Category Archives: bus

Bus facts

Wait, that title doesn’t rhyme. Well, whatever.

A 2600 series bus out of the Center garage, serving line 20 at Sunset TC

Recently in the news was TriMet’s announcement that 55 new buses will be added to the fleet next year to replace some of the older buses, followed by an additional 14 buses in 2013. In case you were wondering, here’s what we’re working with now. We have three garages (Center, Powell, and Merlo) and among them there are

626 buses

of which 600 are active buses and 26 are contingency buses. Overall fleet facts about those 600 active buses, and why this replacement is necessary:

AGE

A 30′ 1600 series bus (one of the oldest series still in service at TriMet; they were acquired in 1990) at Gateway TC

Of the active fleet, 161 of them (about 27%) are 18 years or older.
Another 14 are between 15-18 years old, so altogether about 29% of the buses in the fleet are over 15 years old.

An older 1700 series bus (from 1992) on line 52 and a somewhat newer 2200 series bus (from either 1998 or 1999), Beaverton Transit Center

The bulk of the fleet, or 264 buses (44%) are between 10 and 15 years old.

Then there are 121 buses (about 20%) that are between 5 and 9 years old.

2800 series bus (entered service 2005) 

Finally, we have 40 buses (about 7%) that are less than 5 years old.

2900 series bus (the newest TriMet uses from 2009) at Beaverton TC

Our average bus age is about 13.5 years. As a peer comparison, the average bus age at transit agencies similar to TriMet is 7.4 years. The interesting thing about our fleet averaging over 12 years is that for a 40′ bus, 12 years is considered the service life (linked article is very long, but interesting). Most 40′ buses across a wide variety of agencies which were surveyed in that study (LA Transit Authority, MBTA, NYC Transit, Toronto Transit Commission, WMATA, Austin Metro, and several rural agencies) are retired around age 13, and about 9% are still in service at about 15 years. So the large proportion of old buses in our fleet is substandard compared with other transit agencies.

Borrowed picture of a 2100 series (from 1997) bus from Center on what is normally a Merlo run – on holidays all bus runs come out of Center which can sometimes mean a newer bus than a run would typically get

Because the FTA considers 40′ buses to be “12-year buses”, they are eligible for replacement funding via grants once they’ve been in service for 12 years. Over 400 of our active buses are either over 12 years or very nearly there. Now granted, I’m not the brightest cabbage in the patch so I could be interpreting this wrong, but it looks like there are grant programs available that would cover a lot of the bus replacement cost (up to 90% if it qualifies as compliance with the Clean Air Act or as an ADA replacement, and I wonder if replacing some of the older buses with faulty lifts counts toward that), so if I’m reading that correctly, I hope those are avenues we’re pursuing in addition to the State of Good Repair grant that is funding the purchase of those additional 14 buses in 2013. Speaking of the ADA…

AMENITIES

For ADA accessibility, all of our buses can accommodate wheelchairs. However, 240 of the buses are high-floor buses which necessitate the use of lifts for passengers needing mobility assistance. 360 buses in the fleet are low floor buses, where the operator can simply deploy a ramp, which is faster and more reliable than the older lift-equipped buses.

Picture borrowed from Al M, during this past September’s heat wave. Not the ideal sustained temperature in your work environment..

And for summer weather, 425 of the buses have air conditioning and 175 do not. Sure Portland summers are generally mild, but the inside temperature of the unairconditioned buses still tops 100 degrees when we get a heat wave (thanks, greenhouse effect!)

We are getting 55 new buses next year. Great! It’s a start, and a much-needed one. But we still have a long way to go – adding in those new buses and assuming they will replace 55 of the oldest buses still leaves us with 106 that are more than 18 years old, and 195 buses that are not low-floors / 120 that are unairconditioned. I don’t mean to sound pessimistic… I really am glad we’re getting new equipment, but I also hope that we keep up this focus and momentum where it is sorely needed.

This chart needs more green & blue..

In the news

… and I’m using “news” in the loosest sense of the word, as it’s part news, part other stuff found online. In no particular order:

Are light rail riders more fit?

