Monday, 29 December 2008

The fifth day of Christmas (a seasonal rant on respect)

I am wiped. The first four days of Christmas in Hades this year were a parade of frigid temperatures and blowing snow, followed by rain then freezing rain, followed by powerful winds that managed to topple a couple of trucks on the highway and blow out power lines (not in our neighbourhood, thank goodness). This meant four of the most sedentary days ever. With the bus strike in full swing, there was no way we were going anywhere. It wasn't horrible; we have our new DVDs, books, and CDs to amuse us, but today, we decided we'd been in hiding long enough and took advantage of a reasonably temperate day to walk the 3½ kilometres into town to see The Tale of Despereaux. (Not a bad film, although one has the odd feeling that big chunks have been edited out of it.) The trip home, up the slow, slow incline that is Rideau Street, in my heavy Sorels soon had my calves cramping and telling me exactly how four days had thrown me out of shape.

However, this is scarcely a hardship. Despite all evidence to the contrary, we are reasonably able-bodied and as long as what we need or wish to get to is in the neighbourhood or in the downtown area, we will be able to manage. On the way in, though, we passed dozens of elderly ladies loaded with groceries and other shopping, some pushing walkers through slush and ice, others juggling their canes with their bags. Hundreds more are virtually prisoners in their homes and residences, one of the few Christmases left for them ruined. This is to say nothing of people struggling to get into work, either hours on foot or begging for lifts. Or those whose already precarious businesses are thrown into crisis because of customers and employees who can't reach them. People have missed long awaited operations because they couldn't make the requisite medical appointments. Children have missed therapy sessions and lost valuable ground. The nefarious thing about a transit strike is that the ones who feel the blow are the most vulnerable citizens of this god-forsaken city.

So why is there a bus strike? The media tells us it's to do with who has the power to schedule split shifts. As far as I can tell, the management wants that authority, and the union feels that this should be based on driver seniority. I don't want to be a union-basher; workers should have recourse against injustice and abuse, and yes, split shifts suck, but who exactly is getting abused here? In short, it would be so much easier for me to have some sympathy for the drivers if, after eight and a half years of using this particular system, I weren't left with the impression of the overarching contempt and disdain OC Transpo drivers have for their ridership.

Item 1: The elderly. More than once, I've seen drivers actually criticize older passengers with canes or walkers for not getting to the exit quick enough. I've tried to catch seniors as they're flung off balance when they don't sit down quickly enough for the operators.

Item 2: Mothers with young children. I've personally been scolded for stopping a bus at a bus stop after running half a block from a so-called connecting bus stop in a snow storm on a Sunday (when the next bus come in half an hour). The driver told me he had a schedule to keep up. I've run three blocks in the rain with a child in tow to catch a bus which had sped by the bus stops with a "Not In Service" sign on. The driver, who I recognised from my outbound trip, was reading a novel at a timing point as I climbed, drenched and panting, into her bus. I've had younger daughter (the one with PDD-NOS, remember?) summoned to the front of the bus to re-show her transfer while the driver gave me another lecture. I've been told off for not ringing soon enough at night, in the snow, when the windows are grimy and the neighbourhood is unfamiliar.

Item 3: People of colour. Somehow, white people are rarely called on the validity of their transfers. The people humiliated and put off the buses for expired passes almost invariably have accents. The most egregious example of this was an old Caribbean man who was checking with the driver to see if he was on the correct route. The bus driver checked his transfer and informed him he would have to buy a ticket. The little man asked if he would wait while he purchased new tickets at the nearby booth. The driver refused. The little man pleaded his diabetes. The driver called the authorities, and refused all offers by others to pay for the man. At this point, the little man swore and the driver accused him of being abusive. As a number of us got off the bus to wait for another while this was being settled, a woman said to me: "If it were my mother, ill and alone on the bus, I wouldn't want her treated this way." I replied, "Is your mother a little white lady? Then I don't think she would be treated this way..."

Item 4: People with mental and intellectual challenges. There's a fellow who greets us every day from the porch of the group home down the street. One day, he was getting off the bus as I got on and the driver snarled after him: "Your tranfer's expired!" then grumbled at me, "He rode all the way out to the shopping centre and back on that transfer..." "Did he?" I smiled vaguely at him. "I'm sure he didn't mean to; he's a sweetie." Quieter grumbling as I took my seat.

Then there was the bus driver who decided to use his own form of profiling one summer afternoon and summoned each and every young man who boarded his Transitway bus from a rear door (which is permitted on articulated buses so long as you have a bus pass) to the front of the bus on the loudspeaker
with a voice dripping with suspicion.

Each OC Transpo bus has a large poster proclaiming "Respect Goes Both Ways".


Vanessa said...

Oh dear. That sucks terribly. This world is so needing of more respect!

Persephone said...

I'm familiar with the transit systems of four major Canadian cities in which I've lived: Victoria, Edmonton, Toronto, and Ottawa. Ottawa drivers win hands down for being unpleasant. (Although my mum, as a young woman a few decades back, snarled at an Edmontonian bus driver: "I hope you remember this when you're an old man!" after witnessing his unkind treatment of a senior.)I can only think that OC Transpo must be less-than-cheery employer. The year before we came to Ottawa, a former transit employee went on a shooting rampage, killing four before shooting himself. Apparently, he'd been ragged for having a stutter and for taking medical leave, at a doctor's advice, during the previous transit strike in 1996. Some people complained at the time that OC Transpo was not a great working environment and suffered from poor management.

Oh well. Wishing you a prosperous and harassment-free new year!

Lisa Rullsenberg said...

Urgh, what is it with bus companies and their ability to recruit neanderthals with attitude problems? My dad used to be a bus driver when I was a kid. I realy don't recall him being bad, but I do remember his frustration at those of his colleagues who were less than charming. And you're damn right with those categories of those who seem to suffer most at their hands...