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,


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.


4 responses to “To put things in perspective

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention To put things in perspective « MAX FAQs --

  2. This is EXCELLENT!
    Thanks for posting this!

  3. An old post that needed to be brought back into the mainstream again!

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