Dori Monson: Are Metro drivers peeing in seats a real problem or fabrication by union?

In the interests of full disclosure: I drive for Metro.

Metro head Kevin Desmond (aka Dez) was interviewed by local radio personality Dori Monson and neither party was entirely honest–to say the least.

Monson is a typical confrontationalist interviewer who masquerades as a shock-jock but who in reality is in the pocket of the city’s elites and serves their interests. Dez is a public official with a diminishing budget and lots of anxious customers. No reason to expect the truth, and we certainly didn’t get it.

A little background: Metro depends in part upon sales revenue, and after the economic collapse of ’08, found itself in need of cost-cutting. One of the things Dez did was to cut recovery times (i.e. the interval between the end of one run and the beginning of the next). These are often called “breaks,” but that is something of a misnomer. These gaps are necessary to provide reliable service as it is impossible to time bus runs to the minute. (That is one run could not end at, say, 22 minutes past the hour and the next begin at the same time as the second run would almost always run late and the people amassing at the stops would not know from day to day when the bus would actually arrive.) These recovery times are (or were) calculated to provide consistent, predictable service for passengers, not to give a break to the driver. Nevertheless, they served as such, at least before the cuts.

There is a law in Washington that employers must provide at least a 30 minute lunch break for its employees, however bus drivers are exempt.

Even before the cuts many Metro employees suffered from “bus driver bladder.” Drivers simply cannot excuse themselves and go the bathroom as soon as they feel the need as most workers can. Consequently, we are often “holding it” until we can get to the “comfort station,” as we euphemistically call it. This problem is exacerbated by the need to drink caffeinated beverages due to the long, difficult schedules we often have to work. (The earliest report times are before 4am and most day drivers report before 6am.)

[Video here:

Adding to this misery is the jarring nature of the work. We bounce up and down for hours on end upon poorly maintained roads full of pot-holes etc.

And then there is the stress of having to navigate oversize vehicles through the crowded urban streets of a large modern city like Seattle.

On to the article:

[Dez] explained that a few years ago, drivers had an average break of 20 minutes per route. But he said that in 2009, that was reduced to a scheduled 16 minute break after a council audit found drivers in the King County Metro system were taking longer breaks than drivers in other systems.

I do not know, and haven’t ever researched the numbers, but it sure doesn’t seem as though we got 20 minutes on average before, or as much as 16 now.

“Because we’re running on the streets that we don’t control, buses get delayed. If you arrive at your terminal late, you may not get all the break time that the schedule allows,” said Desmond. “Really, therein lies the problem. That’s what we’ve reduced to save money. We’ve saved about $12.5 million to do that, but unfortunately, it left our service a little less reliable and it made the work life on our transit operators a little bit tougher.”

A little bit tougher?

Desmond explained route lengths vary quite a bit, but, “A trip from terminal to terminal, a really long trip might be 45 minutes, 55 minutes.”

A really long one is 45 minutes? Not quite! That would be a really short one. Last week I drove the 9, 16, 60, and 24/124, and only the 9 was about 45 minutes per run. The rest were well in excess of an hour. The 24/124 is about an hour and twenty minutes each run if everything goes well. If there’s traffic or an accident or break-down…

Desmond said that is a long time in the seat, but Monson said he’s sat a lot longer than that in traffic jams.

“If we’re talking about a maximum 45-minute trip and they get anywhere from a five to 16-minute break at the beginning and/or end of these trips, it defies logic giving the traffic jams that I sit in in my car, and the fact that I’ve never soiled myself while driving my car,” Monson said. “Is this a real problem or is this something the union is just completely fabricating?”

My union did not invent bus driver bladder. Holding one’s urine is not only painful, but it leads to urological problems like infection and incontinence. As driver’s age, these problems can become more serious. Try to imagine getting to your terminal after your recovery time and having to go but not that bad and you decide you can wait until you finish this run. Then imagine that you are on the freeway in the middle of one of these hour+  runs and the traffic stops due to an accident up ahead. So now you have been holding it for two hours or more. Now imagine that the traffic breaks and you are motoring along when somebody in front of you makes an unexpected lane change and you have to brake hard. This was the precise circumstance under which I inadvertently released some urine. The pain and/or pressure of having to exert myself so forcefully was enough to make me momentarily lose control. I had a bottle of pop which I pretended to fumble with thus spilling it on myself. This I did to lessen the smell and to have an excuse to have a stain.

Now I never fail to go to the comfort station at the end of a run no matter how late I am.

“The reality is many operators arrive at their terminal late and they don’t necessarily have enough time to both take a break and start their next trip on time. It puts them in a difficult position of ‘Do I inconvenience my customers or do I go and relieve myself?'” said Desmond, adding that is the type of thing they are working on and trying to fix.”

Are they working on it? We just got funding so now Dez can fix the schedules for our next “shake-up” (we re-pick thrice annually and schedules are adjusted then).

Monson still wondered if the whole thing isn’t motivated by something else.

“If 60 guys have soiled their seats, I’m wondering if they’re doing that to make a statement, rather than out of absolute necessity. Is this some kind of a leverage ploy to try to get more money out of us?”

If I ever have the displeasure of meeting Monson, I’m going to piss on him.

But Monson still had questions.

“Is one of the possible solutions telling the drivers, ‘Stop peeing your pants in your seats or you’ll be fired?’ I cannot believe, given the break schedule, you’ve outlined for me that you can’t just order them and tell them, ‘If you can’t handle this job with this break schedule, we’re going to get rid of you.'”

Does this idiot think we want to wet ourselves?

And then what? Pre-employment bladder evaluation tests for those drivers replacing those who got fired for incontinence?

Perhaps there is a better solution: Metro could comply with the law:

I should add that I am happy at Metro. Generally, they treat their employees well, and this particular problem is not of Metro’s making.

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