So I’ve been thinking about the events of yesterday, which I summarized (with commentary) in a blog post mostly so that I could get it all out of my system and move on with life. Then it got posted to Facebook, and people were outraged, and someone brought my post to the attention of the folks at DATA…
…one of whom responded:
Gillian, please allow me to apologize for this experience. The driver was woefully misinformed and we will follow up so this doesn’t happen to another rider. Can you provide more details so we can identify the operator? We have a feedback form here: [DATA H8Rs?]. You can also report it to our Call Center at 919-485-7433 (RIDE).
Again, I am so sorry this happened. Please don’t go to the dark side yet.
First, I’d like to say that really appreciate the fact that they got in touch with me, and I smiled for the first time that day when I read “Please don’t go to the dark side yet.”
However, I don’t think identifying and reprimanding the driver (and I could point fingers, because I actually recorded all the pertinent information, but I’m not going to) is a particularly useful strategy, and for a couple of reasons.
1.) Fear: If I complain and the driver is reprimanded, it may lead to further abuse. And I already suspect that I might be a bit conspicuous on account of the following: a.) unaccompanied English-speaking white women in the 24-35yo age bracket are not an especially common sight on the bus routes I rely on as an “intensive” rider (5+ days/week), b.) I’ve got some simple motor tics that, while they don’t interfere with my ability to function, do occasionally attract notice from well-meaning folks who want to know if I’m “ok” or “in pain,” c.) I’m always reading, which again, is something that’s apparently unusual enough to prompt comment from fellow riders, and d.) this is hard to admit, but I’d say that I adhere to the letter but not the spirit of business casual — i.e. I’m dressed for an office environment, but usually in second-hand, clean-but-un-ironed, slightly frayed-at-the-hems clothing. (At this point in my life, I can’t really justify spending more on clothing so I think I may come off as some sort of orphaned temp to observers).
Simply put, if someone was like, “Have you seen that twitchy white girl with the shabby clothes who’s always got a book?” someone else could probably respond, “Yeah, what’s her deal?”
2.) Necessity: I hate to say it, but no matter how awful an individual driver might be, I still have to ride his or her bus. I can’t opt out of the inbound 10 or the outbound 12 just because I don’t want to be treated like crap because I DON’T HAVE OTHER OPTIONS. Without a reliable vehicle or safe bike routes or the magical mystery carpool that everyone keeps suggesting to me*, I am kind of stuck. Anyway, life isn’t fair and sometimes people are really $#!++y and so what, it sucks but hey, tomorrow’s another day.
3.) In my view, DATA’s biggest problems do not really concern the behavior of individual employees — I actually think it’s a symptom of other issues.
The first thing that comes to mind is that, in addition to probably not being very well-compensated or treated with much respect by their employers, DATA employees probably deal daily with a LOT of problem customers — and without much in the way of support. If you’re driving that bus, you’re alone on the roads; nobody’s going to step in and intervene on your behalf. And I’ve seen drivers get harassed and heckled, be forced to listen to passenger monologues/rants that are more appropriate for a therapist’s office, and even have to break up fights between riders — that $#!+ goes both ways, believe me. If I had to ferry some of these @$$holes around all day, I’d seriously contemplate shooting myself in the head. That, unfortunately, is the nature of customer service. I know it, because I’ve been in jobs that require interacting with the public and I have experienced firsthand how terrible the public can be.
People always say, “Oh, well, that’s no excuse. If you’re in that job, that’s what you’ve signed up for.” And, having been employed in the retail sector as well as in other service capacities, let me be the first to call bull$#!+ : the customer is NOT always right and what there’s no excuse for is being horrible to anyone, regardless of which side of the transaction you’re on.*** This driver acted like a dick, sure, but for all I know, he may have just been tormented by some other dick and was in no mood to deal with some dumb kid (I look younger than I am, and am sometimes mistaken for a student) who couldn’t get her fare together.
