Thursday, July 19, 2007

Pittsburgh Buses

Disclaimer: I don’t mean for any of this to sound racist or discriminatory. I am just observing the Pittsburgh Port Authority bus system and relating my observations with an added tinge of displeasure.

I have felt a good deal “out-of-place” ever since I arrived home. However, I have not felt as out-of-place as when I began riding the Pittsburgh buses.

In England, I didn’t feel uncomfortable riding buses at all. In fact, I felt more normal riding the bus than I would have taking a cab or driving a car. In Brighton, everyone rode buses: old ladies, teenage kids, university students, couples, even people’s dogs rode the bus. Here, it seems, only three classifications of people ride buses (or at least the 67F): sketchy-looking single moms, senior citizens, and black people. I hate to make generalizations like these, but so far, I have been the only white person to ride the bus between the ages of 15 and 40 without scraggly teeth or greasy-looking hair.

Today, for instance, the only other white person riding the bus was a kid who looked to be about 14 years old. He had a wilted blond mohawk that resembled a rattail more than the mohawk I believe he was attempting. Otherwise, everyone else on the bus was black, either overweight or undernourished, and rather hostile-looking. From the looks of the crowd, the only people who ride buses here in Pittsburgh are people who cannot afford anything else. As you can see, I fall into this category. Outside of socio-economics, however, I don’t fit the category at all.

Not only do the passengers on the bus make me feel uncomfortable and out-of-place, but the drivers do, as well. I have ridden the bus seven times now, and every single driver has been black. I don’t note this out of any racist sentiment, but here’s how this appears to me: the white people are driving the cars they bought to places they want to go, and the black people are driving one another around in buses. Seem odd to anyone?

Moreover, these drivers do not want anything to do with their passengers. I boarded the bus one day and inserted $1.75 into the driver’s change machine. He looked at me and then gave me a shake of his head with an incredulous, “are-you-a-moron?” expression. Apparently, I owed $2.25 for boarding at that particular stop, but instead of politely telling me this, he said, in a really irritated voice, “You goin’ to Oakland?” I said yes, and he held out his hand with even more impatience. “Well then….” Of course, not knowing that I owed another fifty cents, I just stood there, holding up the line. Once I determined what I owed and paid it, I asked where the $1.75 zone ended. Instead of answering my question, the driver told me to move out of the way, because, “Otha people tryin’ to get on the bus.”

Today, I boarded the bus at a different stop farther down Ardmore Boulevard, hoping to avoid the extra fifty-cent charge. When I got on, I asked whether $1.75 was the correct amount. At first, I received no response. I wasn’t sure that the driver had heard me, so I repeated my question as I counted out my change. When I still received no answer, I finally looked up. After a minute, the driver nodded ever-so-slightly at me, offering no smile or any other indication that he had heard my question. I paid the fee and, still feeling ignored, sat down. The driver didn’t even give me a ticket stub.

Now, I understand that being a bus driver probably isn’t the most thrilling job in the world. These drivers probably did not go through childhood thinking to themselves, “I can’t wait to grow up and be a bus driver.” Nevertheless, driving a bus is a public service job. Therefore, you are expected to interact with people. This means be friendly—or at least pleasant—while you are doing your job. I know firsthand, working as a lifeguard in the summer and at a coffee shop during the school year. You don’t need to act like the customer’s best friend, but if they have a question, you answer it politely. If someone is confused, you do your best to help them. You certainly don’t scoff at them or—worse—ignore them.

Furthermore, I am back in America, the proverbial land of customer-service. In Spain, I accepted the irritated scowl of my server when I ate dinner. In France, I ignored the fact that my purchasing a blouse apparently ruined the store clerk’s day. However, here in America, I expect better treatment. Even the English bus drivers showed me more respect and (sometimes) joviality than these Pittsburgh workers. I am an adult, so my age certainly can no longer be the reason people think they can brush me off. And I would certainly like to think that these drivers’ lack of respect is not due to my race.

Either way, I will soon get the hang of this bus system. Then, I won’t ever again have to acknowledge these bus drivers, who so rudely scorn their passengers. Nevertheless, I can’t help wishing that we could all just treat each other like fellow human beings.


rome said...

ok..i'll try to help you with the bus system since thats how i get around during the school year.

1.75 from braddock into town.a transfer is another 50 cent. i only know one bus driver who actually is pretty cool and thats over in neville island.

it is scary sometimes...especially at night. so i completely understand

Kelly said...

i never really noticed the race thing. i did notice the dirty-surly thing.

it amuses me that america is the proverbial land of customer service. i guess because i've generally worked at laid-back enviroments (...kinda) i could act like a real person-- which was generally upbeat. but i never saw the appeal of forced cheerfulness. it's scary- like a murderous clown.

Kelly said...

I really hate taking the buses in Pittsburgh, but that's mostly because they're unpredictable. I mainly stick to the 61A, B, and C routes to get from CMU to Squirrel Hill or CMU to Oakland, which are always filled with college students. The few times I have taken the 61A to my parents' house haven't been too bad people-wise, but the bus isn't that crowded and I usually put on my MP3 player and pull out a notebook. The one thing that helps me is having a bus pass built into my CMU ID, because I don't understand bus fares at all.