Friday, July 22, 2011

Fare-Well to a Swift Original

More than 1 million people have boarded Swift since the service started in November 2009. Joyce Dews has talked to thousands of them as one of three people filling the job of Swift Ambassador.
Swift riders may not know her name, but they do know her trademark red hair. Even when she goes to the grocery store or visits a car dealership, people recognize her as “the bus lady.”

When she boards a Swift bus, some people – those who failed to pay their fare – jump off. “They all act like they’ve got somewhere important to go,” she explains. Ambassadors and Snohomish County Sheriff’s Deputies have worked together to issue hundreds of $124 tickets to non-paying riders so far this year.

A 60-something grandmother in real-life, Joyce is also the “mom” of Swift, the one who tells people not to eat on board, not to cuss, and to clean up after themselves.

The Ambassadors always start with a friendly, educational approach to customers. They’re happy to answer questions, and willing to help people who didn’t know about paying in advance buy a bus ticket at the next station.

“You have to decide what kind of man you want to be,” she told one young fare-evader. “One with integrity, or one who doesn’t pay their fair share to keep the buses on the road.” Now, whenever he sees her, he promptly displays his ticket.

At first, Joyce expected that some of the people who board Swift without paying must do so because they can’t afford the bus fare. She has found that is rarely the case. When she de-boards with a non-paying customer to help them pay their fare, they often pull out pocketful of cash. One man had an ORCA card with $122 loaded on it – which he’d never, ever tapped.

Most Swift riders appreciate the fare enforcement. With the clean and modern Swift stations, roomy buses and high expectations for passenger conduct, “We’re changing people’s perception of public transportation,” Joyce says.

Joyce’s perceptions have changed as well. She didn’t realize walking and standing on a moving bus all day would be such a physical job. She’s never worked at a company where her fellow employees and managers were so universally nice. And she’s realized that even though she may appear tough on the outside, sometimes people’s hard-luck stories do get to her.

As for the misperception that Swift buses drive around empty, Joyce shares these statistics. At first, she checked 80 people a day to confirm fare payment. By the first anniversary, it was 200 people. In recent weeks, she had several days with more than 300 people checked in a 7-hour shift (that’s 42 people an hour on one bus).

Joyce retires this month to become a stay-at-home grandma for her daughter’s two young children. But since she lives in Lynnwood, you still might see her on Swift.

“I might come out on my own time and see if people jump off,” she laughs.

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