Thursday, 29 November 2012

I Love The Way They Laugh

I'm a big fan of kids. For whatever reason, I seem to relate to kids better than I do adults. There's no politics with kids, no real expectations, and a smiling face still means something to them. I have kids of my own that are growing up way too quickly. We used to go to Cosmic Adventures together, wearing those too-thin dirty blue kneepads and run around like idiots while laughing, jumping, and sliding down any obstacle we could find. I was that dad that always seemed to wind up with 10 kids following him around. I'd wind up shucking half of them off my leg like snow pants as I tried to get away for a few minutes to pretend to be an adult for a minute or two. Now I'm knee deep in teenager problems and report cards.

A few years back I was driving the number 1 route on a daily basis. Traffic is thick along that stretch of Bank street north of Catherine, and I'd usually wind up stuck sitting for long stretches between lights. I had the usual regulars, mostly suits and sunglasses, and the occasional Starbucks employee or two. It was a boring morning run. Stuffy. Slow. Always late.

Every once in awhile, this daycare would get on. Two smiling ladies dressed like The Glebe in teachers' garb, yanking with them a knotted rope that tugged a gaggle of kids along like one of those chains you use when you catch a pile of fish and want to keep them in the water while you finish the beer and conversation with your buddies on the dock.

These kids would trot in, each face lit up and smiling with the glee of riding a bus. Kids usually make eye contact, and I would smile back like I was a fireman or a police officer. Kids love bus drivers and they could care less about the difference. Funny how riding a bus as a kid is a complete and total win, while riding a bus as an adult is something completely different. But I digress.

Stuck in traffic, and having not moved for awhile, one of these daycare sweeties had a brilliant idea. And so began the first few bars of "The Wheels on the Bus". As the other kids joined in, the chorus grew a bit louder, but not obnoxious. I laughed a bit as the song referred to the people going "Up and Down!", as Bank Street certainly can do that if the speed would just pick up a bit.  I mouthed the words "Move on Back!" silently as the song progressed to the part about me and my role as a Steering Wheel Placement Technician. Then I had an epiphany.

As the song moved to "The horn on the bus goes Beep! Beep! Beep!", I honked the bus's horn three times. At first, the kids didn't quite realize what had just happened. The horn had clearly sounded in time with the song, but was that a figment of our imagination? Did that really happen? That has never happened before in the history of Wheels on the Bus. Luckily, the horn goes Beep! Beep! Beep! nine times in the first segment of the chorus, then the horn on the bus goes Beep! Beep! Beep! nine times again mere seconds later to confirm our suspicions.

Two of the kids had clearly caught it, and began laughing hysterically. Although the lyric had run its course, the laughter lasted well beyond, and the daycare workers were explaining to the rest of the troupe that the horn had indeed gone Beep! Beep! Beep!. It was suggested by a small voice that the lyric be tested again to make sure it works, with the response from the collective that "Okay, YOU do it!".

One small voice began to test the lyric out. She sang the lyric more as a question than a melody, and as she hit the payload trigger word, I blasted the horn as the bus exploded with laughter. .What happened next I'm not sure I can adequately put into words. We began a run of 25 consecutive verses of "The Horn on the Bus goes Beep! Beep Beep!", and a good 5 minute run of tears streaming down our faces at the sheer joy of 4 year olds laughing until they nearly peed themselves. Even the suits were laughing.

Each person that exited the bus thereafter did so by the front door, and said thanks for the laugh.

Now the car in front of me may have had a different opinion, as he was certainly puzzled at the idiot bus driver who was behind him honking despite the clear fact that we were all stuck in the same traffic jam. But to be honest, if he had taken the bus instead of the car, he would have had one of those moments he would never have forgotten.

With all of us, and the simple joy of laughter.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

The Problem With Opinions

After I wrote about the problems with those three double decker buses, an interesting thing happened.

The reason I posted the original information about the fumes problem was not some kind of rantful company slam. If you have been reading this blog, you'll notice that's just not my style. I don't publish this to embarrass anyone, or break news to the public.

There is a faction of drivers that I like to call the Garage Lawyers. We have these types of people in every profession. You know the guy. He has all the answers, and he's an expert in what the company should do in every situation. In some cases, he's so jaded against the company, that every incident becomes a reason why the company is trying to screw the worker. Everything is an injustice to him. Hell in a handbasket is his motto.

I received one of those letters on Friday night, via the blog. It was explained to me that my blog was the catalyst for great change at OC Transpo, and that the company would have "let someone die" before they did anything if I hadn't have wrote what I did.


The company had been in contact with Alexander Dennis long before the blog was published. The investigation into a driver's sickness began as soon as the connection was made between fumes and his illness.

I know that people getting sick seems like a slam dunk in terms of cause and effect, but consider the obvious here. Fumes can be a problem on any bus. All it takes is for a mechanic to screw the rubber seal improperly on an access panel on the 4200's, or not replace the grommet properly under the rear seat of a 6000 series. An exhaust gasket can fail at any time due to wear and tear. An improperly seated turbo hose can force exhaust straight into the engine compartment. Who hasn't seen the white smoke billowing out of the top of an articulated bus on the opposite side of the exhaust stack? It happens all the time.

Now I ask the letter writer... is that the Ivory Tower trying to screw you? Or is that the product of regular everyday errors made by mechanics (as mechanics will do in every garage in every city), and the normal cycle of wear and tear? We don't fix things when they are not broken. So when they break, don't tell me there's an evil plot here.

When I published a blog entry centering around fumes in buses and how to recognize the effects of carbon monoxide, I never meant to enable the Garage Lawyers. So stop sending me your letters. I will not publish your rants. I will not "use my media contacts" (whatever the hell that means, as if the media gives a shit about a bus driver's blog) to get your twisted message out.

I wrote that entry because a driver drove a fume filled bus long enough to reach the advanced stages of carbon monoxide poisoning. That really bothers me. That really alarms me. That driver likely took comfort in the fact that the bus was so new, the same way we all do in a new car.

"How can this be unsafe? It's new!"

And yet he drove for hours, likely progressing from happy and healthy to feeling a little off, then feeling slightly more terrible, then bad enough to start vomiting... and how many other drivers might do the same? I write this blog from the driver's seat. My perspective. Issues like this directly affect me. I'm still driving the double deckers. They are good buses. I'm no more leery of those buses than I am of every bus, because I know the vehicles. I am a professional, and that is my job.

So read the original post again, Garage Lawyer. Take the advice within it. It came from my doctor.

But save your soapbox to pack your things in when someone actually publishes your rants.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Double Decker Two Tiered Solution

The double decker fumes problem seems to have been tracked down. It took a little nudging from city council, and a great manager at OC Transpo, but Alexander Dennis is going to fix the problem.

I just received an email (via this blog) from the city explaining the problem, and the solution to it.

Cause of incident:  Failure of gasket seals on engine exhaust manifold that occurred during extreme operating temperatures during emissions control regeneration process. 

Corrective action, interim measure; disable engine REGEN function.  Permanent solution; replace all gasket seals on the engine exhaust manifold. 

Repairs to be completed by 19 Nov 2012. 

Now it needs to be stated that this is not a widespread problem requiring massive overhaul of the entire fleet complete with a judicial inquiry. A few operators complained about brand new vehicles, a very common occurrence. New vehicles have glitches. This is not just common, it is expected.

To be perfectly honest, I had expected the source of fumes to be more along the lines of off-gassing of curing paints and plastics that new buses are commonly plagued with than exhaust fumes. Sensitivities are often high with the results of fast-curing paints and plastics. The "New Bus Smell" is quite bothersome after a few hours.

I must say that I am quite pleased with the city's response, and the action taken to identify and rectify a problem that may have gone overlooked in the same way that this problem has been overlooked in other cities.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

New Double Deckers, Sick Drivers?

This post is for drivers.

The fleet of new double deckers is arriving en masse, and I'm receiving reports that a few drivers are getting sick while driving them. According to union sources, four drivers have complained of carbon monoxide poisoning type symptoms. The buses in question are 8009, 8029, and 8031. One driver in particular reported vomiting, and had blood levels four times higher than what is deemed "safe" according to the source.

Carbon monoxide poisoning occurs when carbon monoxide is inhaled. In a transit setting, this gas might be produced from unburned diesel fuel, or unburned auxiliary heater fuel that has found itself sucked into an opening by the convective forces of a warm bus and the rising warm air within it. The colourless, odourless gas, once inhaled, attaches itself to the haemoglobin in blood, blocking oxygen transportation throughout the body and causing major tissue damage throughout.