From PortlandAfoot, this article makes some interesting claims, such as stating that light rail riders are 81% less likely to become obese. Digging a little deeper into the article, a few things caught my eye. The authors of the study interviewed people at two timepoints – from July 06 through February 07, and then later between March 08 and July 08 after a light rail system was  constructed in Charlotte, NC, and took a number of self-report measures including BMI. The study seems to be based on the idea that people who walk from home to a public transit station and then from their arrival station to work are, by default, getting more activity than people who drive door-to-door in their private vehicles. This makes sense, but I also noticed that they drew comparisons between the 26 people in their sample who commuted daily on the trains and the 275 people who did not. They weighted the samples to account for the difference in the size between these two groups of people, but I’d be curious to see a more balanced study with equal numbers of riding and non-riding participants – that 81% less obese statistic seems rather inflated. No pun intended.

Orange Line Artists

The Oregonian reports on the five artists selected by TriMet to create four public art installations on the Milwaukie Line for a quarter million dollars apiece.

Giant belgian endive created by one of the selected artists for another project

There were a lot of negative reactions from the public, generally stemming from the fact that none of the five artists are local – rather disheartening after many claims from TriMet about how the Milwaukie Line would create jobs, letting us work under the assumption that that meant jobs for people in the area, not a million dollars going out-of-state. TriMet Public Art Coordinator Michelle Traver stated that because the Milwaukie Line is funded by federal money, they could not limit the selection of artists to the Portland area. Frequent Oregonian commenter SP Red Electric (who also comments here) questioned that, pointing out that TriMet did not buy buses with the federal stimulus money received in 2009, and justified that by saying that the buses were not made locally and wouldn’t benefit the local economy by putting Oregonians to work. So why is the federal art money different?

This is a fair question. I checked to see if it was addressed anywhere, and I found where Caroline Young, Executive Director of Communications at TriMet, told Portland Afoot that TriMet decided to spend the federal stimulus money on local construction projects to create jobs for Oregonians, rather than buying buses that would create jobs for people in Minnesota (where New Flyer is located). So far it doesn’t appear that SP Red Electric has received a response to his question about spending priorities or requirements for use of federal money, but I’m curious about this now myself.

And if we’re going to outsource the art at all, let’s let the Swedes have a go at it. Check out the amazing artwork in a Swedish subway system.

More Swedish subway art here.

Bus/MAX ridership levels

KPTV reports that “More People Riding MAX; Fewer Taking Bus“. This is not, technically speaking, correct. Directly from TriMet’s performance dashboard:

Boardings on MAX & Bus

There are easily more boardings on bus than MAX, though MAX ridership has increased slightly from this time last year, whereas bus has decreased slightly from this time last year. Considering the multiple cuts to bus service, as well as the free ride area in downtown Portland being changed to free rides on rail only, this is not surprising – less service offered on bus and increased service offered on MAX means ridership patterns are going to match.

And while we’re on the subject of TriMet’s dashboard, I need to say how much I dislike this “graph”:

Cost per boarding ride – but it’s really two charts, not just one

These graphs should not be stacked – it’s deceptive. Glancing at this, it looks like WES costs about twice as much per operating ride as bus, but look at the vertical axis on the graphs. On the bus/MAX graph, the range in dollars from the bottom to the top is $4 – the same distance covers $30 on the top graph, so you can’t accurately draw comparisons between the two to get an idea of the relative costs of each mode of transportation. If we really wanted to compare these, they’d all go on one graph with an evenly spaced vertical axis.. kind of like this:

I threw this together making guesses at what the boarding costs were in each month – the shape of each is roughly the same as the charts provided by TriMet, even if the values aren’t exact. But it shows more clearly the differences in operating costs of each mode – nearly negligible between bus & MAX, but a huge gap between those and WES.

US News says Portland is best city in US for public transit

US News recently came up with their list of the top 10 cities in the US for public transit, with Portland at the top of the list. Hat tip to Al M for two very interesting points about this.

1. It doesn’t say TriMet is the best transit system, it says the city of Portland has the best transit system. This is a subtle, yet important difference. The service in downtown Portland is amazing – four light rail lines intersect bringing riders to Gresham, Hillsboro, the Expo Center, PDX Airport, and Clackamas, more than 20 bus lines service the area, and the streetcar runs through there. If all you need is to get from one part of downtown to another, it’s generally easier to do on TriMet than it would be to drive your own car. But leave Portland and go to the west side, or Gresham, or Boring, and the quality and frequency of service drops sharply. So to that extent, yes, the recognition of the excellent service in Portland is fair.

2. The rankings take into account per capita spending on public transportation, number of safety incidents per million trips, and the number of trips taken per capita. I really like that this is part of the criteria for the rankings. Yes, there have been individual bad drivers at TriMet (and they’re the ones that get the media coverage, like the Kindle driver), but on the whole the operators and system are very safe.

