This is a follow-up to a recent story on sleepers, newbies and working together. Click here for an addendum on sleepers; this follow-up is about newbie drivers and getting along!

I’d like to address some gripes regarding new operators and operations procedures. Usually you hear about these things in two contexts: 

  • From those who don’t actually ever drive buses, or 
  • Those who do but are simply complaining. 

The world can’t exist without either of these, but I’d like to offer a third approach. 

Regarding skip-stopping, which I mention in my previous story“It’s called the ‘Shake’n’Bake.’ To make his life easier, [Sean] and I skip-stop our way up Rainier, alternating the stops we serve and splitting the passenger load between ourselves, thus speeding up the travel time for both coaches.”

First of all, don’t worry if you’ve never heard anyone say “Shake’n’Bake” before. You’re not out of the loop. Nobody calls it that but Sean and I. Skip-stopping itself, however, is standard operating procedure.

What is skip-stopping?

There are two varieties:

  • Two coaches, one route

This is when you have two buses of the same route. If and only if the following bus goes everywhere the leading bus goes, skip-stopping can happen. It’s great. New to driving? Here’s how to do it:

If your follower is in view, skip about every other stop. (S)he will pick up the passengers at those zones, and you’ll get the others. This speeds up both buses and halves the load for both drivers. You do not need to pass each other for this to work. 

Need to dropoff at a zone that also has intending passengers? Honk and signal at them so they use the following bus, and pull past them such that your follower has room to pull into the zone. It’s imperfect, but it leaves room for your follower to get into the zone, which is nice, and gets both buses into the same zone.

The skipping sequence will doubtless get messy if you have dropoffs as well; things may be busy enough that you’ll skip most every zone except ones in which you’re dropping off. This will put your follower out of sight. Once he’s out of sight, start picking people up until he’s visible again. You can even motion to intending passengers at zones you’re passing with your hand or a slight horn tap, letting them know to use the bus behind you.

Again, this is possible only when the second coach goes everywhere the first coach goes. In the example above, Sean’s 7 goes  downtown; I don’t make it that far, terminating in Chinatown. If I’m behind him, he can’t skip stops, or else I’ll get passengers who want downtown, which only his bus serves. If I’m in front, we can skip, because if I get downtown-oriented passengers, they can simply deboard and get on Sean’s bus behind me. 

I’m guessing Scheduling isn’t aware of this, as they schedule most route 7 to Chinatown Only trips right behind 7 to Downtown trips; if they flipped that, it’d be faster for both coaches. 

  • The Weave

The other variety of skip stopping is on Third Avenue. That’s called The Weave. With The Weave, you have to share the road with buses that use different stops than you. Third Avenue has the highest volume of bus traffic of any street in the country. The Weave is necessary, and I think it’s fun. On Third every route uses approximately every other stop, and passes routes which use the other stops. New to bus driving? Follow these three easy steps to make it work:

  1. Use the left lane except to service a zone (This way, you don’t block other bus’s zones).
  2. The bus in the right lane has the right of way (this lets that bus get out of their zone and back in the left lane safely).
  3. Don’t pass buses that use the same stops as you (that includes trolleys slowing down for special work. Don’t know what special work is? Read The Book!). Memorize which routes use which stops; this is easier than it sounds, and you’ll find yourself doing it automatically. Do they have their four-ways on? You’re okay to pass.

The New World

Complicating all of this is an abbreviated training program to accelerate hiring, resulting in famously unprepared new operators who don’t know about such subtleties. You won’t believe it, but there are new hires who come in with no knowledge of the above two strategies, though they’re both outlined in The Book.

A new divide is growing between older operators and many of the new hires, who don’t know what side wire is or when to use it (whenever you’re the lead coach, among other things), aren’t familiar with pulling forward for buses behind you, putting the poles up of the dewired bus in front of you or at least blocking traffic for them, who drive too fast through special work and don’t know how to skip-stop on Third or elsewhere. 

My suggestion? 

Senior folks: recognize the steep learning curve and help your fellow colleagues. Lead by example. Be gentle, and do something besides complain. Until Training has the resources, let’s do their job the best we can out here. For starters, we can each them everything in the above paragraph.

New hires: swallow your pride. Bite it. Learn from the brother or sister next to you. Ask me questions about the above. Keep alive the culture of looking out for each other. With how high the turnover is these days, you get to decide what gets lost and what remains of the old guard’s approach. 

Let’s keep the good stuff.

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Nathan Vass is an artist, filmmaker, photographer, and author by day, and a Metro bus driver by night, where his community-building work has been showcased on TED, NPR, The Seattle Times, KING 5 and landed him a spot on Seattle Magazine’s 2018 list of the 35 Most Influential People in Seattle. He has shown in over forty photography shows is also the director of nine films, six of which have shown at festivals, and one of which premiered at Henry Art Gallery. His book, The Lines That Make Us, is a Seattle bestseller and 2019 WA State Book Awards finalist.