Signs of carbon monoxide poisoning are as follows:
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Headaches, often described as dull, frontal, and continuous
  • Nausea
  • Malaise and Fatigue
  • Depression
It is very important that you recognize and act upon these symptoms immediately if you suspect carbon monoxide on your bus.

Opening your window is not enough. If the source of the fumes is active, it will draw the deadly gas to you in the same way that perfume is drawn to you when Mary Kay gets on your bus with a half bottle of Channel poured all over her. A warm bus with an open window will draw air from the lowest pressured intake on the bus. If fumes are getting in, they will exit past your nose and out your window.

The above link is a recent example of how chronic exposure to carbon monoxide can kill an unsuspecting bus driver. While an example of a worst case scenario, it is non-fiction and relevant to a possible threat on these new buses.

Don't be a canary. Recognize the symptoms. Report it immediately. Seek medical attention if you suspect that your symptoms might be a product of carbon monoxide.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

What Is He Thinking?

You're pulling into Hurdman station on a 114 coming from Elmvale. It's morning. You have coffee in one hand, and a bag in the other. You can see through the front window that there's a 95 just pulling into the stop. You want that bus. It'd be so seamless if that 114 could get through this stop sign, pull up behind the 95, and you could hop on the rear doors and sit in the sideways-facing seat near the door. You know the seat, the one where most folks respect the personal space rule and allow two people to occupy three seats. You are going to make it. There is time. Look at all those people boarding that bus. No way you miss this.

The 114 pulls across the intersection with a rush, its silent hybrid motor giving a little extra push as the driver lets into the accelerator. But what the hell is this?  The driver of the 114 has stopped short! He's stopping in front of the Quickie! Plans foiled! Alert! Alert! You try to rush past the hoard that is now exiting the bus, but you can read the tea leaves. The 95 is not 60 feet away from you, and the people entering the 95 are swirling around in a circle and emptying from the platform into the bus like some kind of bizarro draining bathtub, until the door closes behind them with a whoosh and the sound of an air-brake releasing. The 95 steams off as you try to ascertain whether the bus driver can see you in the mirror, or maybe not just simply see you. You want him to feel what you feel.

You can see this drama play out a hundred times a day on any platform in the city. But what does it sound like from my side of the wheel? I'll give it a shot.

God it's busy today. I have no idea if the bus in front of me is missing, but I sat at St. Laurent station for an eternity. Every time I'd get the doors closing, someone was running down the stairs and this guy in the back was holding the door open for them. Next thing I know, I had a knocker at the front door who wanted information.

"When does the 101 come?"
I'm thinking "Holy crap... she thinks I know when every bus arrives at every stop in the city."
"A few minutes" I said.

By the time I finally got the doors closed, I was 3 minutes down. That'll be 10 minutes before I know it if I don't get the hammer down here. I rush the bus through to Train, and head west.

I get the bus into Hurdman station, and watch as my 60 foot bus goes on a 2500lb diet. The knot of people surrounding the doors has let out like marbles scattering from a dropped felt bag. Everyone rushing in every direction. The chaotic exodus becomes a rising tide as people start to stream back onto the bus. I watch the rear door in the internal mirror until I can see no one trying to step in. I flip the switch and note that I am now 4 minutes down, and heading to downtown. Once the doors close I look in my left side mirror. I have my signal on, and I'm trying to nose my way into the flow of traffic. I can't believe how busy Hurdman station is for traffic these days. You've really got to watch where you're going.

Perspective is a funny thing, isn't it?

Ask any passenger along Fisher avenue, and they'll tell you about "that time" the driver clearly saw them waving on the other side, but didn't stop.

Ask any driver who's spent quality time driving an 86, and they'll tell you about that time they stopped on Fisher for a passenger who was on the opposite side, only to have that passenger nearly get intimate with the bumper of a fast moving car that they didn't see in their myopic bus-flagging frenzy. It happens so often, it's scary.

Ask any passenger who has forgotten a bus pass and been denied entry, and they will tell you that drivers should use discretion, that some drivers are cool, and that they always pay.

Ask any driver on a main line bus how many times a day they've been told about a forgotten pass. Seven times today alone. I am not joking. One passenger got really personal with me. After being called a few names, I reminded her that I am also a lousy husband and a terrible father. This drew a few chuckles from my regular passengers.

I think drivers and passengers alike need to try to see things from both sides of the wheel. I don't know if that means town hall style meetings, or just better policies and schedules, but wouldn't transit be a better experience if drivers and passengers had a better understanding of each other's needs and pressures?

I think so.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012


David Reevely on Presto's launch, and its possible delays.

In reading this, I think he's right on target. The overwhelming response these days to a Presto card tap-on, at least on the buses I've been driving, is a happy green screen. The system seems to have made significant progress towards functionality.

I'm a little worried that the system is duping me, however. Without knowledge of the technical processes that make the screen flash a check mark and a happy green light, I've noticed a few things that I'm hoping will get sorted out before the launch goes supernova.

Quebec cards produce a green light. And Quebecers are tapping on regardless of what the drivers say to them. The requirement for STO customers is that they must show OC Transpo drivers their smart cards, with a proof of purchase voucher to validate their fare. As far as I know, Presto doesn't speak STO. Nor will STO readers speak Presto. Which is why I question whether the Presto readers are actually reading the bits and bytes of the cards, or simply flashing green when the introductory protocol of proximity chips shakes hands with the reader. What I'm getting at here is that I think the green light may have nothing to do with fare collection so much as it may simply be saying it has detected a card.

Regular fare Presto cards do not register with the driver's console. I was expecting a check mark of some sort to let the driver know whether or not the Presto card has successfully put money in the till. I hope that is not permanent. I cannot see the face of the reader from the driver's seat.

Other than that, the system seems to have found its legs.

One note to consider about the delay:

We are not simply talking technology with Presto. I would rather that the Commission take two years to get this right than roll out a half baked product that doesn't work properly.

This project is going to completely take over the collection of fares at OC Transpo. Presto will hold the entire user-fee bankroll within its coffers, and will be the lone fare box by which the city collects revenue from OC Transpo customers.

When you have one company that can put your entire revenue stream in jeopardy with even the slightest modicum of error, you had best be sure every T is crossed.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

One Year Later

"Thanks for not forgetting me, man."

A line taken from Kelly Egan's recent column on the so-called "Berating Bus Driver"

The 57 year old bus driver is struggling to reestablish himself as he approaches retirement age. Despite his own personal issues on that night, with his mom and ex wife passing away recently, and having been sent home 2 days earlier after a kid spat in his face over a fare dispute, The 25 year veteran lost his temper on another type of passenger, that well known confrontational type. The professional aggravator.

So one year later, thanks to Kelly Egan, we know what the fired bus driver is up to. His life in shambles, still fighting to be able to convert a 25 year career into a retirement income so that he doesn't have to wash dishes or guard buildings at 70 to make ends meet. Click the link above and read the column if you haven't already. Now that your temper's calmed down about him, do you still want the man fired outright? Would a suspension have been more appropriate? I think so. But then again, I knew the driver. I'm admittedly biased.

So what of the passenger? The victim of the tirade?

Still up to the same old stuff. Check out his YouTube Channels at

He's a pretty good actor as you can see from his videos. In a small space with good acoustics, I think he brings out a certain type of character that most people would really like to connect with. He has that perfect combination of vocal projection, voice changes, and random actions that you want in an actor, especially at night on a city bus.

Really brings out the emotion in you, doesn't it?

Sunday, 21 October 2012

You Don't Know Jack.

There are folks in this world that get a raw deal in life. Some are handed cards that that they fritter away in bouts of selfishness, some don't play the game enough to realize how great a hand they have to play, but some get a hand that is just downright lousy.

Meet Jack. Jack is a legendary passenger on OC Transpo. If you have driven the 2 route, or any route that chugs it's way around the Hintonberg or Mechanicsville area, you've likely run into Jack. He's the guy wearing the leather hat, smiling and friendly, and pushing his old bike everywhere he goes. Jack is a really nice guy to talk to, though many avoid Jack's sort of demeanour. He likely has a few slight mental issues, which might as well be a sign around his neck for most folks to pretend they don't see him. It's unfair the way folks look at him sometimes, but I guess that's life and it doesn't seem to bother him. Jack's great to everyone. I've often wondered if he's homeless and to be honest, I've never asked that question of him, only assumed.  I guess it doesn't matter though. Jack is good people. Down to earth, and nice.

