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Sunday, June 25, 2006


And the good drivers

Some MTA bus drivers have been so good. To me, and to others. They'd let you ride short on change. They'd tell people when to get off. They were patient, courteous and did a great job. If MTA focused (at least) focused, on hiring drivers of this kind, it would be easer to forget, or forgive at least some of the other woes, and certainly for some time. Indeed.

It's still perplexing why they don't. It appears that MTA hires anyone who meets the technical requirements of driving, holding a license to drive the vehicle, and is within age limit. It ends up with a 50/50 situation of both great and awful drivers. Don't all decent companies and organizations make sure they hire qualified people, in terms of attitudes as Well as meeting technical requirements? Where do you find job ads that ask for employees to have a certain bachelor degree or whatever, but don't care if the employee is enthusiastic, outgoing, customer service oriented, etc? Well, at MTA they don't care, because apparently customers aren't worth that much to them (ironically, still they want to increase ridership.)

If you knew how difficult it is to find people who are qualified to drive the bus in the first place, you might understand why some end up behind the wheel without being "people persons".

Did you know that only two or three out of every 100 applicants end up hired as drivers, and that about half of the applicants don't get past the physical or drug screen?

I know: Statistics are annoying to bloggers.
Go to any other city in the world, try their transit systems, then come back and talk, please.
I've lived in NYC and Europe. I can attest to the differences. Even NYC subway which is old and intricate, is about 50 times more efficient than L.A.'s public transportation system is in general. I mean what does it take to to run a system well? If you don't know how to do it: look at how others do it.

And do you mean that MTA drivers face specific problems that are immensly difficult to overcome? I'd reckon Donald Trump could fix up MTA if he were to hire the drivers.

It may be that MTA's judgement is out of whack, for real. To misjudge so many employees suggests something's not correct.

Other companies don't do it. It's a matter of decency and customer respect, which MTA lacks on a level that's bizarre.

(and, note that I'm not saying that everyone within MTA are that way, but the institution as a whole).
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i was born and raised in los angeles and never had a driver's license, let alone a car. i lived hours from my school and rode the commuter bus from the valley to the blue line downtown los angeles and got to school and home on time EVERY morning and afternoon without fail, or a hitch. throughout my life my mother and i used the buses and trains in
los angeles as oppossed to our car because she wouldn't have to deal with the stress of traffic or finding/paying for parking and it only cost $1.35.

i've lived in new york for five years now and while i love the ease of the trains here, the new york mta has many glitches that you won't find in los angeles. los angeles trains are cleaner, the stations tell you when the next train is coming and have buttons you
can push to ask for directional help. if it rains for more than a day in new york, at least two trains will be shut down, guaranteed. also, i've been on trains that because of 'signal failure' sit between stations for HOURS in new york city, something that has never happened to me in los angeles. there are more express buses aimed at getting commuters to and from work quickly and easily and monthly/weekly and pay per ride passes are much cheaper to this day in los angeles than they are in new york. many of the stations have cameras and few of the stations have piles of human feces in them or reak of urine (welcome to new york). also, from any pay phone, you can call 1-800-COMMUTE, tell them where you are and where you'd like to be and they'll tell you how to get there. the people in la who don't like
the system probably don't know how to use it. every system has flaws but it's never as simple as 'they're better than us'. ever. also, take into consideration the fact that the ny subway system is over a
hundred years old; the los angeles metrorail has been around only since the 90's. there should hardly even be a comparison between the two because they are two totally different systems that work for two
totally different cities. if you want a more fitting comparison, talk to people in boston who have a similar, simple 4-train system that shuts down every night unlike new york which has 26 different trains and never shuts down. it would take at least another 50 years for los angeles to even be on the same page as new york.

also, it's not the bus driver's job to be nice to you, let you ride on short change or tell you where to get off. it's his/her job to get you where you need to be safely and on time. if he or she happen to be
polite, you got lucky. of course the mta hires anyone who meets the technical requirements of driving and holding a license. do you think they're getting tons of applicants who want to drive around for 8-10
hours dealing with dumbasses who don't have the right change or know where to get off the bus? they get paid $11 an hour, they are being watched on camera and the money they collect is counted at the end of the day. think about yourself in that position and imagine being nice to everyone who gets on your bus and doesn't enough money or a fucking
clue what's going on. try planning your trip and your change first and you might find that people are nicer. for the record, if you try getting on a new york city bus with the wrong change and you don't
know where you're going, you're not likley to be treated any better than you would be in los angeles.
The fact that it's up the riders to get exact change for fare, is not fair.

There are automated systems for buses that can break bills and so on, as happens to be the case for the trains. Why customers, including kids and the elderly have to run around blocks in hunts for change so that they can ride the bus is quite senseless. Would you also be OK with going to the supermarket and be forced to provide exact change? Granted, they'd go out of business.

