Thursday, August 8, 2019

Afraid

I am scared of the dark.  I didn't realize it until I started driving the night shift.   Working in the dark has brought out all my anxieties, fears, and worries.   I am unaccustomed to feeling afraid, and the stress of not getting good rest adds to the vicious cycle of feeling anxious. 

Being afraid was not part of my vocabulary, or maybe I was too fool-hardy to ever stop and recognize my fears. Doing adventurous things always seemed glamorous to me, not frightening.   I thought driving a bus would be an adventure, not such a lesson in hard knocks.   Driving at night this last month is kicking my butt and breaking my heart.   I am doubting whether or not I maintain it.

Driving a large vehicle in traffic with passengers is stressful enough, but when you add darkness it feels even more daunting.  While there is less traffic late at night, you do have the added burden of fatigue.  The weariness of both driver and passenger make the bus quiet at night.

Bus drivers are providing a service to people in service industries. Our hours of operation need to accommodate their schedules.   Many of our late-night passengers toil in kitchens, scrub buildings clean, and keep watch over a property.  They are either tired from a long shift or headed to work until morning.   The bus at night has a somber mood compared to morning or lunchtime as riders are tired.

At night you also have passengers seeking shelter and I worry about what they will find. I cannot forget the 60 ish-year-old woman, she could have been my aunt, anxiously asking me directions just as the last buses were departing from the transit center downtown.  It was 11:30 and she would have to make a decision about which bus to take because our service was about to end for the night. It became clear she was trying to decide where to go to be away from others, so she could camp out.  She boarded my bus no longer able to contain her fear about the long night ahead.   She continued to press me with questions about which areas in town she might find to be safe. I am heartbroken to think of what befalls the homeless during the night. 

I am a morning person, so driving from 4 pm until just after midnight is stretching me.  The worst fear I face is the self-doubt about whether my desire to improve public transportation will have any impact.  I think about all the reasons, large and small, that make it so easy for people to be overlooked.  Driving a bus at night makes me feel very small compared to the harsh realities I see.  I didn't mention the regular scary stuff like buses being shot at, passengers cussing at drivers and fellow passengers, fights, and passengers with health emergencies. To feel afraid is part of the stretch of growing pains and I hope my experiences help shine a light on the importance of improving public transportation for our community. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Stakeholder Health Podcast


What an honor to be a guest on the Stakeholder Health Podcast, hosted by Dr. Gary Gunderson. 

In 2005, I read Dr. Gunderson's book, Boundary Leaders: Leadership Skills for People of Faith in graduate school and I have been a fan ever since.  When he came to Winston-Salem in 2012 I stalked him like a fanboy.  So you can imagine how special I felt to be on his podcast.

A college friend of mine said this was her favorite part of the interview.
Gunderson: I want to interrupt, because I suspect, at this point in the interview, some of the stakeholder health folks listening to the interview are saying, “Wait a minute. You’re actually driving a bus, not writing a paper about people who are driving buses, and you’re actually on the bus, watching human beings for eight hours a day, not reading about people writing about people riding a bus?” So walk us through this process. How did you become a bus driver? So you decided, “Okay, it’s not enough to be a researcher. I actually do love the community, and, as we all know, sometimes love makes you crazy.
Summers: Yes.
Gunderson: Well, so your love is you’re driving a bus. How did that happen, and what’s it mean? How do you become one?
You can listen or read the interview at https://stakeholderhealth.org/phillip-summers/ or from iTunes.

Monday, July 15, 2019

A Step Up

"Yesterday they said it was a second bus, so I tried it this morning.  Sure enough, I slept in a little and even had time to bring a lunch," said the man catching the 6am bus to work for the first time.  The early morning light of Spring illuminated our mutual joy.   He normally caught the bus at 5:30am but because of increased frequency on his route, he was afforded 30 minutes in his day.  He used that extra time for two health-promoting activities: rest and preparing lunch for work.

Increased frequency in bus service reduces travel times and frees up time in the schedule of riders to do other productive things.  The study I helped design for the Winston Salem State University Center for the Study of Economic Mobility found that "Employed bus riders spend 8.7 hours more a week in commuting time than equivalent workers taking vehicles. That averages to lost wages of $4,350 per year."  A bus rider complained to me the other day that all the time lost in transit was like having a part-time job that didn't pay.