Last night my friend Greg picked Jack up on his bus. Greg grew up around Mechanicsville, and has known Jack for many years. Like Jack, Greg is one of the good guys. Down to earth, approachable, the kind of driver we all like to see when the front door swings open. Having served Jack for years, Greg's built up the inevitable reparté that drivers build up with a regular like Jack. Something was a little different tonight, however.

"Hey Jack, where's your bike?"
"They stole it."
"Who stole it???"

Jack went on to explain that he put his bike on the rack of a crowded bus. He took a seat somewhere, and when he went to exit the bus, somebody had taken his bike off of the rack. Imagine for a second what Jack's bike might look like. This wasn't a Cannondale road bike with a trip computer and custom seat. It was a half broken down jalopy owned by a man whom most of us assume is homeless. Who on earth steals this kind of bike? It wasn't something you're looking to flip for a few bucks. It may have been worth the world to Jack, but it really wasn't worth Jack to the world.

Greg was angry.

Jack then told Greg that it wasn't the driver's fault, the bus was really full, and the driver could not have known.

Jack's compassion and understanding for a driver is inspiring. It really is amazing what we can learn about humanity from a person who spends much of his time wading through people who don't treat him like he is, in fact, human..

What is also really amazing to see what a few of my co-workers have done with this story.

It all started with Greg sharing the story on a local forum. Most of us know Jack, and we all know Greg. No less than twenty drivers began plotting to get Jack a new bike. But how? And What? It isn't just as simple as heading to Canadian Tire with the $200-$300 that these drivers have already pledged and buying him a brand new bike. Some big flashy new wheels will just get Jack a nice reason to worry about the next guy looking to steal his bike. These drivers surmised that he needs a bike to get around, but not something that will get him right back in the same predicament the next time he parks the bike somewhere.

Four or five drivers already had bikes to donate, and wanted Greg to give them an address to drop them off. It was almost like competitive donation planning, each driver wanting to be the one to help out the most. One driver won the sweepstakes by offering to donate an older Trek bicycle, with a good Kryptonite lock to help the man keep his bike where it belongs. You can't argue with Kryptonite. That stuff defeated Superman. The driver is going to drop the bike and lock off with Greg today, less that a day after Jack told Greg about his story.

Greg's told us that he plans to carry the bike around with him until he runs into Jack again, as Jack is a regular customer on Greg's line. I only wish I could be there to see Jack's face when he gets his new wheels, and the keys to his new lock.

I work with some pretty awesome people. Sometimes it takes a bad hand to realize that the hand you're holding is really pretty good.

And from the seat I'm sitting in, this city is all aces.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Your Accent Is Delicious!

I had one of those moments in time last week where I opened my browser, hit the "News" tab, and thought to myself: "How on earth could this possibly happen here?"

This is the Nation's Capital and our roads are worse than Quebec's. Yes, I just said this out loud, or rather, typed it where others can read it. When I was little, I can distinctly remember taking trips out east. New Brunswick, to be precise. With that trip always came a few common moments. We stopped at the same gas stations. We brought out the same chips and mock-chicken sandwiches. I usually slept on the deck of the rear window of my dad's Pontiac, right over the speakers where I could drape my head over the side of the seat look forward, or turn around and watch the pavement fall away behind the car. Upon approaching the Quebec border, you could count on two things: 1) We would all start a sentence in English, then finish it in French crossing the line laughing as if we'd never done this before, and 2) The road would go from Ontario's smooth asphalt symphony to the bouncing weather beaten corduroy of Quebec's budget cuts. Ottawa feels like Quebec did back then. So do the budget cuts.

Have we ever known the state of Ottawa's roads to be in worse condition than they are right now? I currently drive the 95 route up and down Ottawa's busiest route, and I honestly fear that the farebox might walk out the door one afternoon as I white-knuckle my way across this city. There has been no safe speed in the bus lanes along the 174 for almost a year now.

Last week JP Auger was driving along the 174 and fell into a sinkhole. This has been well publicized, so we all know the story. He didn't realize that it was a giant hole until it was too late. How bad are your roads that a man cannot distinguish between the garbage road behind him and the giant hole in front of him? If you have driven the 174 over this past summer, you would understand where I am going with this. The city made a series of pavement cuts from "The Split" at HWY 417 to just past Montreal road. One hundred and sixteen of them to be precise. They then patched these cuts, turning the 3km stretch of roadway into a wagon ride through a field. It is absolutely no wonder that Mr. Auger didn't notice the giant hole until the last second.

Now I won't blame a sinkhole on poor road maintenance. But I think the city's poor road maintenance played a huge role in Mr. Auger's entry into it. The city's poor planning is also a major factor in the gridlock. Had this happened in the city's west end, where the province maintains the Trans-Canada highway, the cars could be rerouted to the other side of the 8 lane highway that feeds Kanata.

Orleans however, even with it's similar-to-Kanata population,  is stuck with the city maintained cow-path (formerly a part of the Trans-Canada) called the 174. The road is absolutely atrocious, and the only detour route takes you to a poorly designed traffic circle. Hilarity ensues.

The east end is easily the worst prepared part of the city when a major traffic problem occurs because the city doesn't build roads out here the way the province does in the west. We get shafted in Orleans, plain and simple.

We cannot do anything about hindsight. So what do we do about this sinkhole situation?

For starters, try taking the bus. Yes, the OC Transpo bus. You're already reading a bus driver's blog, so get on the bus and talk to a bus driver. This is the ONLY other option you have to gridlock. It is your best option.  It'll save you a few hours of sitting on St. Joseph boulevard. Either way, here's a few things to do while waiting in the detoured traffic:

  • You could try to figure out how to move the sinkhole downtown, and let the LRT tunnel dig itself.
  • You could bring all of those leaflets that Royal Galipeau sent you a few months ago and throw them in the sinkhole. It's not like we've heard from our MP during this crisis. Can't expect his Action Plan to do anything for his riding, can we? Or Phil McNeeley while on the topic of politicians that should be doing something. It's a city matter, right clowns?
  • You could drive up to Anderson road and wait in that lineup instead.
  • You could read the @174sinkhole's twitter feed. It's sorta funny sometimes. Mostly bad taste "swallow" jokes and retweets, but we already knew it had bad taste. It ate a freaking Hyundai Accent, didn't it?
  • You could call that militant Francophone association that made the big stink about changing all signage from Orleans to Orléans. Just tell them a guy named JP Auger was stripped of his accent, and that when he came to, he insisted the JP stood for Juan Pedro. Sit back, and enjoy the feux d'artifice.
  • You could try to figure out what to do about Ottawa's newest environmental threat: the fact that every time it rains now highway traffic will flow directly into the Ottawa river, raising the E-Test-coli counts to levels that will shut down our public beaches.
  • You could just pretend you live in a city with real traffic problems, like say Toronto, where a two hour commute is considered to be a good drive home.
  • You could take the city's advice and have your employer let you out early, thereby staggering the leaving times for a better commute closer to noon than three o'clock. Or as Federal employees call it... "Friday".

Either way, good luck out there this week. I look forward to the reopening of the 174 as much as the rest of you. If not for the reduction in traffic and the return from detour hell, then for the Olympic pool sized patch of brand-spanking-new asphalt that east end residents are having installed. 

I'm going to slow right down as I approach that new patch of smooth asphalt heaven next week. I'll relive my childhood road trips for a few seconds, and as I drive back onto the old pavement, I'll put on an accent as I return grudgingly to the bumpy old 174.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Bon Service, Bad Service

The good news is: OC Transpo is doing a good job, and people seem to be happier. We had a record number of passenger rides last year, complaints are down, compliments are up, and we are on-time more often than ever. Pat on the back.

The bad news is: OC Transpo is doing a bad job, and people are "rattled" about service cuts. OC Transpo is "Going Downhill" according to the Sun's John Willing, and his interpretation of the same statistics listed in the Ottawa Citizen article. Now, kick in the pants.

Did you ever wonder why all the drivers look bewildered on a daily basis when reading the newspaper? We just can't figure out which newspaper is Jekyll and which newspaper is Hyde these days.

I must admit, we have been enjoying a bit of good? press these past few weeks.

John Willing says the buses are safer:

Managers are listening to your hashtagged tweets:

Complaints are down against drivers on phones:

Presto seems to be working, ummm, better?:

Underwhelming? You bet. Any compliment of the service usually seems a bit backhanded. But hey, that's about as good as it gets when talking transit. I mean, nobody ever writes about how great it is to take a bus, do they? I think the service is pretty damned good here in Ottawa. The problem with really discussing transit is the worldwide perception of taking a bus, and how that seems to sway your opinion of the service. We don't get excited about taking a bus. It is a slower version of taking a car. So why would we get excited? Talking transit is like talking garbage collection, or sidewalk paving.

