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.