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Witness says bus driver “didn’t like cyclists”

Posted by on January 23rd, 2006 at 9:12 am

The TriMet/bike incident has the spread across the country, but unfortunately of all the parties involved only the cyclist has made a statement. TriMet has been silent (they sent me a statement but it did not address this issue specifically), the driver is deceased, the passenger has not been found, and no witnesses have stepped forward, until now.

OHSU employee Phillip Wilmarth was seated in the middle of the bus and his account of that morning adds useful context about why the driver and passenger acted the way they did.

He mentioned how the mood on the bus was very stressful, “The bus was totally full and I think the drawbridge must have been up or something because it took us forever to get over the bridge…people were getting impatient to get downtown…there was a tremendous negative vibe on the bus.”

And according to Philip, this tense mood was made worse because “it was very apparent that the driver didn’t like cyclists. He was verbally negative toward cyclists before we even got on the bridge. I was surprised to hear his comments because you think of drivers as sort of authority figures.” It was also clear to Phillip that by the way the driver interacted with passengers and other motorists that he was “just one of those drivers you can tell hates his job…you know, a real ***hole driver” and that the driver’s “animosity toward bicyclists fanned the flames of the passenger.”

When the cyclist walked in front of the bus, Phillip recalls the driver saying it was illegal for someone to stop the bus and how he himself wasn’t able to leave the bus to do something about it. According to Phillip, “it was clear that he was sort of hoping someone else would step off and do his dirty work.”

And we all know what happened next.

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Comments
  • Caroline January 23, 2006 at 10:12 am

    In my experience, not an unbelievable story.

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  • jami January 23, 2006 at 10:30 am

    there’s a driver (still alive, so not the same one) who drives the 8 route all the time. he makes little jokes about various landmarks — nice for an eye-rolling laugh. but one day, he called a biker “roadkill on wheels.” as a biker, i was much more horrified than amused.

    i bet it’s hard to drive a bus. it’s also hard as hell to ride a bike in the city. both are good, important ways to keep our city healthy. it’d be nice if there were a way for ALL bus drivers and bike riders to stop seeing each other as enemies.

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  • Ayleen January 23, 2006 at 12:01 pm

    I too bet it’s hard to drive a bus. I’m curious to know more about what it’s like, that’s why I’m dedicating the next KBOO Bike Show to talking with Kiran Limaye, Bicycle Coordinator for TriMet. We also hope to be able to get a few operators to call in. Wed, Feb 1 9-10 am. See our website for details on the three ways you can listen even if you don’t live in the area.

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  • Jonathan Maus January 23, 2006 at 12:16 pm

    We need to get bus drivers on bikes and cyclists on ride-alongs with bus drivers. This would be a great program and something I hope the BTA and TriMet can partner up on.

    I look forward to the hearing Kiran on the show and I hope he is able to address this issue without fear of compromising the pending lawsuit.

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  • Dabalicous January 23, 2006 at 12:25 pm

    I have long been advocate for a Tri Met watchdog group.
    I beleive through this incident we can acheive that.
    Random people on buses, riding, watching, like a secret shopper. Hoping, for the good of the land, nothing goes on.
    But it will. It does every day.
    Tri Met has it’s way with us.
    They are also a expensive(to everyone, riders or not), and necessary part of Portland.
    What can be done?
    The real question is what can’t be done…..

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  • benschon January 23, 2006 at 12:37 pm

    The report-the-driver-to-Tri-Met approach is certainly the correct, civilized course of action, but it does not actually result in any discipline. In most cases, complaining about a driver has about as much actual impact as posting an angry comment on The Oregonian’s web site.

    This Willamette Week story (http://www.wweek.com/html2/leada011001.html) mentions a bad apple bus driver who logged 107 rider complaints against him in a 5-year period before anyone took action. Yes, one hundred and seven complaints. I can’t imagine how many hundreds more people never took the time to contact Tri-Met.

    Who knows whether Albright was thinking about this when he chose to engage the driver directly? This doesn’t condone his behavior, blah blah, confrontation is bad for cyclists, blah blah, we need to set an example, blah blah, bus driving is a tough job, blah blah, unions help families, etc. etc.

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  • johoro January 23, 2006 at 1:11 pm

    The reason TriMet (or any other employer of union workers) is reluctant to discipline the bad apples is that the deck is stacked against the employer: The union is obligated to present the best possible defense of the union member, and even if the case goes to arbitration, about 2/3 of the arbitrators are ex-union members – whose side do you think they’re on. From the employer’s viewpoint, only the most eggregious cases are worth pursuing.

    The rule of thumb regarding customer complaints is that only about 1 in 5 dissatisfied customers actually complains – the rest just quietly go away. Using that ratio we can estimate that the driver who logged 107 complaints actually had more like 525-550 instances where people were dissatisfied. Pitiful.

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  • Evan Manvel January 24, 2006 at 10:04 am

    Ironic moment: last night I was getting a ride in car and was stuck in traffic along with a bus full of people for eight light cycles (about 4-5 minutes, I think).

    Why? Because someone in a car wanted our parking spot (was backing in), the bus was right behind her, and we were trapped in the parking spot by the car and bus. The car driver who wanted to park refused to move, despite honking horns.

    I got out of the car, told the driver of the other car that she had to move if she wanted the spot we were in. She told me the bus should go around her, and she was going to wait. I told her that that wasn’t going to happen (the bus would have had to illegally exited a turn lane and then turn across two lanes), and that the bus driver was on the phone, and she was going to get towed or ticketed. Still no go.

    Finally, the BTA’s Finance Manager and I got out of our car, implying that the other driver couldn’t take our parking space. We walked away for half a block, and the other driver left. The bus moved on — after, what, 5 minutes of wait. A lot more than Randy’s incident.

    It all worked out in the end. Did someone need to assault the car driver to get results? No. Did the TriMet driver call the cops this time? Yes.

    All for a parking space. Sigh.

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  • Peter W January 24, 2006 at 10:04 am

    A friend of mine was waiting for the bus with her daughter in her stroller. The bus driver saw her when she waived from the stop, but the bus continued on (she figure’s it was because he didn’t want to deal with her and her stroller slowing down the schedule). Anyway, she starts yelling and waiving after it passed and a guy in a car saw that and came up next to the bus driver’s window and asks why he didn’t stop. The bus drivers response? A raised middle finger at the car guy. Luckily car guy was fast enough with his camera phone to snap a shot of this, and when he and my friend sent in their stories (and photo!) to TRIMET, TRIMET was quick to respond. I believe the driver was fired and my friend got a bunch of free tickets.

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  • notcool March 5, 2006 at 4:03 pm

    How did the KBOO show go? Did any operators call in? Any insights into the problem? (obviously, I missed it)

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  • ayleen March 5, 2006 at 4:55 pm

    Hey notcool,

    Listen to the show online. Too much to tell here, but it was a great program.

    http://bikeshow.portlandtransport.com
    also podcast through iTunes as KBOO Bike Show.

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  • notcool March 7, 2006 at 3:49 pm

    thanks for the link!

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  • IDF May 24, 2006 at 2:16 pm

    Trimet Watchdog – Keeping Trimet Honest

    trimetwatchdog.blogspot.com

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