Saturday, August 27, 2011

Message to @Yarratrams

Dear Yarra,
                  I just want to make it crystal clear why I'm doing this blog. 

If I hated you so much, I wouldn't work for you. I'd find work elsewhere. I enjoy my job.

If I hated passengers so much, I wouldn't treat them with respect and intelligence by using social media to communicate with them (cop that @yarratrams!). I'd also find a job where I don't have to deal with them.

If I sound like I dislike you, that's because sometimes you do things that irritate me. You treat me as if I don't exist until there's a problem and you rarely seek me out for consultation. When you need me, I'm there. However when I need you it's not quite the same.

The reason I started this blog and my twitter account is because there was a rather massive gap between us   and our passengers that you have failed to bridge for so long. I'm talking years. When you do communicate with them, you are robotic and it never seems genuine. There are plenty of people out there who are curious about how and why stuff happens and I've found that if you explain things, they're usually more understanding and accommodating. I try this on angry passengers and it seems to work out very well. I'm not about to reveal any eleven secret herbs and spices about our relationship as company and employee, but if this blog results in one person pausing and considering the situation instead of abusing the driver our of ignorance, then the job here is done. I often get the distinct feeling that some of the people working for you don't even know what we really do or where the eight depots are located. I'd like to be convinced that we're all on the same team, but you need to put in some more effort there I'm afraid.

Unless I'm talking about serious issues such as accidents, please don't expect me to be too formal or serious and I'm not always going to be able to pick the side I want to in certain situations and discussions (including lengthy monologues regarding the use of sand as an adhesive)

I do keep an eye out for things that you do well, such as the Good Friday Appeal and other things. I hate being overly critical without providing anything constructive, but sometimes I have no choice when it comes to some of the things you do. This isn't some sort of blackmail or hateblog - I'm just one driver trying to let people know that we're not all arseholes and many drivers understand that the system can be shit. I know having someone else talk about you might raise your hackles, but I'm on your side. I wear your name on my uniform. I'm not about to shit all over the hand that feeds me, but I will fart at you now and then. My fear is that there is so much opportunity to tackle important issues and deal with real and ongoing problems, but this is pissed away on things like a brand new uniform. The public also tend see it this way and while they often don't understand the complex contracts between you and the state, they aren't all idiots. After all, without them, both you and I wouldn't even be here. They often think that because you don't post anything on @yarratrams, you don't care or are somehow afraid to get in amongst it all. I know that's not true, but truth and perception are two very different things as you can read here.

In all honesty, if I write something that's grossly incorrect, downright false or misleading, please feel free to add a comment and correct me. This goes for both Yarra Trams and other readers. I will make every effort to sort out my facts before hand, but sometimes I don't have all the fact and I'll go with what I've got. I don't claim to speak on your behalf, nor do I claim that you endorse or condone my work. I'm just someone who likes their job enough to do this.

Tram drivers need a bit of a face and a bit of representation out there, especially when it comes to some of the things people say about you on the internet. If you thought Andy Blume's comments about passengers and accidents were rough, I'd suggest not reading anything in #yarratrams. Some people hate you! And while I don't try to convert everyone out there with a beef, I do try to explain things from a driver's perspective. I try to be reasonable about it and I even suggest passengers report bad drivers instead of complaining to twitter.

Finally, more often than not I'll write my posts for both here and Twitter in a draft format. That way I can hold on to them until I feel like publishing them and within a few seconds of deciding, they're up. Don't bother trying to match up my post times with my hours of duty, because they won't correlate and I'm sure you have better things to do. In fact I know you have better things to do. I can post at home, changing ends of the tram or whenever. Oh, and apparently you do have a social media policy. That's one publication that might be worth putting around the depots, especially in light of recent events. Some of us are interested.


Your humble and loyal employee,


PS I am open to bribery. 

