Last month, Gothamist's Jen Chung was confronted by a niggling moral quandary: Was she wrong for allowing her four-year-old daughter to take up a seat on the bus when an elderly woman was still standing? In response to the debate this issue inspired, one knowledgable party weighed in: A veteran MTA bus driver, who has been making the rounds in Queens and the Bronx for more than eight years, and man, he has seen some shit. (The driver, who provided documentation to verify his employment status, asked to speak anonymously because he did not have permission from his supervisors to speak to press.)
I imagine you've got some pretty crazy stories. Where in the city have you spent most of your time? I've spent most of my career in Queens. I took a break, and then I went to the Bronx. I did two years there, and then I went back to Queens.
So have you seen anything in your eight years that’s just totally— Oh yeah. There was an assault on my bus! I was on the Rikers line, the Rikers bus.
Whoa! Yeah, the line starts in Queens Plaza. It’s seven stops before you actually get into Rikers. What happened with me was there was a person who got discharged from the facility, from Rikers. You can tell when they’re discharged—they come out with a brown bag, like an old supermarket brown bag. That’s where they have all their personal stuff. So somewhere along the line, I’m pretty sure I probably picked up someone and they got into a huge fight on the bus. Now the person that I picked up along the way, not the person that was discharged, he had a hammer.
The guy that was discharged? No, the one that I picked up, not at Rikers. He had a hammer, they started arguing and the guy started swinging the hammer. The guy who was discharged from the jail, he got hit about two or three times in the skull with a hammer. There was blood everywhere.
The messed up part about it? I had off-duty correction officers on the bus. And obviously with a situation like that, you’re trained to pull the bus over and open up both doors. So you can let the people out. The correction officers, they were the first ones to run off the bus.
I guess they figured they weren’t at work, so they weren’t dealing with it. Right.
What happened? To the guy who got hit with the hammer. I truly do not know how the whole incident started. It started as a shouting match and then after that I just saw the hammer swinging and people yelling so I just pulled into the nearest intersection, opened up the doors and let everyone out. I myself, I made sure everyone was off the bus and I jumped off the bus as well. I called my supervisors, and they got in touch with the NYPD. Plus, people who were also on the bus, they called 911.
Well, shit. Anything else that comes close to that? Well actually, I was working New Years Eve about, I think it was about 2010. I was in Astoria, right by the East River, the projects over there. One of my lines starts over there. Someone got shot right behind the bus.
Behind the bus? Yeah. They came to find out that that person had shot someone maybe two or three months prior, and he was packing up his stuff and heading out to Georgia. Like running from that situation. I read about it afterwards in a newspaper.
Jesus. How do you react in a situation like that? Are you ever scared? I hit the floor. New York City has a law where you can’t idle the bus. I had the bus off, even though it was cold. I don’t want any problems with the fumes or whatever, even though our technology is very good when it comes to the fumes and stuff. Tell you the truth, I didn’t see anyone walking around the bus. I guess I was just minding my own business and I must’ve heard maybe four or five pops. And I called it in, I was like, “Look, someone just got shot behind my bus.”
Did those incidents dissuade you from wanting to keep driving a bus? In a way, yes. But then in a way, it’s like, I’ve always been attracted to this job for some reason, even as a kid. I used to ride the buses up and down and I became friends with a lot of bus operators when I was a kid.
(sally henny penny/flickr)
I think you had initially written to us in reference to rude passengers on bus, and you said that you actually tend to get on the loudspeaker and tell people off. Oh yeah. I’ve worked everywhere and you’re going to get your one or two rude passengers. I try to make my job as simple as possible. When it comes to fare evasion, because we’ve had fatalities due to operators pursuing the fare with passengers, now what they tell us is, “Don’t worry about the fare.” They tell us that from day one. Your first day of training, they tell you, “The fare box is not yours. Don’t worry about people not paying the fare.” We have a special box we press on the fare box and we just press and that’s it.
What does the button do? When the bus pulls into the depot and they check all the money that’s inside, it pretty much tells them, “OK, during this driver’s tour 'x' amount of people didn’t pay the fare." They [the MTA] don’t really enforce it, but now what they do is they ride the bus. They sit undercover riders to see if there’s a pattern. If there’s a pattern, if the people are not paying or sometimes the Metro Cards are no good, maybe they’re bent. They’ll sit in the front and they’ll watch us and they’ll watch the passengers. They’ll write stuff down and they’ll check and see if we need more buses on the line. They wear these New York City Traffic vests and they have a clipboard. They see a pattern, and if it’s a problem, they’ll send them out and check and see why there’s so much fare evasion, why the bus is running really late.
Is it common? Do people know that they can get away with it? It really depends on what neighborhood you’re in. Me, like I said, I work in pretty much western Queens and the whole Queens Plaza area. I noticed that anyone that travels close to the Queensbridge Projects, the Astoria projects, people tend not to pay. When I was working up in the Bronx, Co-op City was an area where people tend not to pay.
