One of the most notable social interfaces that we make in the realm of transit is with the driver. Chances are there will be some kind of greeting when you board, maybe a “thank you” or “bye now” when you de-board, and occasionally you might find some passengers will strike up a conversation with the driver during the ride*. None of these verbal interactions are actually necessary; all they really do is foster politeness and social civility. Of course, there are instances that do require the driver’s speech**: announcing stops, rules, and answering passenger questions.
However, sitting on a delayed bus while the driver is answering the question of a passenger who’s standing outside the front doorway can be infuriating for passengers already on board. But beyond just the interests of the passengers, sometimes this can throw buses off schedule, cause bunching, and even break connections. To be sure, there are times when driver assistance is necessary– visually-impaired passengers, for example, might need the route number read aloud. Most of the time, however, the driver is asked information which is already readily available elsewhere.
Good transit systems actually minimize driver-passenger interaction, which does two things: 1) information about the route/system is clearly conveyed, either online, in paper, or posted at stops, requiring less reliance on the driver; and 2) precious minutes on the schedule can be saved to boost system reliability and efficiency. And it’s not like we don’t already do this– train drivers and engineers, for example, are hidden away from public view entirely on our rail modes, simply because you can trust passengers to know what they’re doing without needing assistance.
As mentioned at the top of the post, there is also social component of driver-passenger interface, which can be good or bad. Driver attitudes, for one, tend to rub off on passengers. Any regular transit rider will know that a sour driver is more likely to inflame your own tempers, while an amiable one can spruce up your day. While the trade-off is there, I’m a big believer that we shouldn’t have to intertwine drivers into our social lives, and that it’s best to just let them get on with their jobs.
*King County Metro actually discourages its drivers from casually conversing with passengers. This rule is often broken.
**Many of these functions are disappearing as Metro installs its new on-board system with automated announcements.