The Frustration of Bureaucracy
By J.M.D. Reid
I used to have a job as a paratransit operator for Pierce Transit’s SHUTTLE program. And yes every letter of SHUTTLE has to be capitalized. I have no idea why, but it does.
Now I didn’t work directly for Pierce Transit but for a private company that had a contract to drive the SHUTTLE. Pierce Transit contracted the work out because of Federal money. According to the ADA (Americans with Disability Act) a public transit agency had to provide alternates means of transportation for those who cannot walk to the nearest bus stop within a mile. So we drove these small buses around, picking up people. It’s expensive to operate. A person riding the SHUTTLE pays the same disabled fare as the regular bus ($.75 per trip) and we often often ran with only one or two passengers at a time. We even would deadhead (drive empty) across the entire county to pick up a passenger. Because of the expense, the Federal government sends grant money. But this money comes with strings requiring a percentage of the work has be performed by private companies.
So I answered an want ad I found on Worksource’s website and found myself a job driving around senior citizens, people in wheelchairs, those suffering from various mental and physical disabilities, and patients using dialysis. It was a rewarding, stressful, long, tiring job. Some of the riders were pleasant, thankful for the SHUTTLE allowing them to have lives outside of their homes, no longer prisoners of the afflictions of their bodies. Other passengers were bitter, blaming the world for the pain and suffering they had gone through.
And then there were the mentally handicapped. Many were adults, but they often had a zest for life, going to church or to the endless activities that community centers were always offering. But sometimes their handicap could make them…difficult.
I only ever had one major injury on the job. It was my day off, of course. I normally worked an afternoon/evening route starting between 1 and 3 PM and getting off between 9 and 11 PM. The thing with the SHUTTLE is routes had to be filled. If someone was sick, if someone was on vacation, or just due to the attrition of the job (we lost 4 drivers a month) those routes still had to be filled. So you could be mandatoried on your day off. For evening drivers, that often meant working a morning route on your day off. That day, I had to start at 6 AM. I was tired. I pulled up at this apartment complex to pick up a rider suffering from some form of autism. I stepped out of my bus.
Right onto a drain. It was lower down than I expected. Stepping out of the driver door of the SHUTTLE was already a long step. My ankle rolled, pain exploded, and I collapsed in a heap on the ground. I tried to stand, but my ankle wouldn’t support my weight. The day before, we had Nextel radios for communication, but Pierce Transit had just phased them out in favor of the CAD system. I had a radio phone in my SHUTTLE and I had to crawl back into my vehicle to radio for help.
While I was lying in pain on the ground, my passenger had boarded the SHUTTLE. He didn’t seem to understand that I had seriously hurt my foot. I couldn’t drive my SHUTTLE if I wanted to and he’s demanding I take him to work, growing more and more agitated, yelling at me as I’m trying not to erupt and yell at him.
Dispatch followed procedure and, despite my protests, called 911 for an ambulance. I wasn’t that injured. I just needed a supervisor to drive me to an urgent care unit. Well, the fire department arrived while my passenger continued to complain and shout at me. I just wanted to throttle him. It wasn’t his fault, he had a condition and he couldn’t understand why he wasn’t going to work. He had a schedule to keep. When the fire department arrived, they stared at my foot for about thirty seconds, demanded to know why dispatch called 911 for a non-emergency, berated me for wasting their time, and left.
My supervisor arrived with a relief driver a few minutes later. I was then berated for letting 911 leave without checking me out. Apparently, dispatched expected 911 to drive me to the emergency room on a badly sprained ankle.
My boss wasn’t happy that I had been injured. We were allowed three minor accidents accidents in the SHUTTLE per year. Little fender benders, minor damage to the shuttle, backing into a mailbox. My boss decided to count my physical injury as one of these accidents. Only a month early I had minor accident on the SHUTTLE. Now I couldn’t afford another accident for almost a year.
It was such a great day. This is one of the many reasons I don’t do this job anymore.
Oh, and of course this was government work, so I had fill out an incident report so that it was all documented before I was taken to the doctors. I spent a month on time-loss before my ankle had recovered enough for me to go back to work, my boss demanding that I get back to work as fast as possible.
One of my worst days on the job.
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