I think we can all agree that communication is not DeCamp's strong suit. Company-customer, driver-customer, driver-driver -- DeCamp sucks at all of them. There's no reason why that should be, of course, other than this: as a company, they don't care enough to communicate well. That's it. It's not for lack of proper technology or the funds to invest. DeCamp could start communicating better, be more transparent, today, with zero investment beyond what they're already spending. If they wanted to.
This morning, my (late) bus made its way down Mt. Hebron toward Grove. As our driver slowed at Park Street, we could see the entrance to Grove was blocked off for tree trimming or road construction or PSE&G repairs or whatever. We paused for a bit, the driver pondering his next steps. Then we turned on Park, made our way sloooowly down that lovely avenue, and turned left on Haddon Place. Once on Grove, we headed back toward Mt. Hebron and, beyond, the Rte. 3 on-ramp...only to find it wasn't just the Mt. Hebron-Grove intersection blocked off. It was all of Grove Street beyond Mt. Hebron.
So we turned back up Mt. Hebron -- chugging, chugging, seemingly almost stalling at one point -- to Valley, where we made a right and eventually -- a half-hour from the time I was picked up -- joined Rte. 3.
Why was our driver clueless about the disruption on Grove? Why did DeCamp's dispatchers not know about it? (I'm assuming they didn't know, though perhaps I shouldn't make that assumption.) Why didn't another driver radio ahead -- to the office, to the other drivers -- to let everyone know what was going on?
Oh, and did I mention the bus was SRO:
This morning, that was my driver's answer to my question: "Why wasn't there a bus by here for over an hour and a half?" I don't know what that means. Adapting to what? His new dosage?
After a relatively uneventful summer, DeCamp was back to its old form this morning: long delays, overcrowding, no explanations. I'm sure something happened somewhere to cause the backup, but lacking any information from DeCamp, I'm left to guess. Or to assume the worst.
Traffic is traffic, I know. There's not much you can do about that. But you can update people. Tell them what the fuck is going on every now and then. Try it sometime, People of DeCamp. I think you'll find the response to be appreciative.
And just a reminder: after announcing them in May of 2008, you have yet to provide functioning text alerts or an email newsletter. I know because I was one of the suckers who signed up for both.
Overheard last night on the 9:30 66 departing Port Authority, as the bus entered the tunnel:
66 PASSENGER: Turn on the reading lights, please?
DRIVER: They're on.
PASSENGER: Um, there are about 10 rows back here with no lights on.
DRIVER: If you don't see 'em on, they must not be working.
PASSENGER: Can you check the switches or something?
DRIVER: There's one switch that controls them all. It's on.
PASSENGER: Can you please just try?
DRIVER: (Verbally shrugging shoulders) OK, you got it.
[Driver flips switch. Reading lights in back go on.]
PASSENGER: There! That worked! They're on.
DRIVER: Well, that was just a test....
PASSENGER: Wait, what...?
[Driver flips switch again. Reading lights in back go dark.]
PASSENGER: Uh, can you just turn on the big overhead light?
[Turns on overhead light.]
This morning my bus picked me up about 25 minutes late. The reason? "An error on my part," the driver later told us as part of a gracious apology delivered over the loudspeaker. "I misread the schedule."
The candor of that admission was almost enough to make me overlook its absurdity.
He could have told us anything, and we would have accepted it. He could have made something up, which is what they do back at the office when you call DeCamp for info. ("The leprechauns stole all of the spark plugs...again!") But he didn't.
I appreciate the honesty.
Last night I saw something you rarely see: a DeCamp driver too stunned to take full advantage of an opportunity to be rude to a customer.
A soft-spoken young man, clearly not at ease with the English language, boards the 66 at Port Authority. He's trying to communicate something to the driver, but it's not getting across. I hear the would-be rider say something about "my first time." The script starts to play out as it always does in these situations. The driver's voice rises until he is bellowing at the guy: "Where are you going! WHERE ARE YOU GOING!" as if through sheer volume he's going to break through all barriers of language and culture that separate them. Giving up hope of ever getting through to the guy, or perhaps just tired of shouting, the driver, supremely annoyed, calls out to the rest of the bus, "Can someone please sell this gentleman a ticket?" and pulls back from the gate.
Multiple people offer to sell the guy a ticket. Various exchanges follow. But somehow the transaction is not completed. He's wandering the aisle, proffering his money to anyone who will acknowledge him, even as the bus careers into the tunnel. Finally the driver yells, "What's going on? WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM, MAN?"
A passenger, not the man in question, replies, "He needs change." Driver: "Change?" Passenger: "Uh, for a hundred-dollar bill."
At this point I'm expecting the driver to slam on the brakes and throw the guy out a window, but something odd happens. The driver sputters. He stammers. He stutters. I imagine little flecks of spit forming on the windshield. He is so astonished by this guy's colossal ignorance--innocent ignorance, to be sure, but ignorance nonetheless; I mean, people just don't do this sort of thing on a DeCamp bus--that he cannot get out whatever insult or expletive that is caroming around his mouth. His speech has been rendered as useless as that of the bewildered foreigner.
At last, the driver heaves a big sigh, as if to say, "I'm done. I don't care anymore what happens here." Someone gives the guy a ticket, free. Everyone's relieved. And then foreign guy makes his way to the last unoccupied seat on the bus--only to find it occupied by a giant suitcase whose owner is unwilling to move it.
It's cold. You're standing outside in a light rain, waiting for your bus, which is 10, 15, 35 minutes late. Finally it comes, and as it approaches your stop, you scramble to produce your ticket, juggling a bag or two, your gloves and wallet. You find the ticket, but your accoutrements outnumber the hands you have available to hold them. What would be the harm, you think, in sticking the ticket in your mouth -- just for a second! -- until you can get your wallet back in your pocket and your gloves on your hands? Think again.
Here is a cautionary tale, from the Montclair Watercooler:
I was once guilty of gumming my ticket before handing it to the driver. I did it reflexively as I rushed to compose myself, fearful of holding up the line behind me and earning a scolding from the driver. Well, the driver scolded me anyway -- for my lack of hygiene. Unlike what the poor bastard above experienced, my driver took my ticket, but as he did so, he lectured me as if I were a three-year-old. After my initial fury at this condescension had passed, I felt sympathy for my driver. He was right, his utter tactlessness notwithstanding. Nary a DeCamp ticket has passed my lips since that morning.
I see both sides of the issue: Drivers shouldn't have to handle spit-soaked tickets. It's unsanitary and just plain gross. Riders shouldn't have to deal with those ridiculous county-fair-style ticket books. (A monthly pass, anyone? A swipe card? These are not exactly radical inventions at this point.) And they don't deserve to be verbally spanked over such a mild offense, much less hauled off by the police.