This video showing a day of TriMet service (very similar to another simulation I’d written about last year) has been making the rounds online recently. Consider that there are this many moving TriMet vehicles every single day, yet incidents involving a collision, though devastating, are extremely rare. I think that’s extremely impressive, and good press for us.

Bus and rail comparisons

In the comments of my last post, both Michael of Portland Afoot and Nick asked similar questions, which I thought would best be addressed in their own post because my responses to their comments were getting pretty long.

I can’t help but wonder what difference it makes to have a sealed-off cabin like on MAX or on bus rapid transit systems, where the driver isn’t responsible for dealing with fares and doesn’t have to deal with people as they drive. Does this lower stress and ensuing health issues?

and

[H]ow do you think operating a MAX compares, in terms of physical and emotional stress, to operating a bus?

Physically speaking, I’d say bus is worse. I do know rail operators who ended up going back to bus for health-related reasons caused by operating the trains, but I probably know more rail operators who’d be happy to go back to bus but they can’t physically handle it. There’s a lot more turning, twisting, bending, etc at bus than at rail typically, unless you get into things like train troubleshooting – manually retracting a bridegplate, cutting out a door, pumping off a brake that’s hanging, etc (which is relatively rare compared to the physical movements done at bus). Most of the rail health problems I’ve seen are back problems – which most transit operators have – and left arm problems (hand, wrist, elbow, shoulder, etc) from using the motoring drum handle, or MDH.

Type 2 MDH – no gas or brake pedals in the trains, everything is done with this

Emotionally? It’s hard to say. Some people are mentally/emotionally more suited to one job than the other. If you’re a people-person and need interpersonal interaction in your job, rail is not the job for you – sure there’s still communicating over the radio and talking with other operators at the ends of the line, but it’s not the same as the constant interaction with bus passengers. On the flip side, if you’re more introverted, you might find that operating a train is less stressful than a bus because for the most part passenger interaction at rail is a choice – some operators will talk to passengers on the platforms through their window, for example, but many have very little interaction with the people on their train or on platforms. I have very little experience with bus rapid transit, so I don’t know how the stress of that compares with bus at TriMet, but bus operators needing to deal with driving the bus, announcing their stops, and handling passenger fares and questions is like “driving a truck while operating a checkout stand at Safeway” – that aspect is easier at rail where (generally speaking) the automated stop announcements work properly and you don’t need to field nearly as many questions as a bus operator does. And if someone boards a train without having valid fare, it’s not really your problem.

The differences in passenger interaction at bus and rail is mentioned in this old TriMet TV video interviewing operator Donna Popi (which gives a nice snapshot of what rail operators do):

Aside from the interpersonal interactions as a mental/emotional stressor, there are other differences in stress at rail and stress at bus. One of the most obvious ones is the risk of accidents. At bus, if someone runs out in front of you, you can hit the brakes, but more importantly, you can swerve. When someone runs out in front of you at rail, you can hit the mushroom (emergency brake) and the high horn and hope/pray that you stop in time or that the person gets out of the way, but there’s no swerving to evade a collision.

There’s also the difference of essentially being the captain of your own ship at bus, and being one of many vehicles sharing a fixed guideway at rail. I know there are a lot of operators who prefer that flexibility at bus – it’s easier to wait if you see someone running for your bus if they’re a little bit late, you’re not required to report in every little thing you do to dispatch, if you make a mistake and turn on the wrong street, you can get yourself back on route without causing any problems, or if your bus breaks down it’s unfortunate for your passengers but your follower can get around you and keep things moving even if there’s a delay in service, etc. So in that aspect, bus is pretty low-stress.

The four-car Type 4, after a broken down Type 4 tied up the alignment for more than 4 hours this past June

At rail, since you’re one part of many in a string of moving parts, if you stop moving unexpectedly it can affect all those parts behind you. If you break down, your followers physically can’t get around you, unless it happens to be in a place like BTC or Gateway or Rose Quarter, for example, where the setup of the switches and other tracks gives you some flexibility to get trains around you. If you need to leave your cab for any reason, you’re supposed to radio it in to Control – again, so that they and the trains behind you know that you’re not moving when you’re supposed to be. And it’s a lot easier to violate rules at rail than bus – from having the wrong route code in the train (essentially the equivalent of making a wrong turn) to getting an ATS trip from speeding or “running a red light”.

I’m not sure one job is more stressful than the other – they’re both high stress and have some overlap and some differences in what the major sources of stress are. I think a lot of it also depends on your own individual personality which one might suit you better.

