Saturday, 2 November 2013


The term "Fare Dispute" has always bothered me.

According to every study I have read in researching assaults on bus drivers, "Fare Dispute" has been listed as the number one reason that bus drivers get assaulted. If I were to go to Futureshop, grab a four dollar item off the shelf, and refuse to pay for it, would that be called a "Payment Dispute"?


And if I punched the clerk for refusing to just take my excuse and the item, what would that be? Would I be allowed back into Futureshop? What if I dragged the clerk outside and broke his nose and ribs? Could I still head into Futureshop and expect it to be life as usual? It's just a payment dispute.

You probably know the story already, but there it is. 38 year old Paul Ness gets a suspended sentence for what the media has reported as his second assault charge, and our driver gets a lifetime of wondering when the next Paul Ness might walk on his bus and do what Ness' lawyer describes as a minor assault, namely drag him off his bus and break his ribs and nose in front of a bus full of his stunned passengers.

Lest you think this is an isolated incident, it isn't. Sixty, yes SIXTY of us get assaulted each year here in Ottawa. At least, that's what gets reported. Sixty times a year, a dispute escalates into a physical confrontation on a bus. Urine in cups thrown on drivers. Spit spat on drivers. Punched drivers. Kicked drivers. Drivers hit with cellphones. Food thrown on drivers. Hot coffee thrown on drivers.

And it's all because of the strike.

Reading comments in Ottawa often focuses on the strike.

Which explains why drivers are being assaulted in record numbers all over North America. Google it. I don't have the time to write this all down. Bus drivers are under attack in every major city in North America. We get assaulted more than any other profession.

Somehow, the strike in Ottawa has caused passengers in every city in Canada and the United States to assault their bus drivers. 

I am of course, being facetious. 

There is a problem in our industry, and it's time we talk about it. 

Ralph Goodale has tabled a BILL that singles out assaults on transit drivers with language that makes these types of assaults an aggravating factor in sentencing. The argument against this type of legislation is that bus drivers are no more special than any group. I understand that logic, and would agree that an assault at any workplace should fall under this legislation, not just bus drivers. But Tim Hortons cashiers are not the folks fighting for this legislation. Bus drivers are. We'll blaze the trail, you other folks can latch on later once the precedent has been set.

Precedent really is what this legislation is about, by the way. Folks are worried about bus drivers getting special treatment in the justice system, but think about it. The same legislation that lets a bar fight deescalate into a minor assault charge and boys-will-be-boys type sentencing is the same legislation that lets a passenger bully a bus driver for months, drag him out of his workplace, and break his bones over a few dollars. The court system is littered with suspended sentences over assaults between two folks who know each other and let things go a little too far one night after a few wobbly pops and an argument over who has the bigger pants-shovel. Those are the current precedents that protect bus drivers.

How can that legislation possibly serve to protect what has proven to be one of the most vulnerable public servants in all of Canada? There were 2,061 assaults on Canadian bus drivers in 2011. This is an epidemic, and it's high time we stop comparing workplace assaults to fistfights at the Sens game.

The courts need to fix this. The industry needs to fix this. The cities need to fix this.

Once the courts fix their end, we need to reevaluate our role in the culture of transit, because we are doing it wrong. 

If Fare disputes are such an issue, then first order of business : Fix Presto. Get automated tellers that can refill a Presto card on-the-spot. Give customers 24 hour access to these machines. MAKE IT EASY to pay. Do away with the tickets, the transfers, the headaches. Put fare collection entirely into the hands of the customer. You cannot have a fare dispute with yourself. You won't see a customer arguing with a handheld interac machine at the local Mac's Milk. Put the fare collection into their hands.

Customers need real-time data at the stations. Staring at a static schedule makes the bus late, and the first available interaction about that lateness into a confrontation with the driver. Staring at a monitor with a real-time display of where their bus is, and any traffic delays or detours makes the customer into an informed participant in the process. There are apps dedicated to traffic, weather, and bus locations. This is the information that passengers need to make informed choices. So give it to them. Frustrated passengers might not take it out on the front line if they see what's happening in the trenches.

Drivers need more training. We need intense training in customer service, and ATU279 needs to get involved in this. No more standing on the sidelines. The Union needs to get involved in identifying combative and disgruntled drivers, and help them to change their attitudes and behaviors. The Union and the City need to get the attention of their workforce, and get them focused on changing the culture of transit operations to a focused fleet of service professionals. Drivers need to find pride in customer service, and stop focusing on the vehicle. This begins with the hiring process, and continues with training and retraining. Drivers should be trained to take the bus, as well as drive the bus. Drivers should spend time in a wheelchair, getting around. Drivers should spend time planning a trip across town at rush hour, with an appointment time. We need to walk a mile in their shoes, and roll a mile in their wheels. Maybe we could bring a few scheduling folks out with us while we're at it. 

