Hugged a Bus Driver Lately?

I am a driver for the Metropolitan Transit District and I would like to begin by apologizing to our riders and the public at large for information regarding the ongoing negotiations not having been released until just recently.

I have seen many negative comments regarding the drivers because of the late-breaking release. It is important to know that the rank and file members of the Teamsters Union Local 186 voted no to the “last best offer” back in June. The middle of December will make it six months since that vote. The union is trying to help us to keep benefits and not have things taken away.

With regard to a number of the comments made, we are not looking for pay raises and we are not “just being greedy and wanting more money.” We are trying to look out for our health and well-being. To directly respond to several of the other comments to the effect that “any homeless person could drive a bus better than the drivers now,” let me say that the fleet has a number of different vehicles that we operate. We have the electric shuttles that work on State Street and Cabrillo Boulevard, as well as for the crosstown transports and the commuter parking areas. We have the Gillig Hybrids, some of which are 40-footers and some that are 29-footers. We have the 33-foot buses that are in use as well. We as drivers have to be able to operate all the different equipment that is used. We also have to be able to troubleshoot issues and, with the assistance of our supervisors, keep the buses in operation or get them exchanged.

We have to negotiate the city streets with traffic that is very unforgiving at times and do so without incident, safely getting our passengers to the stops they need. We carry the elderly, the infirm, children and women that are pregnant and going to or from doctors’ appointments. Sometimes we have riders get sick on the buses. We have had incidents of riders being obnoxious and rude to drivers, so much so that drivers have been spit on. Is this something that just anyone can handle? I think not.

How about one of our female drivers, a few years back, who was operating her bus and stopped at a pick-up point to allow the people that were waiting to get on the bus. It turned out that those waiting were actually pranksters and thought it would be funny to through a bucket of human excrement on her instead. This was a couple of days before Halloween night, so they thought it was prank night. Does this sound like something just anyone could handle? Again, I think not.

We have had drivers take care of persons that have had a seizure on the bus. There have been numerous times that good sound judgment had to be used to aid a rider that needed special attention. These things take place while the driver is trying to operate their unit on the streets. Emergencies just don’t wait for the next convenient stop to happen.

It is easy to complain and point the finger at the drivers when they are not meeting your expectations, but there are many things that go unnoticed and unsung because it is our job. So please think before casting disparaging remarks.

Also, take into account that sometimes the bus may be late because of a detour, traffic, or even possibly a mechanical breakdown. It isn’t “that lousy driver’s” intent to be late. With the ever-increasing population of Santa Barbara putting more cars on the streets and freeways and many of those drivers impatient with the buses because they don’t want to be slowed down from their very important agendas—it becomes difficult at times for drivers to be at a stop right when you think the bus should be there.

We serve this city and those who actually depend on the system for work, school, appointments, and play. Please think about some of these things, and think about the riders behind the driver before casting stones, or pulling out in front of a bus at the last minute. I was born in Santa Barbara and I have a great opportunity to serve and try to give back to the city I was raised in, through the transit district. I do my best, as do my brothers and sisters of Local 186.