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‘Rogue’ union member blamed for candidate question tying road diets to bus driver attacks

Posted by on April 10th, 2018 at 1:58 pm

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(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Someone snuck their “pet issue” into an official questionnaire.

One of the many roles BikePortland plays in the regional transportation sphere is to keep people honest. A recent episode involving a candidate questionnaire gone wrong is a good illustration of that.

Last week a candidate running in an election in Washington County alerted us to a questionnaire from the Northwest Oregon Labor Council (NOLC). “Check out question #12,” he wrote to me in an email.

Here’s the question:

The City of Portland and Metro have advanced a concept they believe will motivate the general public to get out of their cars and seek alternative modes of transportation. Using speed bumps, bioswales, road diets, lane elimination, car lanes turned into bike only lanes, curb extensions and speed reductions to encourage more people to use Mass Transit. The unintended consequence is that it makes it impossible for Bus Operators, who share the same roads, to meet their schedules resulting in a record number of attacks on drivers. The number of assaults has nearly doubled each of the last four years.

Please share your thoughts on this strategy and do you think it makes sense to continue?

Naturally, these unsubstantiated claims set off major alarm bells here at BikePortland.

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“We honestly don’t know how there was such a breakdown in communication leading to this question appearing on the NWOLC’s questionnaire, but we’re looking into it. This question never should have been asked of candidates, and we’re embarrassed that it was.”
@ATU757pdx on Twitter

I immediately emailed NOLC Executive Secretary Treasurer Bob Tackett to learn more. Tackett said the questions were submitted by affiliates. In this case, the question came from Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757, the union that represents TriMet bus operators.

The next day I heard from ATU’s Public Policy Coordinator Jared Franz. “First of all,” he shared via email, “let me be very clear that we do not believe that speedbumps and road diets are a direct cause of bus operator assaults.” Franz added that while it’s true operator assaults are at an all-time high and that passengers frustated by congestion are “sometimes” the cause of these assaults, he said road design isn’t responsible. “Except possibly in a very, very indirect way,” he added in parentheses.

Franz said he was surprised to see that question on the questionnaire and thought his group had submitted a different one. He said there was a “breakdown in communication.” “This question never should have been asked,” he wrote via Twitter, “we’re embarrassed that it was.” Franz asked Tackett to remove the question and I was assured it was.

After investigating the situation more closely, Franz said via the ATU’s Twitter account that a member “went rogue” and replaced a different question with his/her own in order to promote a “pet issue.”

We were pleased at how this was quickly addressed by the ATU and the NOLC. But it remains a concern that such a biased perspective is held by an ATU member with enough clout to influence this questionnaire — especially given the sometimes fraught relationship between bus operators and bicycle riders in Portland. Hopefully this is the last we hear of this road-diets-lead-to-operator-attacks narrative. If it’s not, we’ll know where it started.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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m
Guest
m

Clearly an unfair question. That said, I bet he learned this leading question technique from the lovely folks at the City of Portland (including PBOT). Some of the survey questions they put out are laughable biased.

SafeStreetsPlease
Guest
SafeStreetsPlease

Feel free to leave them a (kindly worded) message. They need to hear that these actions are observed, and ultimately, attempt to unnecessarily drive a wedge.

https://www.atu757.org/contact-us/

Andrew Riley, ATU 757
Guest

My name is Andrew, and I’m the spokesperson for ATU who was corresponding with Jon on Twitter. I am starting to get emails about this issue, and want to share a response that I wrote in reply:

Thanks for reaching out. As Jon at BikePortland mentioned today – https://bikeportland.org/2018/04/10/rogue-union-member-blamed-for-candidate-question-tying-road-diets-to-bus-driver-attacks-274880 – this question does not represent our union’s position on these issues.

We DO NOT believe that bike lanes, bioswales, road diets, or other traffic-calming features lead to operator assaults. We support all of these infrastructure investments (and more!) as ways of alleviating congestion on the roads, as ways of keeping cyclists safe in a car-centric city, and as ways of making it easier for our communities to travel on foot, on bikes, and on public transit.

What happened is unfortunate and embarrassing: a member who represents us at the NW Oregon Labor Council went rogue. Instead of submitting our union-approved question to candidates, this person submitted a frankly bizarre question speaking to the person’s pet issues. I don’t know how this person came to the conclusion that road diets, speed bumps, and bike lanes cause operator assaults, but to be really clear: they are wrong. As such, this member has been removed from their position representing the union at the NW Oregon Labor Council.

The issue of operator assaults is serious, and has nothing to do with traffic-calming infrastructure. We regret that this question made it onto candidate surveys, and we apologize to the community for this breakdown in communication.

SafeStreetsPlease
Guest
SafeStreetsPlease

Thank you kindly for this extended response. This is what I think many of us would like to hear. I would delete my original post, but it doesn’t look like that’s possible.

Brian
Guest
Brian

Which member? Have they been disciplined in any way for the shenanigans?

bikeninja
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bikeninja

Wow, Is assaulting your bus driver when the bus is running late really a thing? No matter what the cause ( and I agree it is not road diets) this represents a real breakdown in societal norms that does not bode well for the future of civilization.

B. Carfree
Guest
B. Carfree

I’m having trouble even wrapping my mind around the notion of assaulting a bus driver. When I sit on a bus, I’m usually just overjoyed that the driver is willing to take on all that awful stress for me. (Even though I used to drive trucks, I really hate driving.) All I ever toss their way are thank yous and compliments.

Bjorn
Guest
Bjorn

Can anyone confirm that there are 16 times as many driver assaults now as there were 4 years ago? If so I think this is something that Trimet needs to be more proactive about dealing with, but I have a hard time believing that the rate of driver assaults has really doubled in each of the last 4 years as the question states.

Bjorn
Guest
Bjorn

One thing to note is that if you look at the 2016 Trimet Security report that was presented last summer they note that in 2016 they changed how they counted assaults from the Summary Reporting System to the National Incident Based Reporting System. The new counting method will result in a higher incident rate than the old counting method and the report specifically states that the data from the old system should never be directly compared to the data from the new system for that reason. Due to this I think it is difficult to know if the problem is getting worse or not but it seems highly likely that the actual rate of assaults on drivers has not doubled in each of the last 4 years. https://trimet.org/meetings/board/pdfs/2017-07-26/2016-security.pdf

buzz
Guest
buzz

I don’t know what to say about this, it’s a black eye for unions just when they are needed most by workers.

But maybe I should just chalk it up to the Ralph Kramden factor; that actually works for me!

Steve Scarich
Guest
Steve Scarich

Despite Jonathan’s desire to stifle that unpleasant opinion, I suspect there is more than one driver who has those thoughts. Rather than rush to get apologies and condemning the thought, it might be more useful to find out what drivers really think.

SCOTT DIAMOND
Guest
SCOTT DIAMOND

Thanks Jonathan. Great work. Looks like I need to make another donation to BikePortland. Keep up the good work.