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.