Having said that, we sure do like to complain about it. Have a look at Hugh Adami's story about Marie Vavros and her ticket:

Now, I understand her frustration. I once received a ticket for failing to put the little validation sticker on the rear license plate of my car. I bought the sticker at a kiosk. I brought it home. I forgot about it. I got pulled over. I received a ticket. I was mad. I paid the ticket.

What I didn't do was raise a stink, because I realized that I was in the wrong. I had a task to do to validate my license plate. I didn't do it. End of story.

Look at the picture, right below the numbers. The pass tells you in bold letters what happens if you don't fill the numbers out. Now you can debate all you like. You can tell me that she paid her money. You can tell me that she's the greatest passenger in the world (and having served her, I would not argue with you, she's very nice!). But, the fact of the matter is this. If you don't ticket her, you cannot ticket the hundreds of other people who purposely avoid filling out their numbers in an attempt to defraud the system. "Family Passing" a monthly voucher is bar none the costliest fraud method to the taxpayers of Ottawa.

Discretion is fine on the 1st or 2nd of the month. This incident occurs on July 25th, or 25 days from when the pass needed the authorizing numbers on the pass to make it valid. So what discretion is the officer to draw upon? The customer's appearance? The way she is dressed? Her smile? Her demeanour? That is not discretion, it is discrimination. This passenger will have to explain it to a judge, who is qualified to discriminate.

Adami does a very convincing job of spinning the story into a bully's tale of the mean OC Transpo Police Gestapo. Hugh even spins out his sharpest pen to call the service "second rate". Ironic by any standard, coming from a complaints columnist. But I digress.

Fill out your numbers, or pay a fine. (Lather, Rinse, Repeat)

To the two columns posted today on OC Transpo... From my personal experience, I agree with Neco Cockburn's take on the recent transit survey. Customers were very upset with the broad sweeping changes that took place last September under Alain Mercier. The changes were painful at first, with confused and angry passengers taking out their frustrations on many drivers.

These changes however, had an unusual side effect.

Many drivers agreed with passengers on opposing the sweeping changes, which put us on the same team for the first time in a long time. We fought for passengers in many forums, and were kicked out of many meetings. We wrote letters to the editors, and we listened to passenger complaints daily that were not focussed on us.

There has been a change in attitude over the past year. Our relationship is better, drivers and passengers. On the same page, we really can get along. Seems like the more we talk to each other, the more we realize that we're all in the same bus, going the same place, facing the same traffic, and reading the same two opinions that try to divide us. So write your newspaper articles about the service free-falling downhill. Call us second rate if you must. Spin away. But, know one thing. We are on the buses, and you are not.

And that my friends, is why we know better.

Friday, 3 August 2012

OC-lympic Spirit!

I had a moment of inspiration last night while flipping channels.

In between Olympic Women's Beach Volleyball, the Pawnathon Marathon, and the International Firefighters Games, I became a little jealous that we bus drivers don't have a competition on television. Hey, don't laugh. Exterminators, Dog the Bounty Hunters, the crab fishing guys, guys who hunt for junk in a cat-lady's home, hoarders, little princesses being pushed by mommies into pageants, Kardashians, shipping wars, tow truck guys, cops, housewives, auctioneers, pawn shop guys... they ALL have shows! It's high time we bus drivers step it up and represent!
We could go with Busing Wars, or TRANSITion Wars, or the Bells Angels... the OC (Is that taken?)

I think in the spirit of the London Games, we should put together a Bus Driver Olympics.

Opening Ceremony:

We could have the whole fleet line up in a beautiful display of parking precision, having each bus within an inch of the bus in front, symbolizing an unbroken chain of humanity that spans the entire city, unified as one entity, one being, one unbreakable enduring spirit... or as we Ottawan's like to call it... The Mack Bridge.

Commuter's 100 meter sprint.

Bus vs Late Commuter. The commuter must begin the race from the end of their street, dash to the platform, and points will be scored if the commuter is actually able to bang on the side of the bus for three consequitive seconds without spilling their coffee or dropping their cellphone. The bus driver scores points for his/her ability to pretend he doesn't see the commuter dashing, or banging, or the onboard passengers who are yelling “One more!”. Gold medals are awarded to commuters who train their bus drivers to stop at the end of their driveways.

Artistic Floor Tumbling

The commuter must now take the 95 through the “S” curve between St. Laurent and Train stations, while standing, without the help of a stanchion. As the bus pitches and rolls through the curve at the speed limit posted in drivers imagination, deductions will be taken off for double stepping the dismount, and falls without full rotation. Extra difficulty points may be awarded for carry-on luggage, or performing while hunting through a purse for change.

Bus Driver's 100 Question Freestyle

The bus driver must answer the exact same question up to 100 times, sometimes three or four times from the same commuter, without losing his/her mind and turning into a drooling pile of mush. Extra points will be awarded for answering the question in different styles, using different words, and non-offensive hand gestures. Points will be deducted for sarcasm.

Bus Driver's Weight Lifting

The bus driver must raise and lower the bus using the kneel switch in rapid succession until his/her finger gets tired. What? Not strenuous enough? You'd swear that switch was a 150kg weight by the reaction of some drivers when asked to use it...

Commuter's 1.8M Statue

The commuter must stand perfectly still while the bus approaches the flag, then flag down the bus at the very last possible moment in a manner that suggests the bus driver is nuts not to have stopped in the first place. Points will be deducted for premature eye contact, or any type of body language that might clue the driver in on the commuter's intentions. Extra points will be awarded for making the bus driver feel guilty.

Articulated Javelin

This new take on an old sport involves throwing a 6 foot javelin with an articulated joint in the middle of it. This was originally a winter sport. However, after a light dusting of snow, it was deemed too difficult to throw the javelin up the Commissioner Hill. The Olympic Council searched all over Frisby's back lot for matching winter tires for the javelins, but decided instead that double-decker javelins were better anyway and that they'd just build outdoor storage for the articulated javelins and let 'em rust!

Presto Fencing

The commuter must use the Presto Card foil to find the precise spot on the reader that actually @#$%ing works. Try Again! No really, Try Again! That's not it! Try Again!


The commuter must guess where on Rideau street their stop will be as construction eats up the sidewalks like a hungry escalator. This has also been combined with a high-jump element as curbs are now nonexistent.


The driver must load up his bus with so many shopping carts and walkers as he/she can fit into the bus so that the entire scene looks like an episode of Hoarders. Or, as some like to call it “Wednesday on the 2, 12 and 14”, or “Synchronized Schedule Toss”. After the entire bus is full, the driver must synchronize the entire bus to move out as the lady in back with the giant oversized cart is always the first one who needs to get off.

Driver's and Commuter's Eights

In this event, the driver must drive the #8 route onto Heatherington rd, and find a way to slalom through the commuters who stand on the opposite side of the road, see him turning onto the street, dash to the that side to catch his bus, then dash back to the other side as they realize the other #8 is also coming in the other direction. Extra points can be gained by spotting the commuters waving from the apartment building entrance.

Medals will handed out for simple participation in this event, as anyone stuck on a #8, be it driver or commuter, deserves a medal.

So what do you think? It sure beats Zod the Bounty Hunter, or that guy who kills bugs! C'mon Ottawa. We'll never get a real Olympics. Ain't this the next best thing?

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Another Strange Story

By now you've undoubtedly heard about the mom on the 94 bus who was separated from her daughter.

I have no new information on this story, I'm a news reader just like the rest of you. But the pieces I'm reading are a little confusing.

The way Mark Brownlee puts it in the Ottawa Citizen, the driver simply slammed the door, ignored everyone, and drove on. But on the Lowell Green show this morning, the woman who called 9-11 phoned in and put a little more context into the story. What strikes me as odd is the fact that the 9-11 caller didn't seem to know if the mother spoke English. The 9-11 caller didn't talk to the driver. The 9-11 caller didn't really do anything except call 9-11, the Citizen, and Lowell Green. The other passengers on the bus all just "looked at each other in disbelief".

Every media outlet in the city reported that the child was found two hours later by police. Bollocks. The child wasn't found at all by police. They didn't find any unattended child at all at Iris station. The only report of a missing child came from the 9-11 caller on the bus. In fact, there isn't even a complaint from the mother to OC Transpo. John Manconi has sent out a plea for the mother to come forward. The complaint to OC Transpo came from the 9-11 caller, who said on the Green show that she got the woman to 'nod' when she asked her if that was her daughter. The mother didn't make a scene.  For all we know, the child got off with someone else they were travelling with. It might not have even been her child.