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Herald Sun vs Andy Blume

First of all, wow. Yes, wow. I've been pretty quiet these past few days owing to the uproar surrounding one of my co-workers. Obviously the company radar will be dusted down and time, effort and money will be consumed either gather further evidence or looking for similar acts. No doubt this account will get glanced at and while they might not like the fact that I bypass the company propaganda mill and tell things straight up, they won't find much in the way of a smoking gun. 
I'm not about to come out representing the accused or to defend his actions. I've spent some time going over his blog and having a look around, and it's very much a case of "if it's not your cup of tea, don't boil the kettle". What this entire situation appears to be is more an orchestrated attempt at character assassination. I noticed that numerous times the individual has been critical of the Herald Sun, which provides them with a certain motivation. But before we get too involved, let's look at the timeline.

On August 18th, the story was posted revealing:

"The 33-year-old faced a disciplinary hearing last month for using his phone to take pictures while at the controls of his tram and posting them online. He was not stood down"

Reading that implies that not only is he guilty, but the company was reluctant to punish him. If it was written "he faced a disciplinary hearing last month for XXXX and there was insufficient evidence for XXXX/the accused admitted guilt and agreed to cease", it would at least have the air of due process. It's also a rather strange situation, as I would have thought that one's record of employment with a private company would fall under the Privacy Act, or at least be without relevance as there appears to be no punishment. How did the Herald Sun get such information? And given the recent issue of phone hacking, if I were running a newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch, I'd want to be a little clearer about how I obtained such personal information.

Looking at the writing of the articles, I can't help but see that unless you visited the blog and other sites, you wouldn't know that the paper is cherry picking the most sensational aspects of this person's internet identity and "reporting" it in such a way as to paint him in the worst light possible. "Pornographic images"? I saw some rather unattractive naked women, but apart from that, I get worse stuff in my spam box. As for taking photos of sleeping passengers and making fun of them, I think if you fall asleep on a tram in Melbourne and that's the worst thing that happens to you, you're bloody lucky. Yes, it's unprofessional, but hardly dismissable offences as the person has fallen asleep in a public place and what the accused uploads to his website in terms of naked ladies is hardly an issue for the company (unless he's doing it on the company's time/bandwidth or under their name, but it appears that the truth here might be interfering with the story). 

The comments and the pictures regarding crashes are somewhat disturbing, but if this person truly took such joy out of accidents, he wouldn't have lasted ten years, let alone get voted for an OH&S role. It's clearly a coping strategy or at the very least a way of sharing what is always a traumatic event. I'd be curious to see if the company has or will offer him counselling, as it might be needed. The Herald Sun has neglected exploring this avenue for some reason. I've had accidents in the past (as have the vast majority of drivers) and the expectation is that unless you're injured physically or the tram damaged seriously, you continue your trip and the rest of your shift. You might get someone asking you how you are, but it never comes across as being company policy. 

It seems as though much of the things he writes are designed to offend and shock. It might be designed to get your attention (sounds like something a newspaper might do) and leave little space for middle ground or differing points of view as it hits extreme from the first words. 

On the same day, there was a small editorial that summarised the article and called for the accused's dismissal. The editorial expands a little, claiming that he "boasts of causing accidents with his tram". Interesting, as this is a pretty serious development. Once again, to last in the job ten years while taking such joy in causing accidents doesn't quite add up. If he was that keen on causing accidents, there would be ample evidence of this on his record as it's not as though we're starved of opportunity (I have roughly 4-5 near misses per half, all cars and pedestrians).

As far as the accusations of sexist and racist comments being posted online go, it appears that the news writers for the Herald Sun don't spend much time talking to the moderators of the online comments section. I find what the accused says about the gender of accident drivers a little unsavory, and in my experience there's pretty much a gender balance when it comes to bumping into the large beasts.

In an article on Yahoo7, Yarra Trams says that in light of the pornography and racist comments, it will take quick and decisive action. Unless the porn relates to his activities at work, they will probably find that what an employee does in his or her spare time that isn't related to work is their own business. The link here is rather weak and I'd be interested to see if it even gets a mention at his "meeting". As for racism, I doubt this will be the real issue either, as his views are being expressed outside of his workplace.