Besides, the “exact change” problem is not one I routinely face. Every month, I buy a 31-day Regional Express pass, which (theoretically, at least) is my transit gateway to the Triangle, as it permits unlimited ridership on all TTA, DATA, and CAT routes.** Fortunately, my awesome employer reimburses me for transit (EMPLOYERS OF THE TRIANGLE: YOU SHOULD DEFINITELY DO THIS); unfortunately, my awesome employer pays me on the last business day of every month, meaning that more often than not there is a gap of several days between the day my previous pass expires and they day there’s enough in my bank account that I can afford to purchase a new pass, not to mention the time that elapses between ordering my pass online and receiving it in the mail. During those periods, I use cash — sometimes dollars, sometimes change I find in the sofa or in pockets while doing the laundry. But cash isn’t always easy to get in the right denominations: ATMs give you twenties, sometimes tens if you’re lucky; even when I choose the cash-back option at a store, I have about 3 seconds to request singles before the cashier grabs a larger bill and slams the drawer shut. And a number of stores, fearing scams or counterfeit bills, refuse to make change — yeah, I’m looking at you TARGET — just like bus drivers.
However, there is a solution to this. Some transit systems — Washington, D.C. is one example — have “rechargeable” passes, made of plastic and thus more durable than the paper tickets issued by the transit authority. Provided there’s a machine available, riders can “top up” these passes at various waypoints.
I would love some kind of reusable, rechargeable card. Not only would it save paper AND be easier to keep track of***, I could conceivably automate payments for the amount of a monthly pass OR add money in an emergency, whether by inserting a bill into a machine, wiping my debit card, or purchasing fares online. While I doubt that it’s ever going to happen — public transportation is NOT a priority for North Carolina, very likely because its ridership is perceived to be largely non-white and lower-income (groups that this state’s legislators would, judging by their policy decisions, love to see eradicated, were it possible to do so) — it COULD. We’ve got 3 large universities plus RTP, for f*ck’s sake, so I know we have the technology. It is as possible as it is unlikely.
(It should also be possible to transfer from a TTA bus to a DATA bus, btw, since they are run by the same agency…but is not.)
And that’s just one issue, not even the one that most affects me personally.
For example, I am VERY concerned about the fact that I have to sprint across four or five lanes of highway traffic to get to my stop in the afternoons when I leave work. There is no crosswalk at any point along the stretch of highway that includes Meridian Parkway. In fact, there is a distinct lack of pedestrian crossings and signals in areas that see quite a bit of pedestrian traffic. More often than should be the case, there are no sidewalks, either.
In my view, if you’ve got two bus stops on opposite sides of the road, there should be a crosswalk connecting them and at least a patch of pavement or some kind of barrier from traffic*****. People who ride the bus ANYWHERE almost always need to return to their point of origin, and they should be able to do so safely.
One of these days, I am probably going to get run over by a car (or a truck, that almost happened) and killed while crossing the road. I’ve seen it happen to other people. I was riding the TTA 400 on the morning that that guy died on 15-501 by New Hope Commons. Although the accident itself had occurred early in the morning, by 745am, he was still draped with a sheet. I could see the outline of a body beneath the fabric and, worse, I could see the stream of blood flowing out and spreading across the road. That could be me someday. It hasn’t happened yet, but it could and, on some level, I realize I’m kind of expecting it. But what can I do? I still have to go to work, no matter how hazardous or unpleasant the conditions required to get there.
I can survive a mean driver, I can survive hurt feelings and humiliation, I can survive a rough day in general. What I can’t (probably) survive is being the victim of a hit and run.
And that is why customer complaints are kind of beside the point. Sure, they’re a decent method of letting angry riders blow off steam and they’re great from a PR point of view, because they allow the transit system to say, “We’re dealing with this.” But if I were to actually fill out the form honestly, I don’t think I could. My “complaint” is this: fix DATA, make it safe and convenient and, above all, make it work the way it ought to.