schedules in the rack; it involves a detailed pre-trip inspection to make sure the bus is safe to operate. So, long before the sun rises and birds start chirping, your friendly neighborhood bus driver is preparing the bus for a day of service.

One Sunday morning I pulled out of the garage 20 minutes down and headed to my starting point, Central Terminal downtown. In spite of the tardiness, those waiting were pleasant and forgiving. Wished good morning to the regulars and welcomed the rest. One young man unfamiliar with the routes had arrived a few minutes before on another route. He was grateful for our late start since he was able to make the connection earlier than if we'd been on time.

Continuing onward, I became a bit concerned to see an empty stop where I normally pick up a regular rider, an Irish waitress with irrepressible positivity. Whew, a few blocks further and there she is.
"Good morning, I see you gave up on us!" I kidded, hoping to lighten the mood.
She was thankful we showed up and on we went.

A few stops up at a major intersection and there's a growing group waiting to board. Among them is another regular, one of our homeless customers. He always has his monthly pass in his mouth, his bag in one hand and thermal mug in the other, ready to go. He's anxious to get to his destination and lets me know this. I inform him why we're late and assure him we'll do our best to get him to his destination on time.

Across the intersection, there's my regular who works at a garden center. I apologize for the wait and she's amazingly understanding. I'm not expecting to get a pass for the lateness, and it's comforting to know not everyone's day is off to a bad start.

As we roll on, the anxious customer's anxiety grows and he feels the need to verbally express it. By this time, every service stop is making him more concerned. Finally, we approach his stop. To accommodate him, I go a little beyond the sign and pull up to the curb to save him a few steps. He books it out of there.

No recovery time for a break at the end of the trip, we need to keep it moving so the final stop is treated as a regular stop and away we go on our return trip.

Up ahead is a customer waiting in a wheelchair. Operating the wheelchair ramp can be time-consuming, but safety comes first so we give every customer the time they need to board safely. This particular customer is another regular, always sweet and kind, and wishing me a happy Sunday though she had to wait longer than expected for our arrival. She's a pro in the mobility device and before the ramp is stowed she's letting me know she's all set.

Miles down the road, there's the anxious customer. Only now he's no longer anxious. He's like a new man, easy going and content.
"Did you make it in time?" I ask.
"Yeah! With two minutes to spare. Had to stow my bag in a bush so it wouldn't slow me down."
"That's quick thinkin', travelin' light!"
Whereas before he was dreading each service stop, now he suggests I slow down in case an elderly woman on the sidewalk needs the bus.

Now we're approaching downtown again, and there's my leader bus just ahead. Not sure what happened to make him so late, but I can empathize. When we get to Central Terminal, he's in the bus bay for our route so I pull into the one behind. There's a puddle from last night's rain in that slot and pigeons are bathing in it. A woman on a bench jumps up waving her arms to shoo them away in front of the bus. She's waiting to board with about 30 others. I comment on her looking out for the pigeons, and she giggles about their ruffled feathers.

I'm back on time and my leader gets instructions from dispatch to get himself on time, so he heads out empty and I welcome the extremely patient passengers onto my bus. No leader bus means we'll be nearly full most of the next trip.

At one stop a young Jamaican man with a bike is waiting. All the slots on the bus's bike rack are full.
"Boss man, can I bring it in the back?" he asks with a languid island accent.
Since there's room by the rear exit door, I let him bring it in there and hold on to it. He's already been waiting for my leader who didn't make this trip, and it's gonna be awhile for the next bus after mine since it's Sunday service. I also take the bus, sometimes with my bike, and appreciate it when the driver gives me a break. A little flexibility goes a long way in life. Let's see Halley's Comet try that.

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