This morning I stood at the bus stop with the usual suspects waiting for the pre-dawn express bus to Palo Alto. It was five minutes late. We watched in amazement as the express bus drove past us across the street, coming from the opposite direction for the afternoon route. Before the bus could finish turning right on to Southwest Expressway to enter the loop-de-loop at Meridian Avenue and the 280, someone had the VTA customer service number on speed dial and started talking to a customer rep. We shook our heads. This isn’t the first time we had to coach the bus drivers on their new routes.
The Valley Transit Authority (VTA) in Silicon Valley rotates the drivers among the different routes every March and September. This week, the second full week of April and six weeks after the last rotation, some schedules got tweaked and new drivers started on the routes to my tech job in Palo Alto.
The local bus I take to pick up the express bus arrived two minutes earlier on the revised schedule, which meant I had to get out of my apartment five minutes earlier. Some drivers will arrive a few minutes earlier to avoid getting stuck behind the lights at the light rail crossing or take a break at the 7-11 at the next stop. New drivers on new routes are an unpredictable bunch, especially when sticking to the schedule.
The express bus tried to pick us again. Now ten minutes late. The driver probably had to go back out on southbound 280, swung up and around on Bird Avenue, and came back on northbound 280. Still coming from the opposite direction by taking the Meridian Avenue exit instead of continuing on to Southwest Expressway. The onboard GPS should have given the driver precise directions for getting to this particular bus stop. If the driver is early or late, the GPS gives them a notification. The GPS either not worked or this driver ignored it.
The person on call to customer service got patched through to the driver over the radio. “You stay on that side,” he told the driver, pointing at the other side of the street. “We’re crossing over.”
A half-dozen of us ran across the empty lanes like East Berliners trying to cross the kill zone to West Berlin. The express bus veered across the lanes as if the driver was going to pick us up in the middle of the street, make a U-turn to pick us up from the other side, or just run us over for shakes and giggles. Some of us stopped in the middle lane to make sure that the express bus did stop before we cross over the last lane. We stepped aboard as if we were right on schedule.
Like most bus drivers running late, this driver put the pedal to the metal once we hit the freeway. When we quickly came upon the Page Mill Road exit, and still in the fast lane, people in the back of the bus started shouting directions. We cut through three lanes of traffic in a heartbeat. Once we were on Page Mill Road, the driver remembered the rest of his route. I arrived at my next bus stop to pick up the local bus with a few minutes to spare. Not surprisingly, a new driver learning the route with some coaching from the passengers.