The following is from TRU’s awesome newsletter, the Transit Reader. Do you have a question only a bus driver can answer? Send it to email@example.com, and maybe it’ll be featured in an upcoming issue! Also, please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you’d like some paper copies of the Transit Reader to hand out to fellow riders on your bus. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 206-651-4282.
By Sam Smith
Hello Metro riders! My name is Sam Smith, and I’ve been a Metro driver since early 2013. I hear all sorts of questions from passengers, friends, and fellow TRU members on a range of topics related to my job. This column is going to be dedicated to answering some of those questions. Anything you want to know – Why do the poles come off the wires so often? Where do you use the bathroom? Where do you pick up the bus? – just ask! Send questions to email@example.com.
Because this is my first column and I don’t have any questions, I’m going to answer a question that I have heard many variations on: Why did the driver not stop for me?
It is one of the worst feelings: you’re trying to catch a bus. Maybe you’ve been waiting at a stop for 20 minutes, maybe you’ve been walking for that long just to get to your stop. Finally you see it approaching, and your stress level suddenly drops as your wait time and travel time has suddenly become a lot less vague and unknown. And then – oh no! – the bus drove right past me without stopping! Why?!?
There are many reasons that this might happen, and I’ll try to name the more common ones.
We didn’t see you.
I’ve had passengers hop out from behind a tree just as I was about to drive past an otherwise unoccupied bus zone. Had one more second gone by before I saw them, I would have driven past without stopping. I cannot stress this enough: Make yourself visible! If no one else is around, wait in an unobstructed area near the curb. If it is dark, with minimal or no street lighting, wave a flashlight or your cell phone so we can see you. Or at least wear bright or reflective clothing.
If you’re at a busy zone on a busy street, like 3rd Ave in Downtown Seattle, there’s an entirely different visibility problem. As bus drivers, our eyes have to be on about a dozen places at once: checking all doors and mirrors for loading and unloading passengers, checking our left side to see if it’s safe to pull back into traffic, etc. Meanwhile we are usually under pressure to service a zone as quickly as possible to keep the flow of bus traffic running smoothly. We are good at scanning the sidewalk for people trying to catch our bus, but we are not good at reading your minds. We depend on your body language to communicate that you want our bus. Make yourself stand out from the dozens of other pedestrians walking along the sidewalk or waiting for their buses. Walking casually and making partial eye contact alone is not a clear signal. Running and waving your arms are the most effective, so don’t be shy! If you’re coming from behind us, try to run about two feet away from the curb so that you’re in view of our mirrors (but please be safe! No bus is worth dying for).
There’s another bus right behind us.
When we’re running behind schedule, sometimes the next bus of the same route, called our “follower,” will catch up to us. It is in everyone’s interest for boarding passengers to get on the follower’s bus. If you were to board mine, then all of my passengers and I would be delayed further, and often so would my follower, who would be forced to sit behind me while I stop to load you. If you board my follower, then I can speed up for all of my already quite late passengers, and you can board what is likely to be a much emptier bus.
I would only skip over a passenger at a stop if I know that my follower is less than 60 seconds behind me, and I will usually try to give a hand gesture – like pointing my thumb behind me – to indicate that you’ll be picked up very shortly.
We need to go!
We are under a lot of pressure to get in and get out, especially at busy corridors like 3rd Ave and the Transit Tunnel. Sometimes we see you running for us but we simply can’t wait for you. We need to clear the zone to make room for the line of buses behind us. If you just missed me and you’re feeling adventurous, catch the next bus behind me. With any luck, it will meet us at the next stop.
We’re filled to capacity.
I know that you’re used to squeezing into a crowded bus, but sometimes we cannot safely fit another person on board and must skip all stops until passengers start exiting. Usually this happens when I’m running late enough that I am picking up my passengers as well as those planning on catching my follower. This is a good sign that an empty bus will be arriving shortly. So you may have to wait a tiny bit longer, but your ride will be much more pleasant!
We’re out of service.
Often in places where passengers aren’t accustomed to reading the destination sign on the front of the bus (zones served by only one route, passengers boarding RapidRide), passengers curse me out for not picking them up. What they fail to notice is that the bus reads “To Terminal” or the name of a Metro base. This means that we are essentially out of service. If I happen to know where a passenger wants to go, and that’s where I’m headed, then I’ll stop and pick them up, but otherwise, chances are good that I’m not going where you want me to go.
This route doesn’t service your stop.
This is a common problem for me when I’m driving the express version of a route that has a local version with the same route number, like the 7 or 21. Passengers waiting at a 21 local stop see me pull up, without realizing it’s an express, and then give me the finger for skipping over them. Tip for route 21 riders: if the destination sign reads “Arbor Heights” then it’s an express. Tip for route 7 riders: if it’s a weekday, and you see a diesel bus (instead of an electric trolley) pull up, chances are good that it’s an express.
This is also a problem with temporary bus stop closures. If there is road construction along a route, sometimes it requires a reroute. And sometimes it requires a stop closure, even though we still drive right past the zone. When a stop is closed, it is usually for safety reasons. Metro will post signs at the zone when a stop is closed.
We are mean, nasty, evil people who want you to suffer.
Just kidding. But this is definitely the sentiment I hear from passengers. “The driver looked right at me and closed the door in my face.” I’m sure this happens now and again. I mean, we are people. We make mistakes, and sometimes we just have bad days. Some drivers have shifts that last over ten hours, with barely enough time to take a bathroom break, let alone eat a healthy meal and mentally refresh.
More likely, however, is that it wasn’t intentional or malicious, but because of one or more of the other reasons listed above. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding!