Should I drive the bus?


Should I drive the bus?

About 10 years ago I was a typical commuter in a larger metropolitan area. I had always used my car to get to work but I found that it didn’t really get me where I wanted to go. The traffic congestion was terrible. My car had been broken in to a number of times and the price of parking was absolutely enormous. The pollution was getting to me and everyone in the city. Scientists came to the conclusion that the pollution was killing us all and that something needed be done. The frustrated commutes left me feeling empty and discouraged. The longer I tried to get downtown by car, the more my money, patience and health left me. It was literally killing me.

A friend of mine challenged me to consider Public Transportation. It had been around for years and there were various forms of it. I had received some literature on the benefits of public transit but I didn’t pay them much attention. I even had the old city guide book to public transit. Anyways, this friend Rob brought me to the train station. The train didn’t make many stops but it definitely got me started on the road to cleaner travel. I liked public transport so I decided to commit myself to it. The people were nice, and I saw my health immediately improve after I hopped on the train. I spent far less time breathing polluted air, and the train had its own air filters to help keep poison out.

The travelers on the train told me that to really be committed to public transit I needed to start using the bus. The train was great for getting straight to downtown, but it doesn’t stop everywhere, and it wouldn’t meet all my needs. I was scared. I didn’t want to jump the bus because bus people are weird. Some drivers mistreat their passengers and charge really heavy fairs. If you buy a bus pass for one bus company it may not be accepted by the other companies. There were so many different companies that competed against each other. How would I know which one is the easiest on the environment, or would get me to work the fastest. A lot of the people that took my train also took a bus that stopped in my area. It seemed to be the obvious choice for me.

My first impression of the bus was bad. The air was stuffy, and I felt very out of place. I liked the people that I took the train with and hung around with them. I spent as much time taking the train as I could because it their seemed cleaner and I could tell that I was getting to work much faster than I would I took my car.

As I learned more about public transport I become a very big supporter. So much so that I sounded like I thought I knew everything and anything there is to know about busses, trains, cars and the environment. I really began to study the benefits of public transit. I read books on Train travel, bus travel, seat repair, route planning. In researching the issue I found some remarkable things. Some cities reduced to pollution to almost nothing by proper implementation of public transit. I was really in to it. It seemed clear to me what my calling was. I was going to become a bus driver. Well, maybe not a bus driver because those passengers can be a handful. Maybe I’ll be a train operator, or work on the rail system.

Like many others that had caught on to this message I want to public transit school. Again there were many different types of transit schools. Some were sponsored by the bus companies, others claimed to be independent schools. In the end I enrolled at the Hepburn Transit Institute. The Hepburn Transit Institute was affiliated with the bus company I had purchased my bus pass from. A lot of my friends that had taken the train, and this bus with me, decided to go there. Again, it seemed like an obvious choice. Transit school was a lot of fun. It seemed like I was forever wasting my time trying to find a girlfriend but I did learn a lot. There were lots of different classes. Classes on fixing buses, starting up your own route, expanding the company in to towns where there was no public transit. By the time I was done transit school I thought I was ready to tackle the world.

All the while I started to become disappointed with the bus company I bought my pass from. Early on in my discovery of public transit I saw an immediate benefit. With the bus I was on I didn’t see the same benefit. The people I traveled with were nice enough, but the bus didn’t seem to get anywhere at any speed.

The pollution filters were constantly breaking down and it seemed there was just as much filth inside the bus as there was outside the bus. The filters were on but more often than not they just masked the smell. The people who had been taking the bus for years became used to that smell. They associated that smell with good clean air. As long as they smelled that air, they thought they were safe. It didn’t seem to matter that they weren’t getting any healthier.

The bus routes were incredibly ineffecient. The bus drivers were caught between the city guide on public transit, the company management and the people on the bus. The bus ended up stopping at peoples houses instead of the regular stops. The amount of stops along the route ballooned and it took forever to get anywhere.

The whole goal of public transit was to get as many people using it as possible. However it was a tough sell. There were so many competing companies and routes it caused mass confusion. There was no consistent routes, or pick up times. Some bus drivers charged huge fees and pocketed the money for themselves. No one could tell which bus to take, because there so many choices. In an effort to lock people in to using their bus exclusively they stopped honoring each others transfers. They built their own terminals and all had variations on the same rules. Most people in the city knew they needed to reduce the pollution and end these terrible commutes, but they weren’t convinced that the busy companies had the answer.

There were a lot of people that spoke authoritatively about the city guide to public transit, an used it to support their route planning and bus enhancements. And many of their ideas seemed to help things for awhile. Some tried making taking the bus for the first time easier by lowering the initial fares. Others tried putting in bigger engines in the bus to make it go faster. Others experimented with other fuels like diesel to bring down the cost, or electricity to reduce emmissions to nothing.

