City Bus Driver Talks Craziest Routes, The Most Annoying Passengers, & The ‘Perks’
I was recently chopping it up with a friend about the criteria for a ‘challenging job’. Occupations that try your sanity and are never short on chaos. We named all sorts of jobs: infantry soldier, doctor, deep sea diver… As the list grew longer we started naming jobs closer to our everyday lives. It was when we hit bus driver that both of us stopped and tried to take a moment to put together what that day to day looks like. Schedules, angry passengers, liability, huge vehicles that propelled me to call up my good buddy Joseph, an AC Transit and Transbay bus driver, and pick his brain about his day to day adventures.
KF: How long have you been driving a bus?
J: Three and a half years now.
KF: What are the qualifications?
J: So yeah, when I was hired they wanted people who were more customer service oriented. I have heard some people say they were looking for people who were more safety oriented. But I don’t’ know about all that.
KF: Did you have to take any tests?
J: Nah. I didn’t have to take any tests, but there were a series of interviews. And after the interviews we started training. And training is kind of sudden death because they can fire you at any instant and you’re fucked.
KF: What did the training entail?
J: The training entails like 12 weeks of on the road training. So you, you know, one of my instructors the first day we were just getting oriented and she’s all “Monday you are getting in the seat and you are driving!” You need to get over your fear of driving a large motor vehicle on the road very fast quickly. It’s very scary at first.
KF: What is the craziest route?
J: The 1. That’s the bus that goes from Bayfair BART to Downtown Berkeley. It’s probably the bus that gets shot up the most. The 14 is also pretty insane.
KF: Do you have any particularly colorful bus driving stories?
J: I was driving the 217 in Fremont. The man was threatening to kill everyone on the bus and showing children photographs of aborted fetuses.
KF: WHAT THE FUCK? Holy shit. Well, how did you get him off your bus?
J: Well, I told him, “Dude, you have to get off my bus.” I also told him the sheriffs were coming for him.
KF: Do you get crisis training?
J: I can’t really discuss that.
KF: That’s fine. So obviously that is extreme, but how often would you say shit goes down while you are driving?
J: Well, people are mostly angry because we are late. Or people will be playing music on their smart phones, and that annoys the hell out of us. Or sometimes, you have to deal with other people’s road rage. But most of the time if I am driving and I see someone who I don’t feel safe picking up, well, I am not going to pick that person up.
KF: Job perks?
J: We have an excellent benefits plan for all you young, broke, and beautiful people. There is a pension, and we start at like $19 and go up to $28.20 an hour. There is also insane overtime. Some people opt to take runs, which is a set schedule. But I’m a board operator. So every day is something new and different. So one day I’ll be driving the 12 (fore example)
KF: Do you ever drive the night buses?
J: From time to time. There’s a lot of drunk people. And there are a lot of people who think that because it’s AC Transit that they don’t have to pay the Transbay fare. So that gets pretty hectic. On the 800 specifically the people are usually drunk or in some state of desperation. It’s a bad situation. I use to have a co-worker who worked on the 851 and he said it was basically a mobile hotel. Like everyone was asleep and homeless.
KF: Do many people catch the bus?
J: Well, our ridership is up which is good. But it’s also bad because or schedule is just fucked. I was driving the 12 the other day, and this guy was yelling at me about how we are allergic to keeping a schedule. But you know, we go down Grand and MLK and Pleasant Valley during commute hours and I can’t keep to the schedule. I mean passenger load is usually fine, unless you have someone pay with 210 pennies, which happens sometimes.
KF: So the schedules are really crazy to keep?
J: Oh yeah. Like the 800 line is on a timer and how the schedule is generated, actually I don’t know how it’s generated, but it’s fucked. See, the 800 starts in San Francisco and goes all the way to the Richmond BART. And they give you an hour and twenty-two minutes. So you’re hauling ass.
KF: What are the most scenic bus routes?
J: The 67 on the weekends, that goes through Tilden Park. You got the 339 that goes up to the Chabot Space & Science Center. The 7 is pretty nice, it goes from downtown Berkeley down Arlington to Del Norte BART. You get a pretty beautiful view.
KF: So has driving a bus made you reflect on the driving habits of others?
J: No, not really.
KF: What’s hard about the job?
J: I find that I suffer from more empathy fatigue these days though. It’s not that I don’t care about people, but you just hear the same story all the time. That’s really gets me the most. That and Lyft and Uber drivers. I fucking hate them. They double park at bus stops and I hate them.