To read Brownlee's column, you'd think there was an amber alert-worthy scenario here. Apparently all the child molesters hang out at Iris station. (Hey, doesn't OC Transpo have some white vans?) It's strange how a child alone conjures up the stranger in the woods scenario. I'm one of those weird parents who encourages his kids to play outside. At a park. Near the forest.

In reality, my first fear would be that the child might try to chase the bus, as my son did when I drove the moving van that moved my family back when the lil guy was 5. Reading the comments under the various media articles, that makes me a horrible parent. Kids never get loose of their parents' grasp. And if they do, they must be texting no-brained idiots. Kids never get away from good parents. Ever.

Totally unfair to mom, Citizen comment trolls. Get out of your basements and have sex sometime. (That's where kids come from) The idea that getting separated from a child on a crowded bus makes you a bad parent comes from the same people who think leashes are a good idea, and that "play-dates" isn't the stupidest term ever invented. Kids will find ways to do unexpected things. From the sounds of things, this kid stayed put and waited for mom to return. That's not good parenting, it's GREAT parenting.

I'd really like to know the details on this one. Is it really a case of a driver's rigid adherence to policy? Is this that weird state of analysis paralysis that years of repetitive work seems to foster? Did the driver really understand what the fuss was about?

Or, is the driver right in thinking that rather than trying to drop off a woman on the shoulder of an 80kph highway during the busiest time of the day, it might be safer to bring her right up to Baseline station where she could cross the street and be back at Iris station within minutes, possibly faster than the time it would take her to walk it?

I'm not going to play John Quinones here and go all "What Would You Do" on you folks. I can see scenarios where I might drop the woman off right on the shoulder and walk back with her, and I can see scenarios where I'd advise her to ride with me to Baseline station and flag a bus going the other way because that would be faster and safer. Either way, it's a call to the control centre and there would be action. I wasn't there. I won't judge the mom or the driver.

If you know this mother, call OC Transpo at 613-842-3600. They want to hear from you. (I don't, so save me the trouble of deleting the "Drivers are idiots" hatemails until the rest of the story gets out. This is just commentary on news)

Saturday, 23 June 2012

ATU 279 Elects New Executive -For Drivers-

The results are in, and there are some major changes to your executive board at ATU local 279.

Craig Watson replaces Gary Quaele as president. Craig has been a very active brother over the past few years on the scheduling file. His most noteworthy contributions center around ensuring each and every docket fell within the parameters of the collective agreement, a daunting and time hungry task. During the strike, Craig was the person who "took over" most of the media scrums after Andy Cornellier had his famous meltdown with CTV news. Craig is well respected within the membership, well spoken, and a fairly level headed person. We expect to see his scheduling expertise translated into a much more focused dialogue between management and the union. Craig is capable of providing workable solutions to complex scheduling issues, and is respected by both the membership and managers alike.

Sharon Bow replaces Mike Aldrich as your Vice President. Sharon is best known for her relentless volunteer work within the community. Besides running the Cheers program, Sharon has put countless hours into our physical fitness through the WRF program and the Silverside Grill. Without Sharon's efforts, the WRF would likely have been scrapped by the city long ago. In addition to her volunteer work, I am told that Sharon does not have a penchant for writing amateurish press releases fraught with grammar bombs and childish accusations. (Was that too Catty?)

Yogi Sharma remains as Assistant Business Agent. Yogi ran a good campaign, and has served the local well for many years now.

Guy Crete replaces Jim Haddad as Secretary Treasurer. Guy is a well liked as a trustworthy and respected member.

Steve Parent, Rick potvin, Dan Drouin, and Clint Crabtree are the four elected grievance officers.

Hopefully this new executive will help restore the trust of the membership that had been lost over the past few years. There are no surprises in this election. Most of the membership I spoke with were anxious to see change. The vote has reflected that wish.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Presto... Plan B?

They say talk is cheap, but I am inclined to take John Manconi at his word every time he says something. After yesterday's Presto meeting, Mr. Manconi was quoted as saying that if Metrolinx can't get its rabbit to jump out of the hat by August, he is prepared to move on to Plan B.

Here at Drives in Circles, we assigned our crack investigation team to find out just what Plan B might be.

We began by inquiring as to the possibility of Clever Devices taking the project over. Clever Devices you will remember is the company that gave us the billingual-sounding Next Stop Announcement System featuring the vocal stylings of the artist formerly known as Clive Doucet's son. "Buckskin. BOOOk-skank."

While the opportunity to integrate existing systems with a new card reader makes sense on many levels, renaming Presto to Presto-PoussezOrteille seemed a little over-the-top, and the idea was scrapped. We got back to the drawing board, and pondered where else we could find a cheap alternative to Presto.

We found ourselves at WalMart, a store world renound for it's cheap knock-off merchandise. Among the shelves full of Pandasonix and Energypsum batteries, we found out that the Tim Hortons inside the store had smart-card readers in full operation! You can load the cards online, use MasterCard or a debit card, and the system is up an running with absolutely no fatal software flaws whatsoever. Tim Hortons would not, however, sell us the readers. A quick survey of the clientele found that most people would rather that OC Transpo serve Tim Hortons coffee on the buses than find ways to take their money electronically, but I digress.

Our next stop was a quick tour through corporate Canada. Did you know that Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment is one of the deepest pocketed corporations in all of Canada? They also have holdings in many technology companies. Although the acronym MLesto seemed a little "off", we still met with the bidders and explored the technology they offered. The card readers were very flashy, especially when located behind their net. But the system seemed to attract very loud, boisterous and drunk passengers wearing Doug Gilmour jerseys (two sizes too tight, I might add). Rowdy buses aside, every Smartcard sold came with a first round draft pick. Unfortunately, the readers all exploded in early April.

Dejected, we Googled "Fix Presto problems". Now that my friends, is what you call a Plan B. Google can fix anything. After seven hundred clicked links, we stumbled upon the ultimate correction tool for all software problems:

As you can see, Autocorrect has supplied an unorthodox solution to our software problems. (And Breast O was born) You know, the Laleche League of Canada has long stated that children who use Breast O cards grow up to be much smarter, well adjusted children as compared to kids that use cash. They are also twice as less likely to grow up to be bus drivers. Talk about a win-win!

The idea was scrapped after a few complaints about the readers being too sensitive after a long day, and that they are NOT toys you bloody insensitive pigs.

The installation crew continues to struggle to remove the readers, as the latches that hold them in place are located behind the machines under a fabric sheet, and are embarrassingly difficult to unhook when distracted and in a hurry.

We now understand Metrolix's conundrum. Nobody can fix this mess, and a Plan B will have to be a complete rethink of the problem. So here is what we came up with...

The RetroPrestoCadabra Card.

The SmartCard will be made of two credit card sized leather strips, sewn together to form a pouch. We will then ask our customers to log onto their computers or smartphones, and then place a twoonie, a loonie, and a quarter into the SmartCard pouch. Upon boarding the bus, you place the SmartCard over the fare box, and empty the contents into the slot in the top.

Then the driver will give you a SmartTransfer, and in my case... a smile and a Thank You!

Problem solved.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012


Thirty two million dollars. Thousands of training hours. Young folks paid to wear Presto shirts. Thousands of hours of installations. The smart way to go in the capital has been officially postponed to February of 2013. Seems the pilot project flew right into the side of a mountain.

I have yet to successfully process one single Presto transaction since this pilot project left the Toronto airport it came from. They couldn't even get the training readers to work properly at the garage.

The tendency here is to blame OC Transpo, or council, or He Who's Name Must Not Be Spoken who actually signed off on this crazy no-opt-out contract, but let's point some fingers at the nerds running Metrolinx... or Accenture... or Presto... or whomever it is that has built, supplied, installed, and programmed these readers into our buses. They have done much to ruin the credibility of the smart card program. 

The official word may very well be a relaunch in February, but from what I gather from the meeting this morning, the Presto folks don't even know why the readers aren't working yet. They haven found the root causes, and are "working" on it. When David Copperfield said Presto!, the Statue of Liberty disappeared. When Presto says it's working on it, I get the feeling we're going to be watching our tax dollars disappear.

From a driver's standpoint, this whole situation is quite frustrating. Some customers are annoyed that the machines don't work. Sometimes the machines appear to work, but prompt the customers to tap-on more than once before declining the transaction. Most times the machines simply say that the cards are unreadable, or they simply do not boot up at all displaying an "Unready" status.