Let’s go in order of terrible-ness. Do you have any really, really rude people you’ve encountered that have been memorable? Maybe aside from physical danger, but just obnoxious? Yeah, I had the Rockaway beach bus. That can get out of control. It’s not so bad—actually, it is bad. It’s not so bad loading everyone off, especially a hot summer day when everyone’s going to the beach because you can only fit so many people on the bus.
The bad part is coming back from the Rockaways. I understand, people are cranky, people want to get home, but some people are drunk. They have lit cigarettes on the bus and they have smoked their marijuana on the bus. Yup. I would say that summer crowd is the most obnoxious out of all of them.
I could see that. Some of the school kids are bad as well. They’ve very loud. When I was growing up, I was always told at home like, “Look, even though you’re on public transportation, always respect the other people on the bus or the subway or whatever.” Even when I was with friends we always kept it quiet. We didn’t play with the bell. But these kids, they play with the bell, they sneak in through the back door. When they walk in through the front door, they don’t say anything. Like I said, kids on my bus go on for free. But, show me some courtesy. Tell me "Look, I forgot my MetroCard, my dog ate it." Whatever. Tell me something, don’t just come on the bus.
I even do that with adults. Some adults just come on the bus and sit. No, no, no. That’s not how it works. I don’t mind giving you the courtesy. I tell them, "I don’t really care, but you show me the same courtesy." Even if you come up to me and whisper, “Listen, I don’t have any money. I don’t have a MetroCard." That’s fine. You’re being honest. And honesty is always the best policy.
Have there been any heartwarming incidents? Anything that you’ve particularly enjoyed over the years? Actually yeah. I was doing the Q38, this was probably 2009. There was a Veterans Affairs hospital which was on Queens Boulevard, which is actually closed now. There was a person in a wheelchair; it was wintertime, very cold. I’m going in the opposite direction of where he’s going. And I counted about five or six buses and no one is stopping at his stop. So I get to the end of the line, I take my five or seven minute break or whatever and I come back around and I had about three more buses in front of me, no one seems to be stopping.
So I pull into the bus stop, he’s in a wheelchair, I get him on the bus. He says, “Oh my God, thank you very much, no one stopped for me.” And I believe he sent a letter of commendation—he gave me commendation for that. So you have that.
What’s something that you wish that commuters taking the bus knew from your perspective? Or a few things if you have suggestions for how to be a good bus passenger. Well a good bus passenger would be, if you see me arriving, have your MetroCard in your hand. Don’t have your MetroCard all the way at the bottom of a pocketbook. That would be the major one.
Exiting through the backdoor actually helps a lot with that process as well. Because if you think about it, no one enters the bus through the back. We have people that sit in the back of the bus and actually walk to the front and walk out the front door but then they walk to the back of the bus once they’re in the street. They’re not making any sense. You just passed a door, why won’t you exit the rear door?
Anything else that annoys you? People have to understand, if the light is red, a lot of people don’t like to stand on the sidewalk. They like to come off the curb. And I’m sorry to say, but those are the ones that always get their feet run over. People don’t understand it. If you see a big vehicle turn, just stay on the sidewalk. Once the vehicle clears, you can go about your business. Another thing that really irks me is people who get off the bus in the front, or even the rear, and they cross right in front of the bus. That is the worst thing you can do.
I’ve heard about that a couple of times, where people get hit by the bus they just exited. Right! People don’t realize it, even though we are in a vehicle, we do have blind spots. And a lot of people don’t realize that even though we’re in the big vehicle and we slam on the brakes, the bus will keep rolling a little bit. If you slam on the brakes, the bus is not going to stop still on that same spot. It’s going to keep rolling a little bit.
So what you’re saying is that we should all be a little more scared of buses than we actually are? Yeah…just try to not cut us off. That’s the problem that we have.
Do you have any specific advice for cyclists? I know there’s sometimes a competition for space. Cyclists have to understand something that pretty much all buses stop on the right side. So if they’re traveling with us and there’s a bus stop in the far side of the intersection, or even the near side, they have to understand that we’re going to pull in. If you could just lower your speed and even stop and come around to the left side of the bus. We have no problem with the left side. It’s just that side and a lot of cyclists are very spiteful when it comes to us. They’ll do a whole bunch of stuff, especially with these motorized bicycles. We’ll see them in the mirror, they’re in the left lane. We’ll blink and they’re in the right lane, right on our right side. We’re making a right turn and they want to actually speed up and come between the curb and the bus even though they know we’re making a right turn. And they want to turn around and give us the finger and then file complaints saying we’re not courteous to them.
But if we’re signaling for more than half a block telling you we are making a right turn, why are you speeding up and trying to squeeze between the curb and the right side of the bus? Just small issues that we have.
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