Monday, November 11, 2019

Operator Survey

Alfredo and I conducted a survey of fixed-route bus drivers for their suggestions regarding routes and schedules.   Below are the tables of our findings. 

Table 1. WSTA Driver Schedule Survey N =79Total%
A ten-hour shift 4 days a week starting in the morning5772.2%
A ten-hour shift 4 days a week starting in the evening3038.0%
An early morning 8-hour straight shift 5 days a week2227.8%
A Late 8-hour straight shift 5 days a week1620.3%
Split shifts 5 days a week56.3%
Night runs with weekends off1822.8%
Provide a suggestion of a schedule810.1%

Table 2. Route Suggestions
89More time on the route
93Route needs to be cut short
93Service Castle Heights or 331 and North Hampton Dr; Change time points on the outbound trip
95Cut out Strattford and Knollwood
99More time on the route
103Move final time point back so you can get to TC earlier
104Changing inbound time points for a bathroom break at the TC on Route 104. The new time points could be [5. Old Lexington 6:05] [6. Waughtown and Vargrave 6:10] [7. Waughtown and South Main 6:15 [1.TC 6:20].
104Adjust so you can get a bathroom break
105More time on the route
105Not go up Argonne

Sunday, November 3, 2019

NC BikeWalk Summit

I will be telling stories at the NC BikeWalk Summit on Saturday, November 9th in session 4 from 10-11am. I hope to inspire change.

As background on economic mobility, I plan to tell them that roughly 40% of Americans would struggle covering a $400 emergency expense like a broken down car (FRB).  Last week 3 different passengers asked route questions and sheepishly admitted they were new riders because of recent car trouble.  They represent the latent demand that I see in the ride per hour ratio.

I will explain why people run in an effort to catch the bus so they can "step up" in life even risking it at dangerous intersections.

I will advocate for counting every bus ride as a call for more safety infrastructure for pedestrians.

Saturday, November 2, 2019


From the driver seat of the city bus, I have begun to dread coming to the intersection of Patterson and Indiana Avenues.  The intersection is the convergence of routes 87 and 92.  You can see from the ratio of rides per hour that they are our most popular routes.  These routes combined represent just over 15% of all rides. 

I am fearful for the people I see walking in this dangerous interchange.  I have seen them darting across this busy intersection to try to catch whichever bus is passing at the time. Route 87 stays on Patterson while 92 turns on Indiana.

If you go in person or take a virtual Google Maps tour of the intersection you will see pedestrians but no infrastructure for safely navigating the interchange.  The intersection is crowded with people and yet no pedestrian amenity (i.e. crosswalk, island, signal) in street design. 

Driving either of these routes is an inexhaustible source of people-watching. It is a privilege to serve the passengers in these important public transportation corridors.  I hope I never witness a person struck by a car at the intersection of Patterson and Indiana. 

5 Bags Full

The volunteer effort to sweep the transit center resulted in five bags full of cigarette butts.  It took 10 people an hour and thirty minutes to collect such a quantity of butts. 

A passenger friend, a real God-send, worked as two men.  We all got a laugh out of the tool I fashioned to scrape the seams between the concrete slabs.  It was a rake handle with a screw protruding from the end and was affectionately named  “the butt cracker."

We left feeling tired but accomplished. We departed wondering how smoking in a public space can still be allowed?

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Route Ride Per Hour Ratio

The Winston-Salem Transit Authority is on course to provide over 2.5 million rides in 2019. That is a big number that can be hard to grasp.  Breaking it down by route helps it add up.

I became a bus driver to experience first hand the power of public transportation and to help me understand the complex system.  As I drive around I have been thinking of a measure to use in comparing routes.  I came to the idea of using a ratio that compares ridership per hour of service.

 Table 1: WSTA ridership per route for September 2019.
RouteDTNSDRides% RidesHrs% HrsRides/Hrs
D = Cardinal Direction | T = Type (Circular, Cross Town, Linear) | NSD = N Service Days
^ = has 2nd bus | * = 2nd Bus Funded by NCDOT B40

You can see that some of the routes are very popular and others are quiet.

I believe you can use this type of information to advocate for second buses on popular routes like 92 and 96.  For example I think the Place Matters Initiative should push for a second bus on route 96 that runs through their impact communities.  I have driven it and could feel the importance of the bus in those places.

What interesting things do you see in this information? 

This analysis is available on the web. The data was provided by the Winston-Salem Transit Authority in an email from the General Manager on 10/10/19.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019


Come join me in sweeping up cigarette butts at the transit center on Sunday, October 27 at 7:15 PM.

This volunteer effort will reduce second hand smoke residue and improve the appearance of our city. I am inviting you as a fellow citizen who cares about our community and public transportation. The transit center is not in use on Sunday evenings. Please bring any tools or broom you plan to use. I will have a broom, dust pan, rake, and trash bags.

There are many butts that are lodged in every crack and crevice. The volume of discarded butts overwhelms the regular cleaning crew's ability to sweep them all up. The more hands that volunteer to sweep the deeper the clean the transit center will receive.

