Metro photo

If you work in an office, you probably take for granted the little things. Standing up to walk to a coworker’s desk. Multiple runs to the coffee machine. Off-site meetings to stretch your legs. The ability to use headphones. Availing yourself of legal pot.

But being a transit operator affords you none of those things. Imagine sitting for 4-8 hours at a time. If you drive a bus or streetcar, your bathroom breaks depend on the whims of traffic. If you’re really late on one run, you may not get a break at all in order to keep your next run on time. Your daily work life consists of hundreds of micro interactions with strangers, asking random questions as you navigate a 40′ or 60′ machine through tight city streets. For many part-timers who work only the peak periods, think about it: you hate traffic, but traffic is what they do for a living.

The pay is decent and the benefits are top-notch, but the work is hard and often thankless. They work hard for you every day, and are far more often the object of scorn than praise, as angry people lash out at them as a captive outlet. Just about anything you’re tempted to be mad about on a bus ride isn’t their fault.

Today is Transit Driver Appreciation Day. As you board a bus today, give your driver a quick thank you for freeing you from having to drive yourself.

8 Replies to “Today is Transit Driver Appreciation Day: Tell Your Driver a Quick Thank You”

  1. Let me add my thanks to all of the bus drivers for a job well done under some difficult working conditions.

  2. Zach, one very important thing about transit driving: Full-time, it’s not a job but a way of life. By definition, even drivers with extremely high seniority- longstanding union principle that choice of work is determined by length of time in service- usually have to be in the seat when other people are asleep.

    Or on vacation. Because someone has to get the bus – or railcar- out of the yard to start getting passengers to work on time. Or wherever they’re going while they’re off work. It’s very hard on family life. Also, so dangerous it ought to be illegal, many drivers have different work hours every day.

    It’s very likely more accidents result from a driver falling asleep at the wheel than drinking or taking drugs. And also so hard on the human system that in war-time that interrogators will use sleep deprivation for next thing to torture.

    Handling the machinery generally takes about a year to get comfortable with. Trolleybuses longer- only vehicle harder to master is the San Francisco cable car. Could take five years to experience all the operating incidents a driver will encounter.

    Negotiating the traction power overhead is a highly skilled labor. Those suitcase-handles over the wire at switches carry current over one wire. To keep a substation from blowing out. The entire length of wire underneath them is “dead”.

    Meaning that if a coach stops with shoes underneath, and on flat pavement- could need a push to move. Battery power has just about eliminated this problem. But since an electric motor delivers so much torque at very low speed- reason Seattle’s terrain demands trolleys-smooth travel requires that the driver learn how to use momentum and the slope of the road to help with acceleration and braking.

    The extra skill and the heavy passenger loads that go with trolley work should bring higher pay than diesel work. Chief reason being that except for those of us who like both the feel and the mastery of electric driving, the work goes to lower-seniority drivers. Who too often leave it soon as seniority allows, with nowhere near the experience the work requires.

    Creating a constant turnover of workers with a very bad lifetime attitude. Trolley-drivers reading this can confirm or deny, but when I drove between thirty and twenty years ago, training should have been at least twice as long. Double for the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, even without the trolley poles.

    So many thanks for calling attention to this day, Zach. Very much deserved by just about everybody with a hand on the steering wheels and the train control-handles. And their direct supervisors. But regarding all these personnel, chief thing I’d like to see STB stress is that these workers need start demanding a hand in steering transit operations themselves.

    Whatever the arrangement is called, a system like ours needs to be run as a worker-owned cooperative.

    Mark Dublin

  3. My grandfather’s one and only career was as a Metro bus driver (well, Seattle Transit at first). His stories of particularly crazy passengers were always entertaining, and sometimes gross, but luckily he worked during an era when assaults against operators were extremely rare — even when drivers like himself personally kicked bad behaving patrons off. It seems crazy to me in 2017 that a bus driver could (back in the day) buy a nice craftsman home in West Seattle and raise two kids in middle class comfort. Even if today’s drivers are “well” paid, I doubt they could afford to raise a family comfortably within view of the Seattle skyline. However, I am happy to live in a city where a sizeable chunk of riders always wave, and or say “thank you” to the drivers. I try to be loud and proud with my salutations to the driver so that others learn the trick. It doesn’t seem like that happens elsewhere around the country.

    1. My grandfather drove for Seattle Transit as well; back in those days of course it was a solid middle class job of the kind that allowed them to have a house in a Wedgwood that probably would be out of reach for a single-income driver’s family today. He ended up becoming an assistant superintendent at Metro prior to passing away far too young in his late 50s. I was too young to hear many of his stories, but he loved the job and passed his love of transit (and how to use it) to me. I still have the coin dispenser/change maker he used as a driver, as well as some other items from “back in the day.” If we ever get a transit museum here perhaps they would like things like that.

      Kudos to all the drivers who carry on the traditions and make it so much easier and less stressful for me and many others to get to work or wherever else we may need to go…and yes, I always wave and say ‘thanks!’

  4. To the brave #2bus driver who was not intimidated by our policeman wanting to cut in the lane:
    Thank you for being who you are!!
    Sorry others egos impede you when you are busiest.

    1. Evelyn, I hope your praise for the transit operator here is sarcastic. Transit driving considers every non-transit vehicle as a moving fireplug.

      Better analogy would be at the wheel of a boat on a fast-moving river in logging country. Steersman has to keep adjusting their craft into a stream of unguided moving objects. Which can suddenly drift across the boat’s course.

      Professional driver always has to keep eyes moving, and keep at least one eye in each side mirror. Doesn’t take long to be able to tell instinctively if a vehicle behind you is likely to suddenly cut in front of you. And imperceivably start easing off on the power so neither the motorist nor your passengers ever sense a problem. Or you either.

      Slightest unsettling chance of conflict with a police car- you get paid half an hour for a five minute incident report when you come off duty. Noting date, time, location, direction of travel, and brief account. Starting with description of car and driver.

      But at the wheel, best to assume the officer is responding to a call that a bus driver is being attacked. And never forget that the only aggressive intent or ego a transit operator has to think about is his or her own.


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