Drivers need to be trained and retrained  in deescalation techniques. Drivers need strategies to diffuse, externalize, and refocus disputes away from the nose and ribs. The psychology of assault needs to be explained in detail, and drivers need to be open to using advanced techniques to deal with irate and irrational people. If you want to be a professional, and want to tell everyone you're a professional, then you need to learn the part of the trade beyond maneuvering forty feet of metal around a curb.

Where deescalation fails, drivers need self defense training. One of the casualties of light rail was the demolition of the OC Transpo dojo on Belfast. There used to be a gym with a floor space and mats. That's gone now. The company never really used that facility to its potential, where we could have trained drivers to protect themselves. Self defense training should be mandatory in an industry with an assault ratio as appalling as ours.

Buses need cameras. Good ones. Taxis were mandated by the city to install cameras because of security. Buses were outfitted with stickers saying that some buses were equipped with cameras. Obviously, the city feels that cameras would make a difference. If taxis are more secure, and stickers prevent some kinds of mischief, does it not stand to reason that actual cameras are a needed part of the solution? The double deckers came with factory cameras. They do not record. Cameras would record the face of the problem. 

Once the cameras identify an assault, we need to publish these pictures. We need to see the face of these bullies over and over again. We need to hear about them when they are caught. We need to hear what the consequences of their action are. We need to advertise this. I shouldn't have to explain why. 

Buses are already equipped with a silent alarm. Buses should also be equipped with a very loud audible alarm. Some situations need the direct attention of everyone around us. People will step in if they hear a cry for help.

Lastly, we need to get our force of Special Constables out from their conferences under the bridges and onto our buses in the most visible way possible. That entire police force should be riding our buses in uniform to the benefit of everyone who rides transit. 

Put all of this together, and we have a strategy to fight the bullies. 

This city needs to go beyond what other cities are doing. This city needs to take a leadership role in the transit industry, a role that other cities can follow instead of simply working the status quo and waiting for the next assault.

Step up, Ottawa. We need action.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Time for a Hiatus.

Thanks to everyone for your support, the comments, and the hundreds of emails you've sent me over the run of this blog.

It has been appreciated.

We're all humans driving these buses round in circles. It's been a fun ride.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

The Bully Pulpit

Yesterday morning, I really needed a loaf of bread.

I make toast each and every morning. Slab of bread, some time in the toaster while I splash a little coffee in the mug, then a dollop of peanut butter to melt across the nooks n crannies. It's a simple breakfast. Unless of course, you're out of bread.

So I grabbed my shoes, ignored the fact that I was in PJ bottoms and a wrinkled shirt, and headed over to the grocery store to grab a loaf of bread. Two, actually. Why waste a trip.

As I got to the cash, I realized that in my haste, I had not grabbed my wallet. The bread was already through the scanner, and I was empty handed, without a means of payment. It was clearly time to bargain.

"I forgot my wallet." I said, staring at the bread.
The cashier stared at me.
"I can hold the bread here while you go and get it?" He said.
"I really need the bread. Can I pay you next time?" I replied.
"Um, I'm sorry sir. You'll need to grab your wallet. I can't just let you take it."

There was an air of sarcasm to his response. Especially in the last sentence. I just can't let you take it.

There was going to be a problem with my breakfast.

"It'll be $3.29 when you grab your wallet sir, I'll hold it here for you." He said again, pointing to the cashier's nook beside the register.
"Look, I don't have time to grab my wallet right now. Just let me take the bread home. What's the big deal?"

I was getting angry at this stupid kid's affront.

"I'm a regular customer. I spend hundreds of dollars here every year. It's just small  amount. Does it come out of your pocket?" I stammered.

There were people behind me in line now, and he was actually starting to take this lady's items to the scanner as I stood there!

"Buddy." I started, "I need this bread right now. I've been to other stores that honestly wouldn't give a shit if I walked out with four stupid loaves of bread." I yelled, regretting using the word 'shit', but felt it appropriate.

"I'm going to have to call the manager, sir. I can't let you walk out out with product you have not paid for. Please, get your wallet, pay for the bread, then everyone is happy"

What a pathetic loser.

"Give me the God damned bread right now. What do you make? $10 an hour? Just give me the bag. NOW."

I reached for the bag, and he pulled it behind him. So I grabbed him instead. I grabbed him by the arm, and I punched him, hard, right in the face. Then I walked out the front door.

I showed him.

That's not unreasonable, is it?

If you answered "No." to that question, maybe this blog isn't for you.

We don't sell bread at OC Transpo, yet this is a scenario that plays out on a daily basis on our streets.

Transit drivers are under assault here in North America, and the number one reason for drivers getting assaulted is Fare Dispute. There really isn't much difference between the absurd scenario I just posted and a typical fare dispute with a passenger. It's a small cost transaction, and an unreasonable response from a client.

