11.08.10 Ride-On’s Bad Attitude

This is cross-posted with the Washington Post’s All Opinions Are Local.

When I first moved to Takoma Park nearly 11 years ago, I found Ride-On drivers to be a joy. They were almost always friendly and courteous. “What a welcome contrast to Metrobus,” I thought.

Since then, I have watched year after year as Ride-On drivers have become ever surlier, ever more distanced from the basic concept of customer service, ever less cognizant that riders — and taxpayers — pay their salaries. (Of course, not all drivers are part of this negative trend, but most seem to be.)

Apart from the general negativity emanating from the driver’s seat, there are some clearly documentable issues that – despite numerous complaints – aren’t getting any better.  I’m reporting here on experiences at Takoma Station.

· A substantial number of drivers leave early on their routes. It is indeed a lovely thing when drivers want to keep up with scheduled arrival times along the way. But when they leave early at the start, it means riders get left standing as bus tail-lights trail off in the distance. This is an especially delightful experience when buses are running every 20 or 30 minutes.

But expect a defensive reaction if you try to point this out to an early-departing driver. The last one I spoke to responded thus: “I don’t tell you how to do your job. Don’t tell me how to do mine!”

· Once a bus pulls away from its bay at Takoma, it has to travel through the bus area for a minute to two before it exits onto the street. During that time – and especially when it comes to a stop at the end of the driveway — it has numerous chances to pick up any passengers who didn’t arrive in time to catch the bus at the bay (like, when it leaves early). Many drivers do stop and let folks on. But some ignore waiting passengers and speed off into the night. This is especially infuriating when the bus has stood still at the departure stop sign for, say, 30 seconds and prospective passengers re literally pounding on the door.

The ultimate example of this phenomenon took place earlier this week, as I was sitting in a restaurant near the station. A woman came in to the eatery crying and bruised. She and several other passengers had tried to flag down a bus within the pick-up area. The driver not only refused to let passengers board, but in fact stopped twice to shout abuse at them. The woman then ran after the bus in a last, futile effort to get him to stop, when she tripped and fell on the asphalt. She is pretty sure the driver saw her tumble but drove off anyway.

On several occasions, I have spoken to one Ride-On supervisor who is in complete agreement about the need to change attitudes among the drivers.  He is trying to make a difference, but I think it’s time for MoCo politicians to get engaged and remind these county employees whom they really work for.

©2010 Keith Berner

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11 Comments on “11.08.10 Ride-On’s Bad Attitude”

  1. Betsy Broughton Says:

    A few years ago I had a long conversation with a driver about Ride-On. He said that the union representing drivers was lackluster at best and that there was increased hiring of non-union drivers which he felt was increasing the generally crappy service of Ride-On. His contention was that these drivers had minimal experience and no real long term commitment to the job, and by extension the service consumers received.

    I don’t know how accurate that is but last winter in the early days of the blizzards I was on a #18 Ride-On which is supposed to travel on Maple and pass thru the hospital drive on its way to Langley Park. The driver screwed up and headed down Carroll instead of turning down Maple. When passengers corrected him he got very flustered and made the first turn to come once he understood his error. It was either Grant or Lee. It was the steepest, least forgiving hill he could have chosen. The trip down the hill was a terrifying lurch-slide-brake-slide-brake and slide some more. I am still amazed the fully loaded bus didn’t find a tree or house on its way down. His choices were a combination of someone who didn’t know the area and someone who was making semi-panic decisions. Given the weather this could have been a lethal combination.

    After years of having to rely on the bus and being consistently screwed by buses not being on time I use my car for the five minute trip to downtown Takoma Park. Add in the buses whose AC is out, or whose heat is non-existent, it’s a huge relief to be able to get in my car and get where I need to go without fear and suffering.

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  2. Shannon Vilter VIlla Says:

    Amen to this. I have been on numerous buses that have been early and pointed it out to the driver and I have been yelled obscenities by some and laughed at by others, all very rude. Ride-On drivers have no respect for their passengers. The passengers are what gave them a job to begin with, since there is so much demand for transit in Montgomery County.
    Management has never been able to take corrective action! I can’t believe buses are still running wild in MoCo!
    Supply is still not meeting demand on the Route 55 and buses are early, late, or are no-show.
    I hope the real-time info that is coming is actually at least half-way decent, especially since it’s about a decade in the planning and also about a decade late. But really, how hard is it to wait for your schedule Ride-On? Just breathe, relax, and wait for the time you are suppose to leave? Other systems can do it, why can’t you?! Same is true for some Metrobus trips also.
    Oh and one time, a Ride-On driver that was early tried to kick me from his driver seat by taking his seat belt off and then trying to literally kick me!! So many other stories of abusive Ride-On drivers and reckless Ride-On drivers.

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  3. Shannon Vilter Villa Says:

    Oh an I forgot to mention the other time when a driver of a Route 46 tried to run over or at least hit someone that tried to flag him down and would not open his doors, so he went in front of the bus at Rockville Station and literally the best kept trying to move forward, instead of letting this guy on! What the heck!?
    And then there was this driver that literally looked like Malcom X and so I referred to him as that, since many drivers at Ride-On look like famous personalities, there’s the Sinbad driver, etc…Anyways,
    the Sinbad driver was the only friendly operator I met, but this Malcom X driver practically ran cars off the road, ran red lights, and also abused me verbally. I had complained numerous times!!