Phil Altieri also chimed in here in the article. Instead of keeping quiet as it appears that an investigation is either occurring or beginning, he talks about how the rest of us workers get tainted with the same brush. Wow. Someone who's effectively your own industrial lawyer when it comes to issues of discipline has publicly come out and said you're the bad paint on that brush, before you've had a chance to defend yourself or even face a formal inquiry at work regarding the "new" evidence.

Another aspect of note was that the comments section, under the articles relating to Mr Blume, while present on the page, have no comments posted. I've read on twitter that it appears to be disabled as people have complained about not being able to post. While this might simply be a case of software failure, it seems a little odd that an article skewering someone about online comments being posted would have their own comments not working (deliberate or otherwise). The argument that perhaps nobody’s commented is null and void, as regardless of the issue, there’s always some sad sack linking any current news to the glory of the Howard years or how much they hate Julia Gillard.

Another rather curious issue here is the complete lack of any comments what so ever in the letters to the editor section of the paper on any day since the original article. Not one. Either Melbourne has stopped caring about public transport altogether, or the Herald Sun is not posting comments. Once again, it seems rather one-sided and impossible to believe that not one single Herald Sun reader has used this incident as a platform to complain about the latest football coach sacking.

One aspect I cannot let pass is the use of a mobile phone while operating a vehicle, and it should be known that this practice is dangerous and the company does have strict rules relating to the use of electrical equipment while driving the tram (ie don't do it). Seeing as this offence was dealt with a month and the punishment was not to stand the driver down, it would be easy to arrive at the conclusion that there was not enough evidence for dismissal. In order for there to be enough evidence, you would have to have a reliable witness (yes, we get plenty of dobbers complaining) or proof that those pictures were in fact taken by the driver. Just because I put a picture on my website doesn't mean I actually took it - it merely means I have sourced it. The article clearly implies, without proof, that these photographs were taken by the accused in contradiction to the Road Safety Act as well as the company rules. To use images to imply someone's guilt as opposed to establishing or prove it is not exactly the height of journalism.

Let's have a look at the sequence of events through a different light:

The accused is somehow caught using his camera while at the controls of his tram (note the absence of the word "moving" or even "occupied"). He fronts up to a panel, agrees not to do it again and, as per the instructions, doesn't do that again. If this was such a serious matter, why was this not referred to Victoria Police?
Someone at the Herald Sun catches wind of this and as they know he hates the paper via his blog, sets out to bring down this "rogue tram driver". They manage to "discover" photographs and blog entries that are, in some cases, many years old. There is no reference to any "new" blog entries or photographs submitted after the panel a month ago. Is he continuing to offend? Or has the Herald Sun simply dug a little deeper than Yarra Trams did? 
He's on leave for a week, which means the media cycle will have enough time to chew him up and spit him out before he's back at work. Thousands of people will have made up their mind before the investigation has started and given the Herald Sun has made Yarra Trams look ignorant, I'm thinking they already have the result of the panel arranged as well.
He can't comment or defend himself online as these are serious charges that may have legal implications. Not only that, but what if, as part of his work punishment, he had to assure them he wasn't to post anything else work-related? That would make his situation impossible. 
And all of this stems from a panel a month ago which did result in the accused not being stood down. Why wasn't the evidence, that's been online for years, brought up then? 

In order for a bit of balance, it would be interesting to find out who was actually responsible for the "best collision I ever had". This happened in Collins St several years ago (I remember as it was on the news). The context, while initially abhorrent, can be up for interpretation. Without the benefit of facts, we can only assume by the Herald Sun that Mr Blume's a horrible person. As the twitter feed is now private and I can't find the photo anywhere else, so readers have no idea if Mr Blume's best accident is because he enjoyed hitting a car breaking the law in a tram-only lane or, perhaps, Mr Blume's best accident was because there so much damage and nobody got killed. It's this sort of "journalism" that, without context or some line of proof, that is simply there to help paint the worst picture. It's this sort of "reasonable doubt" that exists in court and while as I said earlier I'm not out to defend Mr Blume, I am merely trying to illustrate that this article is poor journalism at best.