The industry term for it is even a bit of a joke. Fare Dispute. You have either paid the fare, or you haven't. Where is the dispute in that?

If you saw this scenario playing out at a grocery store, you might even step in to help the cashier deal with this idiot. Mine would be completely and totally unacceptable behaviour.  And yet on a bus? You might think less of the driver who stops his bus and wait for security to remove the offender. Some drivers are cool, right? Tell me you haven't heard that little gem?

We are transit drivers, and we are the bullied. Yes, bullied. Bullies don't just take your lunch money. Bullies use threatening behaviour to demean, intimidate, and influence. Bullies wear you down. Bullies hammer on you until you relent. Bullies make you feel worthless and afraid.

Did you know that we average over 60 full-blown assaults against transit operators here in Ottawa per year? Those are the reported assaults. Fist-hit-face kinda stuff. Spit in mouth kinda stuff. In one case, urine-in-cup-thrown-in-face kinda stuff. We as transit drivers get spit on more often per year than we get YouTubed, by a long shot. You know which one makes the news though.

What is not reported are the hundreds upon hundreds of verbal assaults we endure while trying to keep those two loaves of bread behind the counter. Every single one of these verbal assaults has the potential to get violent. Every single one of us knows this, because every single one of us has been assaulted in some form.  And every single one of those bullies knows that if he or she pushes the envelope just far enough, he or she will find that cashier that thinks its better to just hand the bag of bread over, and hope for the best.

A driver recently refused to work after being assaulted. He was reportedly sucker-punched after asking to see an expired transfer. He spent weeks with headaches, and now has the fun task of seeing an assault hiding behind every tree and shelter as he tries to recover from the trauma of a random and sudden assault. It is a natural reaction to an ambush such as his. It is scary stuff to deal with.

I have no idea what kind of recommendations will come out of an HRSDC investigation, but I can't say that I'm not glad that the issue is making some headway. A private member's bill looking to single out the transit industry had been introduced, and then stalled on prorogation, then was reintroduced recently. It has been a decade long process of seemingly low yield results. Nobody seems to care.

You can guaran-fricken-tee that if council staffers were being assaulted 60 times a year that this issue would be front-burner material.

The city has been talking about cameras on buses forever and a day now. But what will a camera really do? Like private members bills, it won't help me during an assault unless I can grab the thing off the wall and smack the guy with it.

A real deterrent might be to take OC's fleet of Crown Vic's out of service, and make these special constables spend some real time on the buses. I realize that this kind of action might reduce the Lost Tourist On The Transitway Ticketing program, but hey, what's a little sacrifice when it comes to rider and driver safety?

I want to end this posting with a letter I received from an assaulted operator. I will not edit the letter, beyond removing his name.

It is high time we do something about assaults in my profession. Ottawa City Council, OC Transpo management, Transit Law, and ATU 279, it is time we take a leadership role in this country.

This is an opportunity.

 The day that everything changed

    At the time that I was assaulted I had been an OC Transpo driver for almost 4 years. Prior to that for 16 years I had driven people with special needs. For 20 years I had earned my living with my driver's license. Not once in those 20 years was I fearful to go to work. Not once was I worried that my safety or my life could be in jeopardy in the workplace. That all changed on a dark, cold night at an isolated layup in February of 2006. As I exit the washroom facilities at the last stop on my route a man steps out of the darkness and punches me in the face. Then he charges at me swinging. The last thing I expected coming out of the washroom was a blitz attack. As I am struggling with him I trip and fall to my knees on the roadway behind my bus. He jumps on top of me and the next thing I know he is sitting astride my chest and has me pinned down on the road on my back. I was so scared. I thought I was going to die. There was no one who could come to my aid. No other drivers. No other passengers.  Nobody.  I was all alone with this maniac.  He could have killed me and OC Transpo wouldn't have known about it until they realized my bus wasn't on its next trip. I finally managed to fight him off of me. As I got up off the road I grabbed for my cell phone to call for help and he ran off through a hole in the fence into an adjoining neighborhood. He had been a passenger on my bus.  A fare evading passenger.  I knew he had boarded the bus illegally at the previous stop by jumping in the back doors. He thought the bus went further. He thought he was going to get a free ride to the airport. When I told him that it was the last stop he asked me for a free transfer. I refused and he left the bus. I had 7 minutes to use the washroom before I started my next trip and wasn't really thinking about him anymore. It never dawned on me that he could be a threat. The reality is that I was assaulted over a $3.00 transfer, a lousy piece of paper.