The WSSU study was conducted before increased frequency was started on 6 routes because of an NCDOT grant to mitigate the impact of Business 40 closing. During the week, I drive 4 of the 6 routes that have 30-minute frequency and I hear riders express their appreciation for the improved service.  The story above came from a modification that was made to service paid for by the NCDOT.   That morning as I pondered how increased frequency had helped his health status I was also struck by how word of mouth was the best way to communicate with passengers.

As I thought about how he had said, "They told me yesterday, so I tried it today," it made me wonder who I had told about our improved service.  Because it was the first week of route modifications and having the fresh idea that word of mouth was the best way to disseminate information to bus riders, I made an announced later that day on a different route that also got improved frequency.  I let the riders on my bus know that there was now a second bus on their route and they would have 30-minute frequency. The overwhelmingly positive response from the riders blew me away.   One rider said, "Now that is a step up!"  

The banner below is from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and it highlights how increased public transportation improves social determinants of health.   I witness those health improvements from behind the wheel and I pray that our community will continue the expanded service even after Business 40 opens.  


Saturday, July 6, 2019

Communication

When two people come at an idea with differing perspectives it can cause conflict.  Obviously, marriages have conflict, co-workers have conflict, siblings face conflict, even friends endure it sometimes.  The key to working through these, of course, is communication.  It is a complicated topic: we communicate with our words but also our tones of voice, facial expressions and eye rolls, types of laughter, shoulder hunches, arms crossing, busy hands, etc.

In the South, it is common to greet just about everyone you come in contact with, strangers, friends and enemies alike.  If not with words, most people will communicate with a tip of their head, or a small smile.  It still surprises my kids when someone doesn't say, "Good morning" right back to us, as it is the norm here in NC.

When Phillip sits in the bus driver's seat he can use his role to greet every person with a polite hello and give a kind goodbye when they exit. I think this is one of his favorite parts of the job. There have been a few days when people who are consistent riders do a double take to see if they are getting on the right bus since friendly Phillip is not their normal bus driver.  Cordial, face-to-face greetings seem to be sadly less common in these fast-paced, smart-phone driven days.

Conflict can sometimes arise if a rider feels lost and frustrated, needing quick answers, and as a new driver, Phillip has been humbled at not being able to answer the questions about scheduling very effectively or as efficiently as he would like.  This provides a chance to communicate quickly, "I am sorry. I don't know."

"I am sorry," are such simple, powerful words.  We don't have to have it all together all the time, but to be gracious in an instant where we would like to be given grace goes a long way.

I wish this was my default way.  In conflict, when I do take time to pause and gentle my voice in order to address an issue with a family member, or a student, it makes the conversation so much sweeter, and so much more effective.  It takes a lifetime to learn how to regularly, "speak the truth, in love" (Ephesians 4:15). Honesty, kindness, and graciousness in communication are the quickest way to change conflict to calm.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Advocacy

I was nervous on the cold January night in 2017, when I first stood up to advocate for public transportation at City Hall.  The video shows the public outcry from the newly redesigned bus routes.  Riders were grateful that service was restored to the Columbia Heights Extension Neighborhood that night and other simple route modifications were garnered.  Through coalition building and policy advocacy, we were successful in expanding night and weekend service on more routes, getting routes into Google Maps to improve wayfinding and trip planning, creating a short film to educate the public, and conducting a rider survey.

A new regional study found that nearly 40 percent of households have access to one or less vehicle, which can lead to many relying on alternative transportation modes. What was analysis, reading articles, and research has for me turned into daily witnessing the power of public transportation from the driver's seat of a bus. I see how it moves people to community gardens, grocery stores, work, school, and healthcare.

Today I have even more questions about how systems and structures such as class privilege, privatization of government services, economic globalization, and racism affect how we deliver public transportation services locally. Why do we allow the lifeline service of transportation to flourish for the car owner and languish for others?

To improve public transportation please:
  1. Clean the Clark Campbell Transportation Center. It is located in the heart of our city and plays a prominent role in how riding the bus is viewed.  The city is responsible for this task and too often the Center resembles a toxic ashtray of discarded cigarette butts covered in spilled oil from leaking buses.   

  2. Improve the bus fleet.  Buses often break down.  This makes service unreliable. Buses show their age with broken handicap lifts and oil leaks. Disabled riders and the natural environment suffer from our apparent reluctance to update our bus fleet.  

  3. Expedite the installation of bus shelters.   With our current shelter inventory representing a paltry 5 percent of all stops, expanding this amenity would be a demonstration to riders that their experience in riding the bus matters.   

  4. Add 30-minute frequency to more routes. More frequency of bus service means less time waiting for transit, freeing up time in a rider’s day to work, rest,  recreate, and cook and share meals with family. 