This job will kill you

So by now you’ve probably seen in the news that Neil McFarlane, General Manager of TriMet has stated that despite the terms of the union contract which would maintain the status quo until a new contract was agreed upon, TriMet union employees are going to have to start paying some of their health care coverage. I’m not even sure he can do that or if it will end up being struck down (like AC Transit) since it seems to go against the mutually agreed upon union contract, but that’s a story for another time.

But I noticed this little exchange over at the Oregonian (summarized)

Al M: [D]on’t blame the rank and file employees for the health care mess, blame the insurance companies. We are getting killed by our occupation. Does anybody think for one minute that the transit workers should just allow our company to kill us while they spend BILLIONS on toy trains? I don’t think so.

NewsHound007: They are killing you? Exactly how, pray tell?

Seeking: Ummm, driving a bus is that hard ? In Afghanistan maybe, certainly not in Portland. It is sickening and amazing when you read postings from the union employees. They are so far removed from the reality of the private sector. Paid medical ? What employer gives that ? I can’t believe these guys want $25 an hour FOR DRIVING A FRIGGEN BUS!!!!!

Afghanistan risks and bus driving risks are two different animals, but that doesn’t mean that this job won’t kill you too. There’s years’ worth of research done by people much smarter than me (and maybe even smarter than you, and other people who comment on Oregonian articles!) who provide pretty solid evidence of the health risks and mortality rates of working as a public transit operator.

I’ll even give you citations, because I am that thorough. I’ve skimmed these articles but haven’t had time to read them yet, and this is far from an exhaustive search.

  • M. Anthony Machin and Nancy Hoare’s “The role of workload and driver coping styles in predicting bus drivers’ need for recovery, positive and negative affect, and physical symptoms” in Anxiety, Stress, and Coping, 2008 Volume 21 number 4, pages 359-375.

Cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, musculoskeletal problems, high blood pressure, elevated stress hormones.. don’t you want to be a bus driver too?

  • Kjeld B Poulsen’s “The Healthy Bus project in Denmark: need for an action potential assessment” in Health Promotion International, Volume 19 number 2, 2004

Heart morbidity, hypertension, prolapsed vertebral discs, AND cancer?  Not only that, but double the hospitalization risk compared to the rest of the workforce for heart disease!

  • Sybil Carrere, Gary W Evans, M. N. Palsane, and Mary Rivas “Job strain and occupational stress among urban public transit operators in Journal of Occupational Psychology (1991) Volume 64 pages 305-316.

None of this  is news to anyone who has ever worked as a transit operator.

  • John L. M. Tse, Rhoma Flin, and Kathryn Mearns “Bus driver well-being review: 50 years of research” in Transportation Research part F 9 (2006) 89-114:

5 times more likely to suffer from digestive disease compared to office workers?  You don’t say…

But wait, there’s more!

Did you know that the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology dedicated an entire issue (in 1998, volume 3, number 2) to the topic of the effects of being a public transit operator on the human body? I didn’t either, but I do now. Here’s a sampling of the articles in there.

  • From Gunnar Aronsson & Anita Rissler’s “Psychophysiological Stress Reactions in Female and Male Urban Bus Drivers”

Be a bus driver and increase your risk of early death!

  • From Leif W Rydstedt, Gunn Johansson, & Gary Evans’s “The Human Side of the Road: Improving the Working Conditions of Urban Bus Drivers”

Safety vs on-time performance, and they didn’t even mention the customer service aspect.

  • From Birgit A Greiner, Nklas Krause, David Ragland, & June M. Fisher’s “Objective Stress Factors, Accidents, & Absenteeism in Transit Operators: A Theoretical Framework and Empirical Evidence”

I know several operators who had to retire because of disabilities they developed on the job

  • From Theo F. Miejman & Michiel A. J. Kompier “Bussy Business: How Urban Bus Drivers Cope with Time Pressure, Passengers, and Traffic Safety”

That about sums it up nicely

I can provide the entire reference lists from these articles if anyone is interested in the topic. I have full copies of these articles, courtesy of a couple of students who were willing to help me out with getting all of this, but I don’t think I can post the full articles here since that’s probably copyright violation of some kind or another. So far I’ve been able to write here without drawing the wrath of TriMet… I don’t really need to invoke the wrath of copyright holders.

So yeah, bus and rail operators get decent health benefits.  You know why?

Because their jobs kill them!