I will repeat what I said earlier so it's clear to my followers and anyone from Yarra Trams: While I don't agree with many of the posts and find them distasteful, I find the sequence of events in this situation far more disturbing than the offences, proven or otherwise. I find the fact that the company appears to be taking it's employee discipline cues from a tabloid newspaper very concerning, especially considering the amount of information they're managed to get in reference to his panel, his OH&S position, his place of work, etc. Employee history, let alone a copy of an expired work travel pass, is hardly public domain and I'd like to know where that ID card photo came from. While I can't possibly believe it's a conspiracy, it certainly seems like a very cosy group of people circling around one employee who just so happens to be on leave during the week the story "breaks" and a month after the panel. Herald Sun readers might be this easily fooled, but there are plenty of sceptics out there like me who look past the pictures and look for the sorts of things that aren't written, instead of simply lapping up this second-rate garbage as "journalism".

Oh, and finally I'd like to congratulate the Herald Sun, Yarra Trams, Transport Minister Terry Mulder and the Rail Tram and Bus Union for not letting an issue such as the 594 accidents between cars and trams this year get in the way of dealing with a single disgruntled tram driver. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage, injuries, interruptions to the service, costs in fines, stress to staff, etc. That statistic of 594 collisions was posted in the company's staff newsletter "The Wire" on August 16th.  Two days before Mr Blume made page three.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Why You Got Left Behind (or "Hey! You're Early For The Next One!")

One of the single greatest complaints that those poor devils at the Customer Relations Office (1800 800 166 6am-Midnight every day) have to put up with is Tram Drivers failing to pick up passengers. Now right off the bat, I'm going to come out and say that I've accidentally missed the odd passengers or two over the years, but I can count these on my fingers. Dark clothes, hiding behind a pole/shelter, arm comes up at the last moment, etc. However, looking at the sheer volume of complaints and the sorts of things I see on the road, I'm wondering how this situation is getting worse, especially when people are becoming more educated about public transport. Anyway, Here's a list of reasons why I've left people behind and please remember - they aren't personal. I don't wake up wanting to piss people off - I leave that up to Transport Ministers.
Before I start, I should state that according to our rules and regulations, Drivers must always be on the alert for intending passengers at termini and at stops. This makes sense and I can see plenty of passengers using this as ammunition. However, when you mix this with the timetable we're supposed to be running to, it can (and often does) cause a bit of conflict. Please bear in mind that we need to find some sort of balance between the needs of passengers on board as well, and this isn't always easy.

1. You're Not At The Stop
You're running like Carl Lewis and I'm running late for whatever reason. If you aren't at the stop when I'm due there, what makes you think I'm going to sit there and wait while you get to the stop when I've got passengers on board? It might sound harsh, but we're not a taxi service. Oh, and putting it into perspective - imagine if you were on the late tram and the driver stopped for each and every person who looked like they might want the tram? If I'm running on time, I try to wait, but I can't do it all the time. That's why there's other trams. 

2. Freeze Frame!
I'm approaching a stop, there's someone standing there. Not moving a muscle. No eye contact, no movement, nothing (no guide dog, cane, helper, or evidence to suggest they might need help!). I ring the gong, and still nothing. Finally, just as I pass the stop, the person springs into action, waving like they're drowning. 
If your tram is coming, make eye contact, extend your arm and hail us. Just like a taxi isn't going to be able to read your mind, don't expect us to.

3. Bus Stop/Tram Stop
There is a difference. Bus are orange, tram are green. Don't find this out the hard way. Lots of money was spent here.