Our idling policy requires us to (rightly) shut our buses down during breaks. The Presto readers shut down with the bus, and can take up to 6 minutes to boot up. That is a huge technical oversight, in my opinion.

And what of this pilot program?

This may come as a huge shock to honest Ottawans, but the scammers have figured things out already. I am seeing daily increases in the number of Presto cards I am being presented. How can that be possible? Well, how about because Presto sells the cards for six measly dollars on their website? When Presto says it will reimburse costs, does it factor in the hundreds of people who figured out that the Bill Holmes memo to bus drivers that was publicized in the Ottawa Citizen grants anyone with a Presto card a free ride on OC Transpo? People are ordering these cards from the Presto website, then opting in to the pilot project all on their own! Not a bad deal that for $6.00,  you can ride as much transit as you can fit in until PrestoMetrolinxAccenture gets its technical issues sorted out!

I talked to a passenger this morning who openly admitted that he had bought his card online after a friend had suggested that he try it out. "What do I have to lose? Six bucks?"

That really is a smart way to go in the capital. It's like magic. Soon we'll be watching our revenues disappear. Just wave the magic card, and Presto!


Monday, 18 June 2012

Canada Day, Rookie Style

This is a repost (by request) of a Canada Day experience. Less than two weeks until "it" hits the fan, so enjoy. I'll be back soon with thoughts on Presto, the new double deckers, and a few blogs on life as a bus driver pretty soon. Real life's thrown me some curve-balls lately, and my other writing project has really sucked the brain dry. Thanks for the emails. No, I'm not quitting this. I write this story when I have something to say, and don't want to bore folks!  In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this. It was fun to write.


I've been getting a pile of questions about personal experiences and strange things that have happened on the bus... so I thought I'd share a Canada Day story.

I had just been hired onto OC Transpo prior to my first Canada Day service. I had the basics down. I came from a heavy trucking background, and had plenty of experience that overqualified me to drive a lowly bus. I came into the job feeling pretty cocky. I had also spent the previous summer at a logging camp yanking giant trees down roads you wouldn't drive a car down, and getting into fights with roughnecks all over the bar scene in Northern Ontario. Needless to say, I had a thick skin. Still do.

I still wasn't prepared for Canada Day.

My day started on a local route in Orleans. I ran around on the 137 taking semi-drunk kids down to the mall, where they would no doubt get downtown to get drunker. Canada's national party. Who can resist.

I smelled smoke on the bus somewhere around Galloway street on St Georges, and I decided to investigate. I had a few concerned moms up front, and I had to take care of it. So I walked back. I found a kid, around 16, trying to blow the smoke out the window. I told him he had to put it out, then decided to get a little tricky with him. I told him I was running ahead of schedule, and thought I could use a smoke too.

"Let's go out then."

He hopped off the back door... I didn't. I climbed into the driver's seat, and took my passengers to the mall, with applause. It was a fun start to the shift.

After the local routes were done, I was told to go to Hurdman station, and wait in the layup until the fireworks were all finished. It was a pretty festive feeling, all the drivers just hanging out, watching stuffed 95's fly by on their way downtown. Every so often, one would go by with a person trying to get out on the roof, or with the emergency windows swinging open like a breadbox door.

All the drivers were cheering on the mayhem.

"Stick it to the man!!!". Errr, wait, We're the man.

As the end of the fireworks neared, I was assigned to head to Slater street. I queued up behind a row of buses, and waited my turn. I took on so many people, I honestly had someone standing in the space behind my seat. He smelled of vomit, and I was praying that was post, not pre. The cigarettes were lit almost instantly. There was singing. There was kissing. There were things flying at me. All I could see was what was out my front window, and the crush of faces against my passenger mirror. Training had not covered this. In the midst of all this, I could hear someone yelling "Help!". I honestly couldn't tell if it was a festive party "Help", as in "Help, I'm hammered!", or a "Help, I'm falling out of this window". I stopped the bus on the off ramp to Montréal road, and began to try to figure out who was yelling it. It was like pushing my way through dense bush, with wispy sapling trees that stick to you, leaning, instead of springing back to their elastic uprightedness.

I found her. She had her hair caught in the rear doors. She was sitting in the seat just beside the doors. It was like she had been leaning out of the seat with only her head outside the doors, and they had closed on her long brown hair. I apologized. She chainsawed a drunken string of laughter, then got surprisingly serious looking,  and then threw up on the back steps.

There is nothing that clears a path like a puddle of sick.

A guy with a smoke dangling from his lips slurred out:
"Sorry Mr. Busdriver. She got sick."
"Thanks Pal." I said.

I headed back to the front of the bus, and got rolling again. I couldn't kick them all off there, I had to get at least to Place D'Orleans. The puke was on the back steps, it was a high floor bus. What harm could there be?  The singing petered out as the smell of sour began to circulate. It didn't take long for the illness to become contagious. It wasn't quite "Stand By Me", but I could tell that weak stomachs were getting weaker by the second. And that's when I heard the second noise no bus driver wants to hear.

"Oooooooohhhhhhhhhhhhhh", in chorus. And then again: "Ooooooohhhhhhhhh!", this time louder.

It looked like a war zone as I emptied at Place. Beer cans, cigarette butts, and a floor full of vomit. People scattering off the bus with hands over noses, hands over mouths, all with that look of "You'll never believe what happened" on their faces. 

I drove back to the barn, stunned, tired, and sick of the smell. I felt like I had spent a rough night. Yet as I got into the garage, I saw a bus with four smashed windows. Another had a rear door ripped off the hinges.

And all the drivers I saw were walking like zombies to their cars.

We survive this national party each year. I've no idea how.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Racial Profiling?

The above article could very well be about the fact that Metro newspapers print their dailies on the freshly clubbed skins of baby seals, if I stated to one of their reporters that I felt that was true. And why not? I wouldn't need any actual facts to back it up, would I?

An editor should be embarrassed to run garbage like that, but the juxtaposition of the 50+ Metro newspapers touting that headline on the floor of every 95 in the city is just too salacious to pass up, I guess.

 Racial profiling is such a tarnishing accusation.

So the story reads that a man tried to use an expired U-Pass to provide proof of payment on a city bus. Now, we're not talking about a pass that had expired a few days ago. We're talking 23 days expired, meaning he had been using the service without paying for it for 23 days. His defense? Ignorance. He had no idea that the pass was expired, despite the clear indications on the pass itself that state in bold letters that the pass is valid from September 1st 2011 to April 30th 2012.

A University student, no less. Higher education. Heading to a study group before an exam on criminology. One might infer that a criminology student is heading towards a career involving policing of some sort. Best brush up on those powers of observation.

As if that's not strange enough, he then accused the company of racial profiling, as if his race factored into the fine he received.

I expect that fare evaders all feel treated somewhat poorly by fare inspectors. There is no fun way to hand someone a fine for breaking a law. You must remain authoritative, and you must treat each fare evader with the same response. Any person with this guy's excuse deserves a fine, and a stern lecture on ignorance.

But to accuse the company of racial profiling is absolute nonsense. Apparently he hasn't noticed the demographic of the folks working here, or the folks we serve on a daily basis. Get off the high horse pal. You got caught. Pay your fine, or explain your ignorance to a judge. Metro may buy that garbage, but I doubt our regular passengers do.

While a fare inspector might confiscate your U-Pass card, I'm asking our regular riders to confiscate this whiner's race card. If you know us better, then speak up. We're good people. Even the ones that hand out the fines.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Fuel Savings Beyond Idling

The above link talks about the city's push to reduce idling and save on diesel costs at OC Transpo.

Coolant Heaters. I'm hard pressed to believe that the practice of running buses overnight will ever cease at our garages. What is seldom mentioned when suggesting solutions such as having maintenance staff start the buses an hour before they are due to leave for the day is the simple fact that 300 buses take longer than a few minutes to start. It takes hours to start "the fleet". It is such a huge oversight that the city didn't spec their buses out with devices that heat the coolant overnight instead of running their main engines overnight. ProHeat is a great example. I never bought a truck without one. Saves thousands.

But what factors save fuel beyond idling?

Maintenance is a big factor. Tire pressures, wheel alignment, air filters, evaporative systems... all huge factors in fuel consumption, but I believe that OC's fleet is pretty much as good as it can be in this department.