Like a lot of TriMet operators, I know what it’s like working a desk job because I’ve done that. I find it interesting that people who work desk jobs are so quick to judge transit operators, considering all of the luxuries desk workers take for granted:

  • Generally speaking, you can use the restroom whenever you need.
  • Hungry? You can also use the vending machine/cafeteria/coffee maker/etc pretty much whenever you need to
  • Your work may be stressful, but the odds of someone dying if you mess up are generally extremely low. So you don’t have that hanging over your head.
  • Related to that, if you didn’t sleep well the night before, dozing off at your desk could be embarrassing if you’re caught, but it won’t kill anyone.
  • Your office is probably climate-controlled, and you have little exposure to fumes, dust, or people who physically threaten your safety, hit you, or spit on you.
  • Either you or someone you know has probably spent some time on the job checking personal email, using Facebook, watching Youtube videos, etc

Your bus and rail operators don’t have these luxuries. Sometimes it’s a miracle to get to the end of the line with just enough time to run to the bathroom and run back just to do it all over again. For more on this, read this fantastic piece over at Puget Sound Transit Operators.

Consider these points as well -

  • Have you ever made a long road trip where you drove 8-10 hours in a day? How did you feel? Was it physically rough on your body? Were you able to take breaks when you needed to? Did you drive 8-10 hours again the next day? And the next? And the day after that?
  • Have you ever ridden a bus (or train) that smelled like wet dog or death or raw sewage and you couldn’t wait to just go home and get in a shower because of how disgusting that bus made you feel? Aren’t you glad you were able to get out of that situation?
  • Don’t you just love riding the bus during cold/flu season when the guy sitting in front of you sounds like he’s dying of tuberculosis? Good thing you’re not on that bus all day exposed to everything that passes through!
  • How often has your work environment maintained temperatures over 100°F for the duration of your shift?

Is driving a bus the worst job in the world? No, but it’s physically and psychologically demanding, and operators earn every bit of the compensation they receive. And the fact is, TriMet operator benefits are not a free ride, though didn’t that make a wonderfully sensationalistic headline in the Oregonian? Operators work for their pay and benefits, and they work hard.

Hey Joseph Rose, every couple of weeks, do you get free money from the Oregonian?

See, all this time I’ve been assuming that you work for your wages/benefits, and then you get appropriately compensated. It seems you don’t think that’s how it works for operators, so how does it work for you? Am I wrong?

Operators work hard for their compensation too, and a lot of operators can show the physical damage done to their bodies to prove it. Isn’t it in everyone’s best interest to keep operators as healthy as possible?

And yeah, I can already predict the kneejerk response to this – “If operating sucks so much, quit!” The thing is, operating doesn’t suck, not all aspects of it anyway. A lot of it is pretty great. But sometimes it almost seems like TriMet is a small child that wants a puppy, or in their case, trains (and sometimes buses). Sure getting a puppy is a lot of fun, everyone loves puppies, you can play with it and take it for walks and stuff. But you also have to take care of it, feed it, bring it to the vet even when that’s expensive, and clean up after it. Kids who get a puppy learn that not all the aspects of having a pet are as fun as playing with it. In the same way, given TriMet’s dedication to expanding rail service, they’re going to need operators (and maintenance workers, and Controllers/Dispatchers, and supervisors, etc) to run it. And they’re going to have to take care of those operators if they want to push service expansions, because that’s part of owning that transportation system, even though taking care of your employees doesn’t give you nearly as many good photo ops as a new rail line opening or a shiny new train will.

Boy, aren’t those pretty! Isn’t that what matters?

Operators have every right to be upset about the way this was handled, because not only does it look like it’s going against the terms of the union contract, but the media plays it up as just a bunch of overpaid workers ending their “free ride” and of course the public is only too-willing to jump in and bash operators who just want to do their jobs and get what was mutually agreed as compensation for their work.

Yeah, thanks a lot for that.

To put things in perspective

A pause in the train stuff because this needs to be said.

The above video, put together by ewedistrict on Flickr, depicts every arrival of a TriMet bus at a stop from 4AM to 12-midnight on a weekday.  It’s not a perfect depiction of bus movement, as it doesn’t show buses deadheading out of service to or from the garages or buses that get pulled in to make a bus bridge whenever rail goes out of service, but it’s a really good representation otherwise.

Lots of little dots moving, right?  I mean, downtown (in the very center of the map) has so many buses in it at one time that it just looks like a giant black dot.

And nearly 365 days per year every year,

NOT ONE OF THOSE DOTS MAKES A MISTAKE.