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  4. Nelvin Ransome Says:

    Ride-On’s BEATITUDES

    Let the merciful be showed mercy. For all of the complaints and few examples of bad experiences, there are many more examples of Bus Operators who have provided the utmost courtesy and valor in their jobs . What about the Bus Operators (numerous) that are assaulted by belligerent passengers? What about the Bus Operators that protect their passengers and safely evacuate buses after the numerous Bus Fires? What about the Bus Operator that responds to the Discovery crisis last Fall 2010 to ensure that citizens can be evacuated safely?

    I would venture to say that being a Ride-On Bus Operator is probably one of the most stressful jobs in Montgomery County Government. The rewards and pay on the other hand leave a lot to be desired. It is for the most part a thankless job. The Bus Operators are under extreme pressures to stay on route and complete routes through very traffic congested areas on a daily bases. The equipment and buses they must maneuver are outdated and poor performance vehicles. Meanwhile the Bus Operator must deal with many grumpy and unhappy passengers who want them to perform miracles, and have the bus fly to their destination. This might be possible if the County Government would use prudent fiscal management in the purchase, maintenance, and support of Bus fleets.

    Many of the buses are in violation of Federal Transit Authority recommended guidelines and the Code of Federal Regulation. I sat in a proceeding recently where the mechanics who worked on a bus were blamed for a bus fire despite the fact that the particular Bus had almost 300,000 miles when it was recommended to be out of service at 150,000 miles. When the Bus clearly appeared to also have manufacturing defects and defective recalls. Many employees could testify to how the County has wasted countless thousands of tax dollars for parts and transmissions for vehicles that ultimately are not able to perform and ultimately decommissioned. Let’s look at all the facts for efficiency, customer service, and professionalism before we point the finger at the working men and women of County Government.

    Nelvin Ransome, Recorder for MCGEO UFCW LOCAL 1994
    Bus Operator for Montgomery County Ride-On for 23 Years of Dedicated Service
    600 South Frederick Avenue

    #200
    Gaithersburg, MD 20877

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    • Keith Berner Says:

      First, I apologize wholeheartedly for not having replied to your thoughtful comment earlier. You are correct to point out that most Ride-On bus drivers are hardworking folks trying to do the right thing in difficult circumstances. And I learned something from your comment about how difficult those circumstances are.

      But: I disagree with your implied notion that (a) I have to be without sin myself before I have the right to complain about societal ills (including bad service) that need addressing and (b) that because most Ride-On bus drivers are not guilty of the behavior I reported on means that those who are should be let off the hook.

      I definitely did not mean to paint you and all your colleagues with a broad brush. I did mean to call out Ride-On supervisors for turing a blind eye to the problems where they exist. Surely they and you and I can agree that treating potential passengers with contempt is something to be roundly condemned.

      One more point: as quick as I am to report poor service, I am equally quick to call in praise for drivers who deserve it.

      I admire you for posting your comment on my blog and hope that we will have an opportunity to continue the dialogue.

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  5. H.K. Says:

    Wow, I am pretty astonished to hear this. I have occasionally encountered disappointing bus drivers, but in many cases, I have encountered very friendly bus drivers both on the metro system and the RideOn system. To me, the bus is a vital public space to learn about people’s lives and issues.

    I do think that buses should run every 5-10 minutes though so that passengers will feel less rushed. I’m not sure how the schedules of the bus drivers are though, and if there is a way to reduce the types of pressures a bus driver has to put up with.

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  6. wellington Says:

    Good site you have got here.. It’s hard to find quality writing like yours nowadays. I really appreciate people like you! Take care!!

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  7. James Says:

    Brother James, I find all the comments and concerns very enlighting. I was a Bus operator for Metro for several years and I feel it’s all about customer service. There are good and bad operators, so everyone should not be categorized in the same arena. It is not an east job dealing with the public and traffic, and I would always start my day with a prayer. Lets continue to give praises and be polite to the men and women who are providing this service to us, and pray for those who are not doing what they should be doing.

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  8. Jenn Says:

    I frequently ride the 97 bus route. The drivers are rude and don’t even know the policies about children riding. Yesterday I had my 19 month old with me.. stroller and purse.. cash in hand I set my daughter on the bus seat put the stroller down and went to return to pay my fare. As I did a woman said “you don’t have to pay hunny, he doesn’t make anyone pay.” I ignored her thinking it might be another crazy… just then I noticed my 19 month old moving in her seat so I turned to sit her back down ( bus is moving). The driver who must have assumed I was listening to the woman about not paying proceeded to GRAB MY ARM, jerk me around and say “you need to pay” and then scolded the woman for telling me I don’t have to pay by saying ” You don’t tell people on my bus who pays and doesn’t”. I paid my fare 1.80 cash. Sat and continued my ride in shock that this older man put his hands on me. As the route continued over 20 passengers got on the bus and not one of them paid their fare.. not one.. he held his hand over the smartrip scanner and anyone with cash was waived through. I am disgusted by this drivers behavior. I called MC311 the crapshoot for calls and complaints about anything. Told the operator what happened and she tells me someone will get back to me within TWELVE days. Seriously considering filing criminal charges.

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