  5. Ensure that bus drivers are full-time employees.   The current business practice of keeping drivers on part-time status for an indefinite amount of time means many drivers wait over a year to access full-time benefits if they even stay long enough.  As a city, we need to ensure fair working conditions, particularly when we outsource public service jobs to private businesses.  
As society faces the pressures of bank mergers, global acquisitions, and healthcare consolidation, enacting evidence-based policies that support a growing number of citizens gaining access to the benefits of public transportation is a good local investment.

7/7/19 Editor's Note: point five was changed to say full-time employees instead of limiting it to health insurance. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Run!

"When I seen you (gasp) I took off running. (gasp) I am too old to run like that but I didn't wanna miss you." After he catches his breath he says "I used to run-an-run as a youngster."  The passenger appeared to be in his late sixties, a tall thin African American.  He was happy to have caught the bus to town and glad I waited on him.

When people reach the bus after exerting themselves they are often smiling, reminiscing of days gone by when running was more a part of their life.   It catches me by surprise that they are actually more talkative than most passengers, so relieved to not have missed the bus.   

We have a policy that if someone is making an effort to get to the bus stop then we wait.  What this means is if you see someone running to catch the bus, be courteous and wait.   Having folks run up to the bus or to a stop is a daily occurrence.   What is fascinating is that people of all ages, genders, sizes, and builds will run to catch the bus. I get to witness passengers run, jog, shuffle, hustle and hurry to catch the bus.

Bus riders get to move more.   Studies show that compared to commuters who drive to work, bus riders get more steps.  They get to walk to the bus stop and walk to their destination.  They step up to board the bus and hop off to continue on their journey.   Daily, I revel in the movement that I get to witness.






 

Monday, May 27, 2019

Role Model

Clark Campbell was faithful.  
Clark Campbell drove a city bus for 45 years.  His contribution and legacy are so profound that though he retired in 1972 riders still remember him.   The transportation center downtown is named after him and he drove more than 3 million miles on our city's streets.

He is a role model because he built rapport with passengers and enjoyed a fruitful tenure in public service. One older gentleman loves to reminisce about his in-law Clark Campbell and the history of Winston-Salem. One morning I got up and stretched at the end of the bus route and he made an off-handed comment, "Clark Campbell always did that too. He would really stress getting up and stretching." 

For the rest of the trip, he regaled me with stories about his legendary relative.  He told me that he had a side lawn business and loved to stay busy. I plied him with questions about Campbell but was most intrigued by the tidbits he dropped about Campbell's faith.   He said that Campbell loved to sing hymns and Gospel music. 

I enjoy the conversations I get to have with passengers because I learn so much from them.  Seeing regular riders gives you a chance to have ongoing dialogue and gain insight into their life. I have been surprised by how close-knit passengers and drivers become.  I have met mothers, children, significant others, in-laws and, of course, cousins of fellow drivers. You meet all manner of households and kin riding together. Come Ride!



Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Springtime


Springtime is a balm
for snarling traffic
and surly passengers. 

It soothes the frustration
of broken equipment
and missed turns. 

Springtime is a promise
of a day when
creation is made new. 

Thursday, May 2, 2019

See the Traveler

Seeing "the traveler" is currently my favorite part of being a bus driver. Or is it the Spring weather? No, definitely it is seeing the beauty of humanity in the face of passengers, especially if I get to help them find their way. 

Have you read Khaled Hosseini's poetic short story, Sea Prayer, about refugees? My heart breaks when The mother says to her husband, "Oh, but if they saw, my darling. Even half of what you have. If only they saw.  They would say kinder things, surely." It breaks because I have seen. 

I got my first glimpse in high school on the soccer team when the recently arrived Hispanic immigrants were obviously skilled players but struggled academically due to the language barrier.  While witnessing others heap ridicule on them for their struggles to speak English,  my heart was nudged to find ways to make them feel welcome.   

The news of political unrest in Venezuela is troubling, where many have been forced to flee their homes to seek asylum.  Our friends who just came back from neighboring Colombia mentioned seeing vast numbers of Venezuelan immigrants looking for refuge in Colombia. Isn't it ironic that both that country and our nation's capital are named after an explorer who was seeking new land?  The Americas were settled by immigrants and political refugees.  It makes me wonder how many Americans are quick to forget our nation's history of welcoming the traveler. 

On my route last week I helped a mother and daughter from Venezuela to find their way to the West Campus of Forsyth Technical Community College.  As they rode my bus they confided feeling relief and surprise at meeting someone who could help them find their way in their dominant language.  As I talked with them in Spanish, I could see the anxiety on the mother's face melt away. Connecting newcomers to our community's resources is rewarding.

