The upper hand

A transit driver proves who’s boss

Three obnoxious teenage males were standing at the back of a nearly-empty bus one evening in a major U.S. city. They were yelling and cursing, mocking the bus driver, who’d been instructing them to take their seats because the bus was moving. The teens clearly thought themselves much too cool to follow a lowly transit driver’s orders to sit.

Of course, people stand on city buses all the time during rush hour, when seats are unavailable. But it was after 9:30 p.m. and, with few passengers on this trip downtown, the hapless driver cited transit authority policy requiring riders to sit when possible.

One other passenger and I sat up front on this otherwise-empty bus as the huge vehicle approached a series of freeway flyovers and underpasses — the next stop was many blocks ahead. “Hold on, you guys,” said the driver quietly, addressing me and the other politely behaving passenger. The driver gradually increased the bus’ speed to nearly 50 m.p.h., deftly navigating a curved underpass before straightening the bus out and locking the brakes up.

As the bus skidded to a very short stop, a twisted heap of panicked teenagers slid from the back of the bus all the way to the front, where they slammed into the steel farebox. In the days before widespread transit cameras and vehicle data recorders, drivers could occasionally use creative solutions to deal with unruly passengers.

“Man, I barely missed that cat!” exclaimed the driver. “You guys gonna sit now?”

A yes or two was muttered as the teens untangled themselves and stood, trying unsuccessfully to wipe filthy black streaks of urban-bus-floor-grime from their previously spotless clothes. Wherever they’d been headed, they were now going to arrive looking decidedly less cool than if they’d just taken their seats.


Photograph © Alexander Popov via Unsplash

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