Sunday, August 05, 2007

BUS STORY # 44 (One Degree Of Separation)

I’m at the bus stop ready to go home when I see the Yale bus heading up to the airport. It’s some 10 minutes late, and even though the bus is empty right now, it doesn’t look like it’s trying to make up for lost time.

I’m the second stop on the loop back north from the airport, and am often the first person to board the bus. I go to my usual seat up on the platform in the rear, stow my gear, and start reading. We stop at almost every stop as usual, and the bus is close to full when we get to the Transit Department.

The Transit Department is a city block-size combination of offices on the north end and a huge depot at the south. This is home for all ABQ RIDE buses. They all roll out in the morning and come back home one by one at night. This is also where they come limping home during the day if they’re lucky enough not to break down completely on the streets. When the first commuter run passes by in the morning, all the doors are open and it looks like an empty hanger inside. In the afternoon, most of the doors are down. The ones that are open offer a glimpse of a handful of buses scattered over the empty lanes.

We take an unexpected left turn into the pull-in in front of the garage. I can hear the driver talking on the phone. He’s telling someone he needs to change buses . . . no, he’s right here in the driveway and can already see half a dozen buses lined up for tomorrow. He gets off the phone, then tells us they’re going to change buses and would we please exit this bus now.

While we’re standing around waiting for the exchange, I see the driver on the phone. When he gets off, I amble over and ask why the switch.

It’s losing power. It won’t accelerate, and it’s barely making it up the hills. Happens all the time to these buses. “These buses” are the smaller “400” buses powered by natural gas (“We’re commuting without polluting”), with the bench seating around the perimeter and the platform at the back. So that’s why he was 10 minutes late.

He explains we got these buses after a bunch of suits went out to San Diego to look them over. The San Diego folks raved about them, but they warned our folks they don’t do so well at higher altitudes. Don’t worry, the suits said, our mechanics can keep anything running. The city bought a busload. Now they’re always in the shop. He figures there was probably some money under the table somewhere.

I have to laugh. Just this afternoon, we were in the office discussing why our organization had chosen a particular software vendor whose products were making everyone’s lives miserable on a daily basis. Our conclusion: probably some money under the table somewhere.

There’s a little heat in the driver’s explanation, but his underlying good nature will not be denied. He goes on to explain the buses are running longer each day and longer between scheduled maintenance to meet the demands of the increased ridership. Plus, they’re down 14 mechanics right now. No big surprise the buses are breaking down more often.

He laughs. “They didn’t want to give me a new bus. They told me they didn’t have any ready, but I told ‘em I was in the driveway and could see for myself. They just didn’t want to take out one they’d already prepped for tomorrow.”

We get our new bus, and we all return to the same seats we had on the old one. And then we’re on the road again.


Anonymous Pete said...

I've heard a different story than yours. I heard the director went out to San Diego with just her family and friends and bought the buses because she thought they were cute. I did an internet search and couldn't find anything except the name of the director. It was Anne Walker. I heard she was fired, and maybe how she picked these buses was part why she was fired. But I couldn't find anything at all on the internet about this.

6:14 AM  
Blogger Busboy said...

Pete, our stories about how the city came by those 400s have something in common: they’re both second-hand, and they’re both interesting even though only one of them could be true and both of them could be something less. I like that you tried to verify yours. I wonder if the truth is anywhere near as interesting as either of the stories we've heard?

8:10 PM  

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