The busdriver's jobs is to stop and pick up riders at the busstops, and let them off when the stop bell rings. Well, do you know how many times they don't? Instead of defending lousy workers let's point to what can get better.

I also happen to believe that the subway in L.A. has been a swell addition (was described in a previous post), but the greenline, as well as the redline's westbound extensions, fall short of their logical destinations, which is only another failing duck in the row of inconsistencies within MTA. But yes, otherwise the trains are handsome and all that, and surely have improved the transportation system in general.

Sometimes I don't get you people. When there are obvious flaws, that can obviously get fixed with only a mimimal amount of dedication, you address the criticism rather than the problems themselves.

As for filth and feces. You can find that in L.A. too. Many bustops don't have trashcans near them which ends up in trash being scattered all over the place. What's the big deal in providing trashcans? As Well as making sure that drivers are not rude? For crying out loud, this is a service industry. They don't have to hand out bargains for riders, but nor do they have to be rude and arrogant. The rudeness we're talking about is to the extent of bus drivers basically giving their fingers to waitig riders at stops. It's not a matter of the occassional driver being a bit gruff or not smiling. That, nobody cares about, but the other things, which affect them directly, they care for.

As for the bus drivers making $11 an hour. Is that supposed to be sad? Most of the riders probably make way less. It's not as though as the "dumbass" riders live posh lives.
Well, at least most of them don't.

Anyway, the NYC transit system is superior in implementation. You know that the trains run often, and reach all major destinations. In L.A. on the other hand it takes time to get a sense of how frequently a certain bus runs. It's often a guessing game.
The system is outdated. This is 2006. People don't want to spend time on the phone everytime they want to use a bus. A well organized system would have time tables at every bus stop. It's more intuitive to use them, like they do at airports, and at bus systems in other cities, than to dial a number and wait for x minutes before someone answers, just to know when the bus arrives. Phone calls are for limos and cabs.
Responses to comments received:

As someone else said, it is by no means fair to compare the extensive subway system in NYC to the still-being-rebuilt rail network in L.A. Yes, it is unfortunate that the region's leaders shortsightedly took apart the rail system 40+ years ago, but that isn't MTA's fault either.

There are not "specific problems that the drivers have to overcome", but MTA simply doesn't get enough qualified applicants to be as discriminating as you would like. That is a problem that is difficult to overcome; even LAPD is having trouble getting enough qualified applicants for vacant police officer positions. Yes, there are going to be bad apples, but an applicant can hide that from MTA during training, and then the only way to detect them is for the passengers to report them. (I outlined how to do so elsewhere.)

And exact change has been required on buses for over 30 years, so your complaint about that being unfair is without merit. Do you know why RTD (MTA's predecessor) stopped having change available on the bus? Because too many drivers were being held up. Is it fair for drivers to be at risk of having a gun pointed at them just so you don't have to get exact change?
Oh, I forgot ... timetables at bus stops are not a possibility, when they would have to be changed every six months when service adjustments are made. MTA has close to 18,000 stops systemwide, and to change that many timetables every time would take forever.

Please think before ranting.
I rant when I don't find logical answers.
I don't dispute fact when someone presents them though.

Regading change. I just think that the system is outdated. Sure, there are psychos in L.A. and bus drivers getting robbed wouldn't be worth the money change aspect. But there are bus systems, in other cities, and in other nations, that utilize electronic card systems that are both convenient to riders and don't pose risks to the driver.
The point is why the better of two or more payment systems, hasn't been worked on to be implemented, as with the current accurate change system being placed as a burden on the customers, it's very confusing to some people. Travelers, and visitors from other cities, for example are often not used to it, or do not expect to be refused a bus ride because nobody in the neighbourhood was able to break their bill(s).

And it's very unfortunate if the MTA can't attract enough good candidates for their hiring positions. But the wuestion is why?
But there are bus systems, in other cities, and in other nations, that utilize electronic card systems that are both convenient to riders and don't pose risks to the driver.

Already in the works. If you look at the new fareboxes on MTA buses, you will see a big blue circle to the left of the coin/bill slots that says "tap". That will accommodate an electronic pass system which is already being tested. (I happen to be one of the people MTA has issued a card to for testing.)

However, these kinds of upgrades don't happen overnight. It took more than two years just to replace all the fareboxes (and before you ask why, remember that MTA cannot pull more than a small percentage of its buses off the street for such an upgrade, since they still have to operate service at the same time).
Wow, you never know, huh.

The conincidence of ranting about a problem at the same time it's being addressed is peculiar if all you say is true.

I totally grasp that it takes time to upgrade an entire system. What matters are intentions. If the MTA shows that it's got genuinely good intentions, than that's solace to know about.

One can only wonder what took so long, though.
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