Also that week a first-time passenger flashed a smile and thrust her phone at me displaying an address to inquire about where she should get off the bus.  I could tell from my recent trip to Guerrero that she was from the Costa Chica region of Mexico.  Most of our neighbors in Waughtown are from there, so I had gone to see what they were fleeing from. My videos from the trip show the landscape and rudimentary fishing but they don't capture the drug/gang violence and the harsh racial tensions that deny many people of opportunity.  Our Guerrerroan neighbors come to America looking for opportunity.   

This new passenger was surprised that I readily helped her find her way in her own language. Like many Guerrerroans, she was amazed that I had been to her small village.   Later that week, when she rode my bus again, she had other questions about the schedule as she planned her commute to work.  It's a joy to help the traveler find opportunity in our community. 

Sara Groves' music has inspired me for years.  The song below she sings with her daughter. It is entitled "Jesus, See the Traveler."   It makes me wonder if our generation is leaving the next generation a legacy that values mercy and compassion for the traveler. Her song also makes me grateful for my job in public transportation because in my work I get to see and be part of the traveler's journey.


Tuesday, April 23, 2019

The Tight Route

Drivers dread tight routes.  A tight route is one that is known to "run down" which means taking more time than allotted to complete.  A route can be tight for several reasons. The most obvious reasons are traffic, a great distance to travel, detours, passenger volume, or difficult passengers.

Though it was a beautiful spring day I reported shyly and more than a bit nervous for my first notoriously tight route. As a cadet making a good first impression with the senior driver was important to me. The senior driver for this tight route had the swagger and bravado of someone who revels in a challenge. I quietly consoled myself with the thought that on a weekend maybe I as a cadet could keep the route on time. Before we start the bus he quips, "This route has gotten heavy, even Saturdays." My face betrayed my concern.

He smiles and says, "I talks junk to everbody."   I grinned the rest of the day as his dry wit and obvious joy in interacting with passengers, which kept me entertained even when we were running down.  He is a tall, broad-shouldered black man who lights up when engaged in a verbal tussle.  I wanted him to like me but I came to find out he likes everybody.  It is the secret to his success.  A survival skill on a tight route that can easily frustrate passengers and drivers alike.

At 8am he drove the first run so I could see the stops and turns.  We started the route way far north of the city and had 30 minutes to get downtown on busy thoroughfares.   I took the wheel at 9am with trepidation about the demands of the day ahead.   That second run was the only run I completed on time that day.  Being a rookie is hard on my ego.  Luckily I had a good-natured and seasoned driver to help me keep things in perspective.  He at least enjoyed my anguish.

At 10am on the third run, he says "You smell something? It stinks in here."   I had yet to catch a whiff of what he was picking up on.   Not 15 minutes later a warning light comes on about the buses exhaust system.  He radios for a replacement bus.  Switching buses gets us behind just as traffic is about to pick up.  The tight run had just gotten trickier due to the bus change.  That was the first time that "P1" had to help us get back on time.  P1 is a minibus that plugs routes that are running down.

Now it is noon, we are back on time thanks to P1 and driving a new bus.  I wonder about a break and getting something to eat as the traffic builds.  This route has a left turn across a busy 2 lane thoroughfare.   The senior driver is almost jubilant to share the pain of waiting for what feels like an eternity for the traffic to clear enough for us to safely make that left turn.  Just as I think my opportunity has come, "watch those cars jumpin' or' that hill," he says as he accurately describes the traffic pattern.  We finally turn but have lost precious time.  I marvel at how well he knows this route and I am humbled by his ability to keep it on time.

At 2 o'clock I am so far behind that P1 needs to catch us up again.  This time we sit for 15 minutes while P1 works.  We sit so the schedule for our inbound trip will be correct.  While we wait I realize I finally have a chance to go to the bathroom.   I run over to a fast food place to use the facilities.  It strikes me that I am not the only hungry person on the bus so I buy 4 cheeseburgers.  The senior driver and the 2 passengers who are waylayed with us are amazed.   The food lightens the mood as we finally get underway. 

When 4:30 finally arrives I am exhausted and stunned by the difference in skill and experience between me, the cadet, and he, the senior driver.   His composure and willingness to teach impress upon me a desire to master driving skills in spite of the stress of a tight run.  It left me wondering about how easy it is to misjudge the abilities of others because of the temptation to look down on their work.