Please come in a spirit of service and joy in being a part of progress within our community.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Strong and Weak

Community building requires a paradoxical mix of strength and weakness. Andy Crouch in his book describes the paradox in a 2 x 2 chart that depicts the need for increased authority and increased vulnerability to create flourishing. As I read the book a second time I see this paradox at work within public transportation.  I witness the benefits and the constraints that riding the bus has in the life of our community.  I see the urgent need to improve the public transit system as a means to improve economic mobility.

My own authority comes to mind when I realize it’s a privilege to choose my vocation and have the financial security to take risks professionally. The book defines true authority as “the capacity for meaningful action.” I am lately more grateful for how I am able to learn new skills and take on a challenge. I see passengers exercising their authority through acts of kindness and mutual support of fellow riders. I see their fortitude and resilience as they daily ride in a system that affords few amenities. I see how an infrequent and often unreliable system subjugates riders robbing them of authority.

Crouch defines vulnerability as "exposure to meaningful risk." Becoming a bus drivers has caused me to be afraid and out of my comfort zone, or vulnerable. It causes me to be grateful for the passengers who have come to my aid with the reassurance they have given me. I see exposure to risk in the suffering of the young and frail in the toxic environment of the transit center full of second-hand smoke and oil spills. I see the anxiety of passengers when connections are missed, causing them to be late for jobs that are not sympathetic to the whims of the system.  I hear their complaints about routes that don't have weekend service constraining them to either being stranded altogether or using costly alternatives to reach low-paying jobs.

I recommend Peter Crouch's book Strong and Weak because of its penetrating look at community flourishing. You will likely be shocked to learn that the act of withdrawing is the cruel opposite of flourishing.  In Winston-Salem, we must see bus riders' suffering and stop exploiting them from our privileged car-centric perspective.  We must invest in public transportation as a community asset, thereby promoting community development and economic mobility as a social justice issue, so that more of our residents can flourish.

Monday, September 16, 2019


When a rider called me "perspicacious" I had no idea what the word meant.  I was a little worried it conveyed an insult.   A moment before he made sport of me by saying: "You're the captain of this ship." He was ribbing me about when I was supposed to depart from the time point in front of his low-slung cheap rent apartment complex. 

The apartment complex is in East Winston, or said another way "on the wrong side of the tracks." I was nervous about my first route in this part of town. Something caused me to pause and evaluate the nature of this interaction, to be present and interpret his tone rather than assume his words were malicious. As the exchanged played out it dawned on me that he was being playful.   I summoned the courage to ask him what perspicacious meant.  To his delight, he had stumped me. 

It is fun to tell this story because it is an example of a stereotype debunked.  I was thinking, "Here is a smart-aleck passenger coming out of an apartment complex in which I had conducted food security research a few years prior."  I thought I knew all about the inhabitants there and certainly that my vocabulary was superior.  But instead of acting superior, I asked him what it meant. 

To prove it's meaning he brought up the definition on his smartphone. Perspicacious means having a ready insight into and understanding of things.  What I could have mistaken as an insult turned into a precious compliment and a rich interaction with a passenger.  This sixty-something African American man was telling me that I had read the situation correctly.  Instead of getting defensive about his jabs regarding departure times, I had kept my head and realized he was playing with me. 

Who doesn't want to have a ready insight?  Who doesn't want to be praised as being shrewd? But I know it doesn't always apply to me.  I make mistakes.  I miss turns.   I get turned down for work that  I perceive I am well suited.  So what am I learning from these interactions with passengers?   

I am learning about what Paul Farmer describes as “a hermeneutic of generosity.”  I just finished reading Mountains Beyond Mountains because I wanted to learn about this luminary of Medicine, Public Health, and Anthropology who has spent his career partnering with the poor.  Here is the excerpt where Tracy Kidder defines the term:
“Depends on whether or not you have an H of G for the endeavor,” he [Farmer] said, without looking up.  
“An H of G” was short for “a hermeneutic of generosity,” which he had defined once for me [Kidder] in an e-mail: “I have a hermeneutic of generosity for you because I know you’re a good guy. Therefore I will interpret what you say and do in a favorable light..."
The danger of stereotypes is they often keep us from seeing the other person in a favorable light. This wily passenger ended up giving me a gift. If I assumed it was an insult I would have missed the precious present. His quick appraisal of me continues to give me reassurance as a neophyte bus driver. 

I am trying to interpret new experiences in a favorable light.  I want to be generous with my words and encourage passengers in the hopes of lifting their spirits. I hope you are given a compliment from an unexpected quarter.   It could change your outlook.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Telling Stories

Steve Beck works to help us understand how stories shape our worldview.  One avenue he uses is his website

Writing stories and doing interviews about my experience as a bus driver helps me process my feelings. It helps me make sense of what I am seeing on my routes.

I am grateful for people like Steve Beck and Rachael Duane who compose stories of real hope.  Doing the interview below was an enriching experience. It also has been a source of encouragement because of its positive reception.

Please check it out at

Steve Beck

Thursday, August 8, 2019


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.