You know what?  That’s pretty impressive.

I am not saying this to trivialize the deaths of the women in the recent bus crash. I fully realize that an operator making a mistake behind the wheel of a 40′ 17-ton bus can have catastrophic and deadly results. But I am sick of every idjit and their mother crawling out of the woodwork to demonize TriMet operators as a whole.

This spreadsheet of fatalities has been floating around since the left turn incident several weeks ago which killed two women, listing fatalities involving a TriMet bus since 1988 up to but not including that incident.  There are 30 deaths listed, however some are clearly not the fault of the bus operator:

- 2 people died from shootings on the buses
– another person died when they rear-ended a bus and their car burst into flames.
– 3 bicycles running into a bus
– a pedestrian running in front of a bus
– two cars turning in front of buses

Two other deaths seem to be freak accidents – two people fell (reason why they fell not given) on separate buses and both died about two weeks later – one of pulmonary failure and one of a head injury. There’s also the vague 1988 fatality that just says it was a passenger. And one operator death, which I know the circumstances of but they’re not listed on the pdf, so I’m not going to go in detail about it.

As for the other ones, it’s hard to say who was at fault when it’s just listed as a collision.  I’ve already written about people doing unsafe things around trains, so it’s not impossible to think that some of those other fatalities may have been caused by similar factors.

So let’s see…  that’s 13 deaths that don’t seem to have anything to do with the fault of the operator behind the wheel, meaning 17 or so that may have.  17 deaths in 22 years, and all of those little grey dots covering the Portland metro area interacting with cars and pedestrians and cyclists and jaywalkers and red light runners day after day?

Yeah, your odds of being killed due to a TriMet bus operator’s negligence is really, really low.  Consider this:

Portland Traffic Fatalities

That’s a chart of traffic fatalities in Portland through 2008 (if anyone can find data for 2009 I’d be happy to post it but this was the most recent I could find). Even in 2008, the lowest year yet, there were still 20 fatalities – more fatalities in one year than TriMet operator-at-fault bus fatalities over the last 22 years altogether.

In other words, you are far more at risk of being killed by a car than a TriMet bus.

I’ve been on foot all over the Portland metro area – downtown, Beaverton, Tigard, Gresham, you name it.  Only once did I ever feel concerned about being hit by a TriMet bus (I was on a corner downtown waiting to cross, and a bus made a right turn in front of me, cutting the corner close and going over the curb with their back tires).  I can’t even begin to name the number of times in the last *week* that I was worried about being hit by a car – cars that ignore pedestrian crossing signs at intersections that aren’t signalized, cars that want to turn right on a green light and don’t check for pedestrians, cars that come flying out of driveways without scanning the surrounding sidewalk first, and on and on and on…

Granted, I was only able to find data on fatalities for both Portland auto traffic and TriMet bus operations, so I don’t have non-fatal accidents and incidents for comparison.  Yes, I have been on buses that had lousy operators – either inappropriate conduct with passengers or poor driving skills (and in one case, both) but those operators are few and far between.  And don’t forget that it doesn’t make the news when a pedestrian runs out or a car unexpectedly swerves in front of the bus and the quick thinking & reflexes of the operator prevents a horrible accident.  Ask any operator how many times a day they deal with that – especially those whose routes go through downtown.

The actions of a few bad drivers at TriMet, who are very much in the minority, cannot be generalized to the bus operator population as a whole.  For the bad drivers who are still working there – fine – weed them out.  And while we’re at it, let’s crack down on HR’s hiring and retention practices with regard to bus operators. Do we know they’re doing the best job they can to hire and keep safe drivers and get rid of the bad ones?

I get it that it’s trendy or edgy or something to hate TriMet operators, especially the bus drivers. Even the media is quick to jump to operator blame – as a recent example, check out the original story about a recent separation of a father & son on the train (largely in part due to the father being too busy on a cell phone to mind his young son and keep him from running around out of control on the train) but several news outlets ran half-cocked saying the train negligently left the boy behind before the actual facts and video clearly showing otherwise were released.

So what say we stop blaming all of the good operators out there for everything from soaring autism rates to male-pattern baldness, because all those moving pieces across Portland on a daily basis and an average of less than one fatality per year?  On the whole, they’re doing a pretty amazing job safely getting people where they need to go without incident.

Update – 05-19-10: The driver of the bus in that accident, Sandi Day, has been cleared of criminal wrongdoing, though the potential for a civil case still remains. Read the full report from the district attorney here.