4. I'm On The Other Line
You're on the phone or listening to music, don't expect anyone on public transport to give a shit. I've pulled up at lights, watched, nothing. Lights change, I move off, then all of a sudden the important phone call can wait. Like he did. For the next tram.

5. Jaywalkers
I try not to swear, but these twits take the cake. My light's green, my doors are shut, I'm moving off. What fucked up sense of entitlement allows these idiots to run in front of traffic because they want that tram? I don't know what it is, but I let them think about it as they wait for the next tram. I'm doing my job and driving safely, while these morons break the law and get pissy when they don't get what they want. Once again, people take this personally, but if I waited for everyone who wanted the tram, I'd never leave the city. 

6. Destination.
Read them. I've been transporting trams around depots and have "Sorry Not In Service" up before I leave the gate. If I'm out when there's plenty of people around, I slow down and if they see me point at the desto, they usually work it out. Of course then there's the smart-arse who thinks that somehow, after over a decade of privatisation, the company is willing to pay someone to simply drive an empty tram around for hours just to piss people off. These types bash at the door, can't take no for an answer and expect for you to know why the seat at Clifton Hill station still hasn't been fixed yet.

7. Special Events
When the football is on, trams are commandeered from every depot and sent to do the football. This pretty much involves running between Flinders St and the appropriate ground before and after the match to carry the crowds. I'd love to know who pays for it, because it's certainly not done for the fare-payers! Anyway, trams run out of service from the depot to the run and out of service when returning to the depot. This can often upset plenty of people, especially those who happen to forget that it is a religion in this city. My tram's been kicked, I've been spat at and my parents marriage status questioned, all for the sake of carting around yobbos, some of which barrack for Collingwood. While you might see hundreds of trams on short runs, the usual service still runs. However, like Punt Rd, don't expect it to be immune from the masses.

8. Multiple Lines
On some routes, numerous tram lines run. Think St Kilda Rd heading away from the city, for example. If a tram is running late on a line shared with others, it's unreasonable to expect each and every tram to stop for each and every passenger. That's why intending passengers need to signal. But what about blind people? Any decently trained driver will be able to recognise somebody whose vision is impaired, and that's not just keeping an eye out for dogs or canes. A good driver will slow down, sound the gong, and stop if somebody signals. If nobody signals or there's an absence of body language (not picking up your bag does tend to send me a signal), why should we stop everyone on the tram from getting home?

9. No Room At The Inn
On occasion, usually during the peaks, trams get so full that people can't get on. Yes, it sucks, but when this happens we end up running later and later, pissing more and more people off. If it gets to this point, and we stop for more people, it often wastes more and more time as you run from door to door looking for room that simply isn't there. Under certain conditions, full trams can leave passengers behind at the stop (as long as there's another following). Drivers are supposed to clearly signal that there's a tram not far behind. 

I never feel great about leaving people behind. Never. Why? Because I've had the chance to change someone's opinion about public transport and to do something good. That might be their last straw, and the next day they might be that dickhead who's driving their car in the tram lane. In all my years as a driver, I've never enjoyed it because like passengers, we're humans. Yes, there are some bad eggs who will scrub stops to make up time, but these ones cheat us both:
a) Rostering looks at the run times and notices that trams can make it through this section at this time taking less time than usual. So they cut time. Yay.
b) The passenger may well let the next driver have it, as though we're all connected. 
If you have any dramas with any drivers, don't hesitate to report them. Take the time, location, tram route, destination, tram number, that sort of thing. Yarra Trams is obliged to follow complaints up and I've had a few over time (Dickheads who run in front of the tram mostly). We have some bastards who need to be kept honest. Every time we get notices around the depots about customer complaints, they always proudly point out that a majority of complaints are caused by the same few drivers. They never seem to do anything about them though...
Maintain the rage against shit Tram Drivers though!

Anyway, if you're enjoying this stuff let me know. I need inspiration though, so if you can come up with any issues you want exploring, drop me a note here or hit me up on twitter (@melbtramdriver).