I'm late getting this to you, the gentle readers, but I wanted to let you know about an incident that occured on the Fourth of July in Fort Worth. Officials with the Fort Worth Transportation Authority say they have counseled the driver for not being more courteous and helpful in this situation:
For now, we don't have a larger story planned on this. However, a lack of friendliness and customer service attitude by some (not all) T drivers is a common source of complaints in the Fort Worth area. So we're always interested in hearing about these stories and monitoring how the T relates to customers.
So what happened is, on Monday the 4th long-time Fort Worth resident Melannie Marley, her husband and two young children decided to catch a bus to the Stockyards for some holiday fun.
"We certainly could have just driven down to the Stockyards ourselves," Marley said. "However, we wanted to avoid traffic and the hassle of finding a parking space. Also, we thought a short bus ride would be fun and a new experience for our children. We were wrong."
Not being regular riders, the family didn't realize that on holidays the T and other public transportation agencies dramatically scale back service, because so few commuters and other everyday riders are on the streets. So that day, the family arrived at the station at 10:15 a.m. to catch a bus on Route 1, which normally runs about every 10 minutes -- but on this day the bus didn't arrive until 10:40 a.m.
"When we boarded the bus, my husband pulled out a $20 bill to pay for our fare," Marley said. "The driver informed him that the machine would not provide him change for his $20. My husband asked if he could go and get change. The driver informed him he could and pointed him in the direction of the ticket office. We all got off the bus. I waited at the loading station with 9-month-old, while my husband took our 2-year-old in search of change. When my husband entered the building, the bus driver began to slowly drive away. I was immediatly confused, the driver was the one who told my husband he could go and get change - now he was leaving? The door to the bus was still open, and I asked him if was leaving. He informed me he had a schedule to keep and that he would be back in another 30 minutes. I asked him if he could not wait the two minutes it would take for my husband to return with the change. The bus driver declared he could not. I was shocked. I told him we had already waited a good amount of time, that it was hot, and we only wanted to drive down to the Stockyards with our family. The driver was unsympathetic. When he began again to drive off I said, 'So you are going to leave me here in the heat with a baby?' The driver promptly shut the doors and drove off. My husband and I loaded our family into our vehicle and went to the Stockyards anyway, trying to forget the awful start of our day."
Marley, a 26-year resident of Fort Worth, says she'll never try the T again. T officials said they contacted Marley to apologize, and to offer free tickets for a future ride on public transportation anywhere in the region.
I've talked to drivers in the past, and I know they sometimes have a delicate balancing act in serving as customer service reps for the city, while also trying to haul large numbers of people -- many of them beaten down by their daily lives -- from one bus stop to another. But in this case, it seemed to me like the bus driver could have recognized that this was a group of bus-riding newbies who needed a break, and could have offered them a free ride to the Stockyards if they agreed to go into one of the shops up there and get change for the $20.
Marley said she wasn't sure if anybody else was on board the bus, but didn't see anybody. If nobody else was aboard, then there was no risk of offending other riders by giving this family a free ride.
On the other hand, I can understand why a bus rider wouldn't want to risk getting fired for offering someone a free ride. Where would that policy stop? Would it be okay, for example, to offer a ride to someone who was unkempt but obviously walking around hungry and cold on East Lancaster Avenue?
I talked this over with Joan Hunter, the communications officer at the T, and after consulting with superiors she explained that the drivers do have jurisdiction to make some judgment calls like this in the field, and some are better at it than others.
At the very least, it seems, the driver could have called a supervisor on a less-than-busy holiday and asked the supervisor to come over to the downtown Fort Worth transit station and talk with the family. That gesture alone might have prevented the public complaint about the situation.
-- Gordon Dickson, [email protected]