Sunday, June 28, 2015

BUS STORY # 451 (Trouble Right Here In River City)

From an ABQ RIDE security camera and uploaded to YouTube by KRQE News August 15, 2011.

Your people, sir, is a great beast.
-- attributed to Alexander Hamilton (1792)

The first week of June opened with back-to-back assaults on ABQ RIDE bus drivers. (You can read about those here and here.)

These are not the first assaults on ABQ RIDE drivers. The phenomenon was already of enough concern that, in January, 2014, ABQ RIDE began experimenting with two driver protection shields. I’ve heard little since, other than rumors many of the drivers don’t like them.

Downloaded from the Albuquerque Transit Safety Committee website.

How bad is the problem?

I don’t have any stats to back this up, but my impression after many years of almost weekly scanning for bus news on the web has been that bus driver assaults are more frequent in other places our size or larger. Until the assaults in June, I thought of the problem as mostly belonging to other cities. Now I’m not so sure.

My doubts have less to do with the two-days-in-a-row attacks than with what triggered them: the fare. Specifically, one rider expected a free ride, the other expected the driver to give him change for the fare. Both were angered when they were told they couldn’t get what they wanted.

Back in 2012, I published a pair of stories about one such explosion over the fare. (I posted one, and then the sequel which I learned from another rider the next day. You can read those here and here.) Oddly enough, I witnessed another incident a couple of weeks before the pair of assaults. I wrote up the story which I titled “Mad Men” and scheduled it for today, following the conclusion of a four-part series. (Instead, you’re reading this story. You can read “Mad Men” next week.) It did not turn physical, although I thought it came close enough, and it was over the fare.

In a culture of instant gratification that has become “all about me” with a vengeance, it should come as no surprise that people become angry and act out when they don’t get what they want. We have a buzzword for this current cultural phenomenon: “entitlement.” We want, therefore we should have, and right now. (Our parents had another buzzword for it: “infantile.”) The problem becomes compounded when legal or illegal substance abuse is involved.

The bus isn’t the only area of transportation where the phenomenon plays out in bad behavior. Auto traffic is an ongoing parade of aggressive or rude or thoughtless driving. Flight delays, airport lines, and flying itself are providing their share of news stories and social media posts about angry and inappropriate passenger behavior.

It is my personal belief the culture at large has an anger management problem. But we also have another problem: a wide-spread population of the mentally and/or emotionally disturbed whose medical care leaves much to be desired. These people weren’t out on the street fifty years ago. They are now.

Having read those two news stories from last week, I’ve tried to put myself in the driver’s seat and imagine how I would feel and react. The truth is, my first instincts are anger; those irrational riders are just behaving like jerks. That anger triggers an impulse to react accordingly. It’s a poor, even dangerous, response, especially if you have a “crazy” on your hands.

For readers not familiar with Albuquerque, our police department was the recent subject of a blistering analysis by the Department of Justice because of a pattern of violent overreaction when dealing with problematic citizens. There has been an outlier quality, higher-than-normal rate of fatal police shootings, and a number of those killings have been of people suffering a mental crisis, including returning vets afflicted with PTSD. The city has lost millions in several civil rights violations verdicts and out of court settlements.

Part of the problem has been attributed to the absence of training in how to deal with the mentally ill. That makes sense to me. Without such training, why wouldn’t an officer’s first reaction be the same as mine: the guy is just being a jerk. And if the jerk becomes violent, a violent response is a very human impulse, partly in self-defense, but also partly because we feel the jerk has it coming.

I’m not sure what kind of training or guidelines drivers are given for handling an angry and potentially violent rider. I’ve seen drivers keep their cool, and I’ve seen drivers that I thought were aggravating the situation. There have been news reports over the years of drivers losing their cool with riders who are clearly behaving like jerks and ending up in court on assault charges themselves.

Given our culture of entitlement and instant gratification, our anger management deficiencies, and our carelessness with the mentally disturbed among us, it doesn’t seem likely that things are going to get better anytime soon.


One Seattle driver seems to have found his own effective way of dealing with a notoriously difficult route. I’ve been following the prolific Nathan Vass on his blog, “The View From Nathan’s Bus.” He exhibits a joy, compassion and grace rarely seen in a public servant dealing with the rest of us on the front lines on a daily basis. Coincidentally, during the same week of the ABQ RIDE driver assaults, he posted this remarkable explanation of why he intentionally drives the troubled routes that he does: “Ode to the 7 (Cascade of a Thousand Colors).”


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very thoughtful take on a scary situation.
Nathan is a saint!

9:09 AM  
Blogger Busboy said...

Thank you. You may be right about Nathan.

2:47 PM  

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