The problem was that with all the confusion very few people decided to take the bus. Of the people using the bus system only a select few seemed significantly healthier. It seemed as though many people took bus for the sake of taking the bus. They had no real destination in mind.

In all the confusion I started to wonder what I was doing on a bus anyways. I read about how in the past efficient public transit became hugely popular and transformed entire cities. I believed in those stories. I believe in the city guide to public transit. It seemed like the company I was committed to was to bogged down. Important things didn’t really matter. My own health was deteriorating and I found that the less time I spent on that bus, the better off I felt.

I tried a few other busses and found that most of them were worse off than company I was with before. Some of those busses never even made it downtown before they stalled out. In fact, the bus I was taking before was one of the best ones around.

I began to have dreams and visions of a bus company that really worked. I thought that if the company would just implement the programs I found that everything would change. A new look on marketing, recruitment, education, maintenance. A complete revolution in the way the company operates. Eventually the bus I was on died. A few months later another bus was started in its place. It’s drivers felt very much the same way I did and implemented many of these reforms. It seemed like they did help. More people started buying bus passes. It seemed however that no matter how much you change the route, and marketing, and the passes, the engine needed to run well. It needed good clean fuel. Even though many of things about bus travel were improved from the seating to the lights and route, the engine was slow, and it stalled, and it broke down often.

It seemed as though the engine began to burn oil. It caused some serious spouts of pollution and I became very ill. I carefully considered my options. Finally I decided to bail on the bus. I had started riding my bike a long time ago and it seemed to be really effective. I could ride down by the river away from the busy streets. I was getting lots of exercise, the air was cleaner, and best of all I got to work in no time at all. Occasionally I took the train when I needed to. I still kept taking the bus at times because sometimes it rained, or stormed, or even snowed.

I gave up on the bus I was with. I checked out a few others. I was very wary of making any long term commitments to one company. I settled down in to one for awhile and then moved on to a next. For the most part I rode my bike. Man, I really came to love riding my bike. Some of my old friends on the bus would ask me how I was doing, whether I had found a different bus to ride on. They talked to me like I was some poor lost commuter that had went back to using the freeway and my car. It offended me really. I was fully committed to public transit, I just didn’t think most of the busses really helped the commute. They were often just as dirty, and they took hours to get where they were supposed to go. They were useless.

As I continued to study public transit from the bikers perspective I saw it in a different light. I came to heavily mistrust all the different programs that came from the head offices of the bus companies. They were committed to public transit, but they were also committed to themselves. The existence and success of the bus route often took precedence over a healthy, efficient, quick commute. It became sad I winded through the different paths and roads often beating the bus to work by hours. I was thoroughly amazed at how people were so blindly committed to an agency that did nothing for them. Most of them could hop off the bus and walk to work and they would get their faster.

I noticed that there was a sizeable group of people that really cared about public transit but just can stand taking the bus. I met them a long the sidewalk and paths. Some walked, some used inline skates, scooters, skateboards or bycycles. Some may have had an unduly harsh reaction to the current bus system as they often criticised it, and even tried to sabatouge it. It was clear to me that being on the bus was better than biking it alone at times. A bus can handle ice way better than a bycycle. Wind can really slow you down some days. I knew from history that sometimes public transit really worked. Even amazingly well. My first experiences on trains, and even some smaller busses were really effective.

As much as I might like to deny it, public transit, is public. It’s not private transit. For the city to truly transform, it needs some form of public transit. Not everyone can walk or ride bike.

After a few years of biking I became very healthy again. My harsh memories of being committed to a bus had faded. My expertise in public transit began to become noticed. I was allowed to drive the bus. In these special cases I did what I could to ensure a good quick ride. I made sure the air filters were clean, and that the engine was well tuned. My bike rides gave me good knowledge of the city and I was able to adeptly navigate the streets. Many people came to appreciate my commitment to getting them to work on time in a safe environment. I paid little heed to tradition, or benefiting my career as a driver, or my own vain opinions about every little thing. My focus became much more pure. Instead of trying to be the best bus driver in town, I was focussed on getting people to work.

Eventually the other drivers in the system asked me if I wanted to take a regular route. It would be on a volunteer basis, but it would be a regular route. I was perplexed. I am fully committed to public transit, but if I commit to this bus and this company, will I just become sick again. Will my efforts towards furthing health and safety become muted by the influence of tradition and peoples opinions. Will I fall prey to the temptation of promoting myself over the needs of the people on that bus. Am I better off just writing about public transit. I had become very effective teaching people about public transit and doing it on a volunteer basis. It was easier that way because I didn’t need involve myself in the intricacies of the system, and I wasn’t concerned about building my bus driving career.

Honestly, I don’t know what to do.

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