Driving behaviour. When the first set of articulated buses came in from New Flyer, drivers hated them. The fuel map programming was such that the buses would run at idle torque until the bus reached 10 kph, and only then would the engine begin to rev up. This was computer controlled, but that didn't stop drivers from blaming everything from displacement to defect. The logic is simple, however. Slowing the rate of acceleration through the first 10 kph should save fuel. The only problem with having that kind of behaviour under the control of a microchip is the fact that some buses couldn't make it through a traffic light without the light changing. That kind of behaviour can, however, be coached into a driver's repertoire. The city now gives drivers a "Smart Driver" program aimed at fuel savings. As I have stated ad nauseam, without access to data on daily fuel consumption via a trip computer located on the dashboard, the training simply doesn't pay off for the driver.

Speed limits. The Transitway has many zones in which a bus must be "floored" to the speed limit, only to be stopped almost immediately for the next stop. St. Laurent station to Train comes to mind. It is a huge waste of fuel to try and break 80kph along this stretch, yet hundreds of buses do it daily. There are other examples throughout the Transitway, but I'll let that go. I too, like to get you home ASAP.

Flag placement. Why place a bus stop across an intersection from a stop sign? If a bus must stop at a stop sign, or possibly stop at a traffic light, put the bus stop there! A great example of this is Des Epinettes ave just east of Prestwick dr. (2423) There are 58 daily buses scheduled to stop at this flag (according to the main schedule). All 58 of these buses must stop at the stop sign first, then cross the intersection and stop again at the flag 75 feet past the stop sign. That is only one flag, on one street... but we are looking at 58 daily stops, 34 on Saturday, and 25 on Sunday for a weekly total of 118 scheduled stops. 6136 stops in a year that could have been avoided by placing the bus stop at the red octagon where the bus has to stop anyway. As an aside, the bus will do this again later in the route 200 feet before the stop sign at Orchardview, and then again 100 feet after the stop sign at Orchardview. Stopping and starting is the single most fuel consuming activity a bus can participate in. Reduce stops, consume less fuel. Period.

Deadheading. Are we ever going to reach the point where we test out the concept of the rail system we are implementing? You're thinking... what does this have to do with saving fuel, right? The train will cross the downtown core, and do the majority of the heavy lifting though downtown Ottawa. You will take a bus to Blair, hop on the train, and go downtown. Well, what if we did this with buses right now? Could we cut out the majority of deadheading buses by leaving rush hour buses in east, west and south zones, with only one line crossing the core? Cancel duplicate local service during the rush hour, let the express buses cover that service. Let them run between Blair and Orleans, Lebreton and Kanata, Hurdman and South Ottawa.  That is what the train will be doing in a few years, anyway! The core wouldn't be such a rush-hour parking lot without a bazillion unique routes and deadheading express buses all cluttering their way through it. The big myth about LRT is that it is faster because of capacity and grade separation. We are already sending more than enough buses through in a segregated lane. The real problem has always been the buses making multiple stops for a browsing public. Too much selection! Send ONE line across the core, people will jump on the first thing smoking, doors will close, and the line will move like it does in the morning (same people, no browsing in the morning, right?) Let the browsing be done at Hurdman, or Blair, or Lebreton... when the entire lot of them can get on at once. Deadheading would be a local phenomenon, instead of a trek to the other side of the city.

If you have ideas on any of this, post them in the comments section.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Official Idling Policy

So here's the policy as it is officially written:

OC Transpo Hot and Cold Weather Bus Idling Procedures
OC Transpo City of Ottawa
4 of 5
4.0 Standard Operating Procedure
This procedure applies to OC Transpo buses at lay-up points. Idling requirements are based on the outside ambient temperature, as reported by Environment Canada, as follows:
i. Temperatures below -5˚C (degrees Celsius) – Do not shut the bus off. All buses are to be kept running to avoid start-up problems. Bus operator is to place the transmission in neutral, apply the Spring/Parking Brake and let the bus idle on “Fast Idle”
Please Note: All buses are to have the “fast idle” switch in the „ON‟ position when idling. If the switch is in the on position when the bus is parked, the switch may need to be toggled off and back on to activate the fast idle, as the default is low idle regardless of switch position
ii. Temperatures above -5˚C (degrees Celsius) – All bus engines are to be shut down when lay-up is expected to exceed seven minutes, as follows:
Observe a three minute high idle shut-down procedure – let the bus idle, in neutral, with the “fast idle” switch in the „ON‟ position, for three minutes before shutting down the engine
Observe a three minute high idle start-up procedure – let the bus idle, in neutral, with the “fast idle” switch in the „ON‟ position, for three minutes before departure
Please Note: All buses are to have the “fast idle” switch in the „ON‟ position when idling. If the switch is in the on position when the bus is parked, the switch may need to be toggled off and back on to activate the fast idle, as the default is low idle regardless of switch position
As stated in the Vehicle and Equipment Idling Policy, exceptions to this procedure exist only under the following circumstances:
For vehicle maintenance and diagnostic purposes (to be kept to an absolute required minimum)
Under extreme weather conditions or any other time when the health and safety of employees or others may be jeopardized
Standard Operating Procedure
Version : 1.0
Effective Date: 2011-04-11
OC Transpo Hot and Cold Weather Bus Idling Procedures
OC Transpo City of Ottawa

Seven minutes is the official cut-off for whether I'm supposed to shut my bus off between -5C and 25C.

That's a half a litre of wasted fuel. On my Sunday work, that's 5 full litres of wasted fuel over a ten hour shift. In 52 weeks, that's 260 litres of wasted fuel, and I work 5 other days in those weeks that I'm not counting.

I had planned a blog about fuel savings based on my idling time for the end of this year, as I have been tracking my idling time since January. I estimate that I have already saved 145 litres of fuel this year by shutting my bus down as soon as I can at the end of each line. I have never had a problem starting it.

7 minutes is a big deal when 1000+ buses are idling through it.

Drivers, Stop Your Engines!

Why is that driver idling his bus? It's not too cold or too hot, he's gone to the bathroom...and the bus is sitting there running. What gives?

Here is the City's Idling policy as I understand it. 

On hot days when temperatures exceed 25 degrees Celsius the following procedures are to be 
followed at lay-up points to avoid “starting up” problems with 1990 and newer buses. 
1. Should the waiting period not exceed 10 minutes, you should place the transmission in 
neutral apply the Maxi Brake and let the bus idle.  Do not shut it off. 
2. Should the waiting period exceed 10 minutes, place the transmission in neutral apply the 
Maxi Brake and let the bus idle for 3 minutes, then shut the engine down. 
3. Those buses equipped with the "fast idle" switch must have the switch turned to the "on" 
position when idling. 
Note: 1989 buses and older do not require the above procedures.  These can be shut 
down following one minute idling. 
On cold days when temperatures drop below –5 degrees Celsius, all buses are to be keep running 
to avoid start-up problems. 
If you have any concerns or questions on these procedures, contact Control.

This policy is the most misunderstood document in the history of OC Transpo. Many drivers I speak to have no idea that this policy does not apply between -5C and 25C. So, they idle their buses at 10C because their break is under 10 minutes. Waiting three minutes to shut your engines off (and the whole ten minute rule) applies only to temperatures above 25 degrees celsius. This is a precaution to avoid overheating a stopped engine that continues to produce radiant energy minutes after heavy duty use. Circulating coolant after heavy use is crucial to dissipate the stored energy of a hot engine block.

In most cases, the time between opening the front door to empty the bus and parking it would be into the three minute range, and would like suffice as a suitable cool-down period.

The myths about idling are surely outdated. Many drivers still subscribe to the logic that idling the bus consumes less fuel than restarting it, or that they are preserving the starter motor by not frequently engaging it. Hogwash. A bus could be shut down and restarted 15 times in a one minute period, and still use use less fuel than idling for that same minute. Long gone are the days of two-stroke Detroits, carburetors, and a priming pump to fill up the float bowls and dump a litre of fuel out the exhaust at each start. Todays engines are directly injected, using the same amount of fuel on the first combustion stroke as it does on the last.  An idling bus uses roughly one litre of fuel every fifteen minutes. So for every 30 minutes at Hurdman station, those 20 buses parked there idling have blown the equivalent of the fuel capacity of an average car. As far as the starter motor argument, that's just a little bit laughable. The electric starter motors on these buses will outlast the rest of the bus, and in some cases, their drivers. Electric motors are very, very durable.

Idling a bus is rarely a product of logic anyway. Can we be honest here? We idle our buses for comfort, nothing else. We are not talking about essential comfort either. We are talking about frivolous comfort. It's something that needs to stop. The air conditioner on a bus runs continuously when it is hot out and the bus is in service. That 8 minute layover will cause the bus to be warmer for your break, but it will not cause any extra fuel consumption when the bus is restarted. You are not driving an Energy Star R2000 home on wheels. There is no insulative  property to bus windows. The A/C will run non-stop until you shut the bus off. So let's can the argument that idling keeps the air conditioning costs down. Go sit at the picnic table, or head into the Taj MaHurdman for a cool drink. Save your taxes for other things, like severance packages.

