All The Difference: An Experience Reinforcing the Power of Bus Drivers in the System.

TriMet letter two.

Foreword: I’ve already spread this story around in a blog or two but I really want to spread the word about this experience. It’s an amazing-yet-simplistic one that shines a light on the impact a driver has on a system. They can save the day for someone even when everything else is wrong, sometimes by doing nothing but being. In times as negative as these, I think the positives deserve some emphasis (especially considering my personal reputation as the fire and brimstone guy, I could use a chill pill too!) I hope you would give me the privilege of posting it here as well.

I wrote this to TriMet Saturday evening in response to a bus ride that turned around from a bad experience to a good one. It’s only the second incident of my doing this in my many instances of riding. Greg Larson was the one who responded, and he was quite receptive of my words; for that I am glad. Here’s the letter in its entirety.

Dear TriMet,

As a transit-dependent bus rider, I can guarantee there is one way to ruin a rider’s day- a late bus. Not necessarily a minute or two late- I’m a big boy. I can brush that off. I mean twenty minutes late on a once-every-forty-minutes bus that is so late you are certain to miss your transfer to the other once-every-forty-minutes bus. By one minute. Suddenly you’re an hour behind.

Needless to say, stepping on the 78 today after being poured on, I was a very unhappy camper.

For about five seconds. Through my headphones I could hear the driver saying something. I should note that ever since I discovered the magnificence of headphones+Explosions in the Sky=I’m riding a bus in the middle of nowhere it’s like I’m on a life journey or something, my conversations with bus drivers have ceased to exist like the good old days where I was young, had no boundaries and bus drivers were the coolest people in the world.

So when she started talking, I switched off the Sigur Ros and listened.

My first thought was, how the hell is this driver so cheery for being twenty minutes behind? Immediately, my frozen, cynic heart melted and I started talking to her.

She was apologetic initially, even through the smile, but surprising myself, I insisted it was okay, claiming that the adventure was worth it. Being friendly with many bus drivers as well as being a notorious activist for low income riders/bus drivers, I decided to ask how she got this way.

Apparently this driver had just suffered the single worst trip I’ve ever heard a driver take. I was almost scared to stay on the bus at that rate because I feared that the hand of God would smack us off Kerr Parkway. But I empathized with her, remembering that riders aren’t the only one who get rained on in the grand scheme of the system.

Her run got to her late when she relieved the operator before her and transfering took an extra seven minutes, leaving her just a minute or two before the following 76. In addition, she picked up two wheelchairs, both of whom got stuck in the equipment, and then when she arrived at Washington Square, the 76 finally passed her, and blocked the corridor for another three minutes. After that, an argument started escalating on the bus that she had to diffuse, and other riders insulted her and announced that they intended to send in complaints for her driving, when she just happened to get the worst possible run in the city.

This isn’t going to happen, but take the complaints you got about her and burn them immediately like they’re insulting every minority out there.

Lita Martin is not a bad bus driver.

The whole time we were on the bus, we talked. By god, she has the tenacity for positivity that I cannot obtain. She was polite, cheerful, enthusiastic, and didn’t let her bad run get her in a bad mood despite the fact that she would have to forego two breaks to get on time again. We talked about the power of positivity despite the struggle of the job (which if I may interject, management and the board seem to forget), my photography, our friends and my day so far.

When I disembarked from the 78 twenty minutes late, I was a very happy camper.

So much so that despite the fact that the 35 pulled up right on time for me to catch, I walked past it straight to Lake Oswego Library and sent this letter to you.

Your drivers are the difference between a bad day and a good one, and most of them deliver.

Lita Martin certainly did.



Story contributed by Cameron Johnson. Check out his blog at That One Portland Transit Activist Kid, and follow him on Twitter @CamOfPortland

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