by Nathan Lee
I am a bus rider. I take the bus nearly everywhere.
For many Oklahomans, it is the one form of transportation they have to rely on. Unfortunately in our city, it is also one of the most broken. While no transit system is perfect, our OKC system is hurting in ways that may affect the way we use (or don’t use) the service.
I ride because of a medical condition I have called narcolepsy. Essentially I am not behind a wheel of a car because if I fall asleep while driving, it’s bad news for everyone. There are many Oklahoma residents that suffer from illnesses or disabilities that keep them from driving on a regular basis. The disabled must rely on the Metro Transit System to get from point A to B and to get the necessities of everyday life. While I am glad that we have a bus service at all, I am not so pleased with the interpersonal skills of some of the employees in the system.
I have used the service for years and I’ve notice a decline in quality. This is not a whine piece about manners and declining civility folks, but to point out that this is a service industry where neglect can lead to people losing their lives. Drivers are becoming more and more reckless and I have been in situations where drivers are pushing the pedal to the metal at frightening speeds. There could be several reasons for this. Perhaps the drivers are running into unforeseen traffic or circumstances that took them off schedule. While this is understandable, endangering the lives of the people on board for the sake of making up time is inexcusable.
Also, there is the treatment of the people who ride the bus themselves. I witnessed a bus driver tell a man that it was prohibited to use needles and drugs on the bus. The driver was nearly belligerent. The man who had the pills and the needle was an older gentleman, African American and soft spoken. He didn’t know the rule and that is understandable. Had the conversation ended there, I would have said job well done to the driver. Unfortunately his next remarks were completely uncalled for and borderline racist. He said, “You and your buddy shoot your dope up in your hood and not on this bus. Keep that shit in the ghetto”.
It turned out that the older African American man was a diabetic not a recreational drug addict. Technically the driver was right about the needles. His comments made after the initial interaction though were as wrong as wrong gets. What was the purpose of saying that?
But I too have been judged by OKC metro bus drivers.
I recall getting on the bus and asking the driver if that bus went to a certain location. She looked me up and down and said nothing. Completely dismissed my question. Although if you watch the “video” how to ride the bus, asking a driver about destinations of buses that service multiple routes isn’t discouraged. On this occasion, I had boarded the bus well-dressed, color-coordinated, and, at least in my opinion, smelling like a well-groomed professional man. I asked again and she replied “have a seat.” Suddenly I grew angry and I said “You know, if you hate your job quit coming. The people that get on aren’t garbage and we don’t deserve to be treated like an inconvenience to you.”
I had a magazine with my face on the cover and I showed it to her. “The sad part is now that you see me on this, you will treat me differently because you think I might be worth something. I was worth something before I showed you that magazine. I’m not trash, just a guy who needs to get where he is going. Be nicer to people, because you might need one of us one day.”
The sad norm is that people who ride the bus are treated as substandard. Not only by the drivers, but by the city. I am sure drivers have their fair share of riff-raff but lumping everyone into that mold is just not acceptable. Especially when one has a job where they are serving the community.
Another major issue is that there are so many unmarked bus stops. I have seen drivers continue to go even when a person has pulled the line to stop. You have to tell them where you want to be dropped off because there is no indication that there is a stop in a lot of areas. The city could at least spring for a few bus stop signs. In a perfect world they would invest in more covered booths for people who ride, but at this point, I would be happy if they just made more bus stop signs. I even saw a driver blow past a man who was holding up a bus pass. Driver said “He should’ve been standing on a stop, I ain’t makin no special pickups.”
Well how does the man know where to stand if there are no bus stop signs for up to three blocks? Turns out he was one block from an unmarked “stop”.
In big league cities, there are functional metro transit systems. We claim that we want to compete, but unfortunately we are giving little reason for most Oklahomans to even want to travel by bus. The system needs more than a few stops added and marked. It needs more than just friendlier drivers. It needs to respect the people it serves. It needs to consider why so many of people in Oklahoma City Metro don’t even want the headaches of saving gas riding with them.