11/08/2011 02:48 EST | Updated 01/08/2012 05:12 EST

We Expect and Deserve Better From Our Bus Drivers


Another day, another public transit official caught on camera acting like a boor, this time in Ottawa. A self-described "mildly autistic" student was cursed out and threatened, and ultimately forced to exit the vehicle, by a bus driver. The crime? According to the student, he was reading aloud from a script of his own writing that contained "inappropriate language."

Let's suppose for a moment that the driver was angered by whatever language was in that script. If that were the case, the driver's obscenity-laced response -- "Shut your ignorant f---king cake-hole! Don't say another f---king word!" -- would hardly be a sensible approach. So that can't be the reason behind this ugly tirade.

Which leaves only one real explanation -- the obvious one. This bus driver was in a bad mood. He was having a bad day, perhaps a bad week or a bad year. We all know how that feels -- how one thing piles on top of another, and before we know it, we've reached the boiling pot. Anger, anxiety, pain must be released and we lash out at whatever, or whomever, has the unfortunate luck of crossing our path. We've all been there.

Does that make the driver's actions excusable? No, for one simple but essential reason: he's a public servant.

This unfortunate passenger specifically, and all OC Transpo passengers in general, employ this driver. They pay the taxes that fund Ottawa's transit system. You don't swear at, and threaten bodily harm upon, your boss (at least not to his or her face). That kind of behaviour would get each and every one of us fired -- deservedly -- in an instant.

We pay public servants, bus drivers included, fairly well. And we offer them good pensions and benefits -- perks that are quickly disappearing in the private sector. In return we expect employees at publicly funded institutions to represent us well, and to serve with dignity. Seems like a pretty good deal, no?

The recent spate of public transit employees behaving badly in Toronto and now Ottawa -- drivers treating passengers like trash, fare collectors sleeping on the job, drunk bus drivers -- points to an alarming disconnect between public servants and the public. These lurid displays suggest a developing low-grade anarchy at our public institutions, where workers have thrown accountability out the window. This trend, should it be allowed to continue without swift and strong punishment, will spread to other municipal provincial and federal bodies.

We rely on public workers to guide us through so many aspects of our lives -- including getting us from one place to another and back again. Their responsibilities, banal as they might sometimes seem, are essential to a working, peaceful, supportive society. All public servants would do well to remember this critical core of their jobs before unloading on some poor person who happens to be in the wrong place and the wrong time.