Mukhtar’s Birthday

Post by Steven Dale

This is one of the most inspiring transit-related videos I’ve come across in a while. Mukhtar is a bus driver in Cophenhagen, Denmark. On May 5th, his riders decided to celebrate his birthday for him:

A few observations:

  • The bus has free wi-fi (0:13).
  • The trumpet player and his posse do not seem to pay any fare or show any identification (0:18). This suggests some kind of single-fare zone, free zone or transfer free system.
  • No one appears concerned that the bus is going to be behind schedule due to this birthday celebration. (With the possible exception of the guy in the sunglasses at 1:39.)
  • The bus seats look amazingly comfortable.
  • The bus is clean. Notice how the seats even have those velcro fabric sheets to keep head grease (let’s pretend that’s the term for it) of the head rests.
  • The bus is operating in its own lane (1:50).
  • The “protest” at the end of the video is treated with a sort of calm understanding that this sort of thing happens all the time.
  • There is no glass or plastic enclosure in the driver’s set to “protect” Mukhtar or any other bus drivers.
  • Mukhtar’s uniform is clean.
  • In order to execute this maneuver, the protestors (2:00) would have to be able to rely on Mukhtar adhering to a pretty strict schedule.

You can obsess about the big issues and miss all the little details. And the devil – as they say – is in the details. Get all the little details right, and public transit can be useful, enjoyable and uplifting.

But before we can get to that point, transit operators have to admit that little details matter.

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  1. Contrast that with my two experiences with Toronto's TTC. In the first, a bus I had been following stopped to discharge passengers. I noticed a rather portly lady with two full shopping bags waddling towards the front door. Just as she got to there, the bus roars off, leaving her in a cloud of diesel. By his side mirror, I could see him watching her. My instant guess was that here was a guy who would also deliberately drive through puddles to splash people on the sidewalk. At the next stop, I pulled in front of the bus and backed up so it couldn't move. I got out and accosted him. “You didn't see that old lady at that last stop...?!” “What lady....I never even saw her!” He refused to identify himself and my letter of complaint went unanswered. My second experience was a bit more drawn out, this involving a subway driver. I had been assisting two little old ladies board the subway. They got on, but when I tried to follow, the doors suddenly closed right in my face. I had the presence of mind to stick my foot out, and after the doors bumped back and forth a few times, they opened and I stepped on - to a stern Scottish brogue barking over the PA, “You can't hold up the train!” Feeling that this particularly rude display was grounds for another “letter” (I'm like that), I stayed to the end of the line, my plan being to identify the driver and get on my way. As the driver was walking to the opposite end of the train for the return journey, he obviously recognized me, and before I could say a word, delivered the same terse, “You can't hold up the train!” The smirk showed that this was another guy who rather enjoyed his job. When I asked him to identify himself, he pointed to the number of the train and kept walking. Fortuitously, I had my camcorder with me and pulled it out, and again asked him to ID himself. Without another word, he walked to the station's panic phone, picked it up and started talking. Seconds latter, a buzzer sounded and an officious-sounding voice echoed that the system was being shut down “for security reasons”. It took a second or so to realize that little innocent I was that "security reason". Sensing that it might be a good idea to stick around, I sat down on a bench, but kept the camcorder rolling. About a minute later, sirens. Not siren, sirens. And tires screeching to a stop outside the station, doors slamming, the sound of running footsteps. Seconds later, I'm surrounded by 5 breathless transit Keystone Kops each screaming at me about one thing or other and all demanding that I shut off my camcorder, which I had now raised above my head. When hands reached out to stop my filming, my tersely worded “Don't touch the camera!' seemed to hold them at bay. They retreated to huddle with the driver. I was now approached by a Uniform with “Supervisor” pinned to his shirt. I asked if it were actually necessary to shut down the entire system. He said 'Yes'. I then asked if the driver couldn't just get back on the train so the system could get back up and running. “No, you have to leave.” “Can I get my token back?” “Leave. Now”. I left. TTC's Customer Relations 'investigated' my complaint and concluded that I had been "disruptive" and that their personnel "acted appropriately". I took it through several other stages, ending with the Chairman's office, but same reply. Okay, you wanna play, let's play. They repeated their fabrications in the small claims court hearing (yes, I sued the bastards), and even after I played the video, their lawyer tried to argue that I had edited out the parts that showed that I had been, as claimed, disruptive. I easily countered by showing the date and time stamp indelibly imprinted on every frame. Needless to say, the judge was not impressed with their antics. Of course, had I not been toting my camcorder or had the presence of mind to turn it on – and leave it on throughout – I just might have landed in jail. Their word against mine. Except I was armed. With a camcorder. What this really shows is the contempt that some, perhaps many, North American transit drivers have towards their customers and how, when put to the test, their superiors will do whatever it takes to cover and protect. How refreshing, then, to learn that the driver in your piece was a different breed, my guess being that in that system, he was not an anomaly. I have no idea how much this farce cost TTC's riders when it shut down its entire subway system for those 20 minutes, but I do know that someone walked out of that courtroom with $2,600 and one shiny new token. Priceless. The question that I still ask is “Did they learn anything from it?” That was one of my last rides on the TTC, so I don't know, but since the settlement stipulated “no contact with media”, my guess is that they didn't. How fortunate that the camera doesn't lie. Just ask Rodney King. And what a relief to learn that in some parts of the world, transit systems are both efficient and friendly. And clean. Bruff
  2. Scott Schumacher
    What a great video! I hope that it goes viral! I also noticed that every seat had a bar to hold onto, and its own STOP button on the bar (no yanking the string at the window). At 1:56 you can make out a sign in the upper right along the road and see that automobiles and motorcycles are prohibited from this bus and bikeway! Plus, they can all sing on pitch and maintain it for many verses! :)
  3. Stefan Ertmann
    ad2) We do have a zone system, he is punching a "klippekort" beneath the image (you can hear the sound). They are located in waste height right at the entrance - looks like this: http://www.petersbusside.dk/billeder/811_1164.JPG ad5) Those velcro thingies are a new invention, and definately not standard yet. ad7) If you know Copenhagen, which I suspect most of the target audience does. This street is one of the most likely places in the city for protests to take place - which does happen quite frequently. Otherwise you're about right
  4. I love how we have the "hooks" to older posts. I'd forgotten about this great video. It's amazing on so many levels as is your noticing the many, many things about the driver, his concern for his passengers is clearly on his face when the trumpeter gets on and starts doing his "thing." Great comments as well.

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