Michael Pal has launched a new blog about his experiences as a transit manager. In a recent post, he talks about the process of dealing with complaints about bus driver behavior, especially things that can be perceived as courtesy or the lack of it.
Here's Pal's list of "clearly unacceptable behaviors"
- Cursing and/or using profane vulgar language/gestures at customers, even if provoked.
- Raising voice / screaming at customer
- Ignoring reasonable requests from customers for directions/information
- Failure to provide explanations for delays/disruptions if known
- Failure to assist when required
- Speaking to the customer in a dismissive fashion
- Prejudging a customer based on past experiences
- Treating customers differently based on sex/race/physical disabilities
- Putting schedule before service
While I would agree that there's no excuse for items 1, 2, 7 or 8, a great deal of professional driver behavior can be interpreted by someone as including one of these faults. If you are used to an intimate bus service where the driver knows your name and leaves the seat to help you carry your groceries, then you're used to a low-ridership, low-speed, low-efficiency service. If you then get on a Bus Rapid Transit vehicle with 100 passengers on board an expect the same service from the driver, you're going to be disappointed. You might even accuse her of "failing to assist" or "putting schedule before service." And if you lean over her shoulder and harague her when she's trying to get 100 people to their destinations, she might eventually do something that you perceive as "speaking to you in a dismissive fashion."
What's more, the world is full of people who are angry at their parents, their employer, their landlord, their cellphone, the prospect of death, Microsoft, their government, their partner, their aching back, Wall Street, God, or the weather. In all these cases, the anger can't be fully expressed at its true object, so people displace, becoming irritable with others who somehow remind them (and the resemblence can be vanishingly faint) of the true object of their anger. If you're angry at "authority," for example, well, you're going to beat up on a lot of decent people who happen to be in charge of something — including a bus driver.
The driver of busy, crowded bus services needs an extraordinary personality — able to be calm and focused even as they deal with danger and aggression all around them. They need to be totally attentive to their driving even as all kinds of needy egos surge and roil in a small space behind their backs. Drivers who are dealing with their own rage really just can't do this and shouldn't be driving — either a bus or a private car. I've seen bus drivers snap — suddenly begin screaming obscenities until passengers either flee or cower in silence. Plenty of people don't have the right personality for the job, and should be doing something else. Many, too, have the right personality for driving but not for customer service; they should be driving services that require less customer contact, like rail or Bus Rapid Transit.
If your bus driver starts screaming obscenities, or driving aggressively, report him. But forgive your bus driver for the fact that his job is to do something efficiently, as part of a larger network, especially if he's driving a big bus serving lots of passengers. If you fixate on the fact that he didn't smile as you expected, or that he couldn't answer you question while he was focused on everyone's safety, you'll beat up on a lot of bus drivers, and their managers, unfairly. And when you make a job more unpleasant, you make it harder to get good people to do it.