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!

Thursday, 3 May 2012

So How Do We Change?

I have been putting some thought into what I would change within OC Transpo, if I had the power to do it. So how can we change the culture at OC Transpo, and the perception of the service by our clients?

First Things First

We need to be honest with ourselves. In some areas, the service is fantastic. We consistently exceed the expected standards of our clients when the system runs as it should. I've been there when this happens. It's a good feeling.

In other areas, we fail miserably.

  • The ability to regain control of the schedule when setbacks (like traffic and weather) occur is very limited. There are not nearly enough resources to make up for delays, and all to often the solution is to "run it late" regardless of whether that means four #12's are running back-to-back-to-back-to-back.

  • Our ability to predict and foresee solutions to delays is stuck in some kind of limbo between schedule adherence and booking rules for operations staff. There needs to be more flexibility with labour to move resources around to cover service.

  • We are not always at our best as professional bus drivers. Both the union and management need to work together to identify employees that are in need of retraining and refocusing in the principles of good customer service, and in dealing with difficult situations.


The company instigated a program called "Pro in Motion", whereby which all employees attend a triennial three day seminar that covers all kinds of busdriver-ey stuff such as better driving habits for fuel savings, workplace harassment, sensitivity training, and customer service. It's a pretty decent course.

I would love to see a "Riding Transit" portion added to this course.

While drivers may spend hours on buses, that doesn't make them experts in using transit. There really is a huge difference between driving transit and using transit, and I think drivers could be better at their jobs if they had the experience of their passengers. How many times have passengers been on a local route on a Sunday morning, pulling into a local hub, only to see the 95 pulling away just as they get there?

Drivers need a better grip on what it's like to be an actual passenger, out of uniform, trying to make connections that matter to them. I would dedicate an entire day of "Pro in Motion" to riding buses out of uniform, using tickets and transfers, and reading posted schedules.

More than that, I would put half of that day in the seat of a wheelchair. The number one insecurity of folks using wheelchairs is that eye-roll they get when the bus pulls up. We don't think they notice our body language. They do. Spending even half a day trying out transit from the seat of a wheelchair might reconnect the empathy to the steering wheel for many drivers. If you have never been in a wheelchair, this might be one of those days that absolutely changes your life.

Social Media

Social media has the power to conduct ideas and transfer them into our brains within seconds, which makes it the perfect conduit to whining and complaining. When I hear folks using Twitter postings as an argument supporting the poor quality of our service, I cringe. Twitter is a place of squeaky wheels, littered with negativity and oneupmanship. It doesn't matter how good you may be. You don't have to search very hard to find out you suck on Twitter. Pay little attention to the attention seekers. It's simply unreliable data.

If you're not going to react to the attention seekers, then how do you use social media? How about free advertising?

Use Twitter and Facebook to have your clients nominate an employee of the month. Encourage your clients to seek out and recognize good employees, and post their employee numbers with a hashtag related to the promotion. Reward your clients who participate by judging the best tweet or wall post, and give them something for their efforts. Get your clients engaged in a positive campaign! We already have so many ways to complain about the service. It's time to pull out the positives.

Get people following the OC Transpo avatar because there's something in it for them, then get them to engage in positive relations with your employees.

Any idiot can complain. It takes a loyal customer to make a compliment. Loyalty comes from engagement, and social media is all about engagement.

Changing The Culture Within

How do you steer the culture at OC Transpo towards one that prides itself on customer service?

There is much work to be done here. -Yoda

I think I would start with the kinds of strategies I use to coach kids hockey. It sounds funny, I know.

The number one motivating factor in getting a team to skate in the same direction is to reward positive behaviour, and create internal competition.

Divide the workforce into teams, be it by section head, or seniority groups, or even by garage... and use client feedback (compliments, or tweets), schedule adherence (as in never early), fuel economy targets, idling time, and scores from secret shoppers to score the groups. Have employees vote on team captains to represent their group. Give out an annual award to the winning team at the Christmas party or something similar. Create and publicize the results. Single out your best employees. Let them know what you think of them. Positivity breeds positivity.

Let your customers know that Bob's group beat Tracey's group, or that Merivale Garage has the best operators, but St. Laurent idles less.

The point of the exercise is to get employees engaged in their jobs, to seek common goals, and to want the changes. Giving lectures on customer service isn't enough anymore. We are beyond the point where a two hour class or a video presentation is enough to change our behaviours. To change behaviour, you need to refocus, and nothing refocuses people like competition.

The union needs to be involved in changing the culture.

If I were an executive at ATU, I would be pushing for much more community service and consultation. We need to get our members talking to groups for seniors and groups for folks with disabilities so we can better understand our clients.

Would it be productive to have town halls with commuters and students to better understand their needs, and to let them get to know us better? When was the last time bus drivers, managers, and commuters really had a good talk about the service?

Dialogue is a two way conduit. ATU could really benefit from listening, but more so from being heard. There is much more to us beyond the media snippets of labour negotiations. We are real people.

I could continue writing, but I suspect I've already lost a few of you.  So, more later.