Idling in the cold is a misfire on the city policy, in my opinion. There needs to be driver discretion here, as being cold should not part of a job description, but a policy rule on -5 is setting the bar a little low. There is not a bus in the fleet that couldn't handle a shutdown and restart within a 15 minute period in -20C, let alone -5C. Drivers should be encouraged to shut their buses down at every opportunity. If a driver has the common sense to shut down when it's -10C outside, realizing that he will not freeze to death in the 6 minutes he has between runs... so be it! The policy states that I'm not allowed to shut down at -6C. But then again, I'm a renegade.

I wish all new buses were equipped with onboard fuel monitoring equipment accessible to the driver. Nothing changes behaviours  like the absence of ignorance. In my post titled "How Do We Change", I suggested introducing competition in the workplace, Imagine competing for a fuel efficiency award based on real data accessible on the dashboard of your bus?

Drivers, we all love the changes at OC Transpo these days. After a few years of kick, kick, kick... it feels like we are all part of the company again. The changes made have been welcomed by all, and the New Guy seems to be on our side on many things that matter to us. If you like that relationship, if you want to make this company a great place to work, if you want to help this company's image and yours... then give a little back.

All I'm asking for is one litre of diesel every fifteen minutes. Just the simple silence that accompanies a twist of the wrist. Not too much to ask really, but it would save millions.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Light Rail Artifacts Expedition

Residents of Ottawa, rejoice! Digging for the upcoming LRT line has begun... in a parking lot near Lebreton station.

Okay, not really digging. The city is looking for "treasure" buried where John LeBreton himself once caused his own version of a land debacle back in 1820. LeBreton bought the land known as Lebreton Flats upon hearing that Lord Dalhousie was planning to route the canal from Dow's lake to the Chaudiere Falls. He tried to spin his $500 purchase into a $2500 profit, and so angered Lord Dalhousie with his brazenness that the canal was actually re-routed to its current location at a much greater cost, requiring more locks and a longer routing. In short, nothing ever changes in Ottawa politics.

In 2012, the city is digging up the past. As a Drives in Circles insider, you'll be the first to know that digging for Ottawa's artifacts in other parts of the city has secretly been ongoing for years. Here is what they have found to date:

Champlain blvd at Place d'Orleans dr

Digging began here at the once proud but now buried location of the Orleans Voyageur Strip Bar Hotel. Once the shovels got past a few brass poles and a layer of nicotine, they discovered a giant ceramic cow that was once on the roof of a local cheesery, stolen and buried by terribly offended Orleans residents back in the Great Novelty Cow Wars of 2008. Digging was then stopped for a month while Bob Monette and Rainer Bloess hired a consulting firm to figure out whether the bovine beauty belonged to Orleans or Cumberland Wards. It was decided that while the head was in Orleans, the ass belonged to Cumberland.

Once resumed, shovels unearthed the 1,722 accent aigu's that the bastard anglaises buried when they callously converted the name of the suburb from Or-lay-anns to Ohr-leeynz.

Digging then became more difficult as the shovels were subjected to harsh bumpy conditions, causing their fareboxes to rattle right out the door of the machines and their coffees to spill onto their laps. As they dug deeper, the shovels were then forced from a larger two lane hole into a single-file line, causing a prolonged shovel backup that made everyone question the inept planning of the entire dig.

Montreal rd at Alfred st

Digging for treasure in Vanier has been ongoing for 25 years, but none of the residents have actually noticed. They say that for every two traffic cones manufactured in Canada, one goes to Vanier.

Thus far, shovels have uncovered nearly six hundred 1984 Mustang 5.0's with louvered rear windows and centerline wheels, countless AC/DC, Rush, and Enuff Z'Nuff concert tees, millions of Molson dry bottles, and the broken hearts of all those schmucks who tell all their friends they live near Rockliffe.

The shovels moved from Montreal rd onto Alfred, left Montfort, right Granville, left Boudreau, right Duford, left Lavergne, right Peres Blancs, looped around, right Lavergne, left St. Monique, right Marier, left St. Genest, right St Charles... at which time the shovel operator became aware that he was actually doing the #5 route, and booked off sick.

Ogilvy rd from Jasmine cres to Montreal rd

Early excavation was promising, as the site of the old Gloucester Fair unearthed two never-heard-before-but-talked-about-as-if-we-knew-back-then Alanis albums sold when she performed at Shopper's City East.

Digging was delayed as staff were required to find homes for the 2,632 abandoned shopping carts left near Tim Tierney's office entrance.

Oh, who am I kidding. There hasn't been a shovel near that vulgar axle-busting stretch of paved black craters in nearly twenty years.

Larry's Backyard

Shovels broke ground at the secret underground location of our last mayor's backyard, and the Drives in Circles back-up cameras were rolling.

Discovered were Rumours of WarGlenn Beck, and his now defunct plans to build a giant underground grid of nuclear reactors and transit (of course). God, I wish I was making that last one up. Larry wrote out a detailed plan to create an underground "Super Grid" of nuclear reactors and transit, claiming it to be the solution to all our problems. He wrote out the entire plan on, but took it down recently, I'm guessing out of embarrassment. Click the links above. Too bad he's not embarrassed about his views on Muslims, or that whacko Glenn Beck. We elected that guy. I freaking voted for him!

 Also discovered were several rejected campaign booklets titled:

  • Zero Sometimes Means More Than Zero
  • Is Zero Even A Number? Math Guys Say It Isn't
  • One Point Five Isn't Zero But It's Closer Than Two Point Five
  • Kill Terry
  • Roll Up The Rim To Zero Or Close To It
  • What Does Mean Mean Anyway?
Museum of Science and Technology

Preliminary digging around this landmark was halted as some of the digging crew complained about the new sex exhibit and its effects on their views of sexuality. The Erectanator became a running joke as the the crew kept extending their shovels in the air, up and down, up and down, then pausing for smoke breaks.

The crew were also growing weary of explaining to tourists that the giant rocket out front is actually not part of the exhibit.

Scotiabank Place

There was actually no real reason to dig at Scotiabank place, as light rail will go nowhere near the rink anytime in the foreseeable future. However, digging at Lebreton Flats was deemed to be just too good a location and far too close to downtown (and the current transit system) to not just move the whole project to some out-of-the-way cornfield in Kanata.

Digging unearthed an Alexei Kaigerodov rookie card, the two pucks that Joe Nieuwendyk fired by Patrick Lalime's shortside, 82 non-gameworn Alexei Yashin jerseys in a box with a crumpled up contract with the words "No I wont! Yes you effing will!" scribbled across it, the entire 2002 Ottawa Senators draft, and the missing "N" from Dany Heatley's name, quashing rumours that Bryan Murray had actually shoved it up Dany's ass in anger.

Metcalfe st at Argyle ave

Excavators hit the absolute jackpot at this location. With the first shovel swipe, they uncovered the remains of a tyrannosaurus rex, a velociraptor, and a brontosaurus. It was only when they discovered the blue whale that they realized they were actually at the Museum of Nature. An apology card, along with five crates of crazy glue were sent to Meg Beckel anonymously as the digging crew pretended it wasn't them, and that it was like that when they got there.

Lansdowne Park

When the shovels broke ground in the eastern parking lot, the results were immediate. They first discovered a greenspace, then more parking lot, then a greenspace with commercial development, then a greenspace with condos, then just a parking lot, a cattle caste, no cattle castle, an exhibition, no exhibition, a huge pile of red tape, a CFL team, another CFL team, some guy named "Horn", an original letter explaining why a league would have two teams named "Rough Riders", the rest of Lonnie Glieberman's Mardi Gras beads, and Jeff Hunt's last frayed nerve.

Digging was stopped when Glebe-ites found out about it. They quickly formed a coalition to protest and block the excavation. Friends Of Under Lansdowne (FOUL) is gathering resources and soliciting support for this cause as we speak, and is also working hard to ensure that other useless time wasting roadblocks are thrown in front of other nimby projects around the Glebe. If you would like to support this FOUL cause, or any of the other countless FOUL Glebe causes, head down to Lansdowne park and blare some music from your car stereo. They will find you.

Well, that's it for now.  Have a nice long weekend, and here's hoping the city digs you up next. Who knows what you may find!