    At the time I was a husband, a father and was about to become a grandfather for the 2nd time. I had a good job and I was living comfortably. I had many blessings in my life. I had many reasons to be happy. My life was about to become a nightmare. During the assault I had been bitten and his teeth had punctured the skin where he had bit me. I would need immediate anti hepatitis injections and regular blood tests for the next six months to make sure I had not contracted HIV or hepatitis. For the 1st time in over 20 years my wife and I would need to practice safe sex. I panicked at the thought that my grandson might eat off of my utensils or dishes and come into contact with my saliva. Within three days of the assault I couldn't function. I withdrew from my family. I couldn't work. I couldn't sleep. I couldn't drive my car. I couldn't leave my house. I didn't bathe or shave and I had no fucking idea what was happening to me. It hadn't dawned on me yet that I know knew how it felt to be a victim. My doctor put me on anti-depressants. WSIB sent me to a psychologist. One month after the assault I am diagnosed with Major Depression and PTSD. I didn't think I would ever be able to drive a bus again. After several weeks of therapy I am finally patched up enough to slowly integrate myself back into my job. My finances had suffered while I was off work. My wife was unable to work and my house relied on my income. I was getting overtime before I was assaulted but my WSIB benefits didn't come close to matching what I could earn if I was healthy. As time goes on it gets easier to go to work but it is obvious I am not the same person.  I just keep taking the pills and hope that things get better.

    In December of 2008 the union I belong to goes on strike. Within 3 days my employer cuts off my health benefits. I convince myself that I don't need the medication I am taking anymore. Within 2 months I think I am going insane.  My mind has retreated back into that very dark and scary place that I had gone to after the assault. The strike ends and I go back to work but I can't function and I am missing days sick. I go see my family doctor and tell him I have stopped taking my pills. He asks me how that is working and I guess my answer shocks him. It gets me back on anti-depressants and a referral to a psychiatrist. I have been in therapy ever since and even though it has been 7 years I don't think I will ever fully recover from what happened to me that night. I have missed weeks and months of work because of the mental illness I now suffer from. Every day I have to take anti-depressant and mood stabilizing medications to be able to go to work and effectively do my job. These medications have side effects that nobody wants to talk about. Decrease in libido and other sexual side effects. I can't imagine having to go through this alone. If it wasn't for the love, patience, tolerance, understanding and support of my family and the connection I have with my grandchildren I know without any doubt that I would have killed myself by now.

    Because of a $3 transfer my life was almost ruined. Professionally, financially, physically, emotionally and mentally. I can't even begin to describe the effect it has had on my family. That is a whole other story.

(name removed)

Monday, 27 May 2013

The Jim Watson Crack Scandal

What a month for Torontonians.

I've been rattling around with some ideas on Fat Bus Drivers, as featured on CTV news last week, but I can't quite get that post finished. So a little Rob Ford fodder it is.

This whole Rob Ford crack scandal must be what Sue Sherring dreams of when she daydreams. Imagine the daily grind of writing about Ottawa politics. Covering Ottawa municipal politics must be like covering an eclipse.

"Jim Watson Cuts Another Ribbon"
"Bob Monette Wants Better Highways"

Council just had a two hour debate over a clerical error, where councilors got all 'Doc Brown' when Marty McFly tampered with the official council minutes and tried to rewrite the history of mankind in the official record by correcting a clerk's typo. You would think they were correcting The Bible from all the hyperbole.

Whatever became of the debate, the Delorian didn't reach 88mph, and now LRT is back to North-South instead of Sort-of-West to Sort-of-East.


The most interesting thing that seems to happen here in Ottawa is councilors getting to say the name Rainer. It's an awesome name. Say it out loud. Ray-Ner.

But what in the H-E-double hockey sticks is happening in Toronto?

Their mayor just made the Jon Stewart show. (click his name if you haven't seen that) Here's a mayor who inspired thousands to donate a total of $200,000 to buy a video of their mayor smoking crack, sold to them by drug dealers! Holy smokes! There a pile of people in Toronto who I'd suspect of smoking crack, but the mayor? On video? Maybe he had just watched the Leafs blow that 3 goal lead, and thought "Hey, they're obviously on crack..."

Then Mr. Ford went on his radio show (Jim Watson doesn't have a radio show), and called the media a 'bunch of maggots' for covering the story the way they have. Is this guy for real? His staffers certainly don't think so. They're dropping like crack addicts.

So I'll ask the question: What on earth would it take to get Jim Watson to utter the words "I do not use crack cocaine."?

I honestly cannot see any chain of events that would lead to those words being said by those lips. Nope. None. It just couldn't happen. Ottawa politics would not allow those words from a mayor. Even the worst mayor ever in Ottawa wouldn't be caught like that. No way. No how.

Okay, We did have Larry O'Brien for awhile. I mean, if I had to pick ONE Ottawa mayor who could pick a Rob Ford kind of fight with a website like Gawker... it'd be Larry.  I doubt he was likely to smoke crack, but there was just enough animosity for some nutjob to at least accuse Larry of that.

Come to think of it, He did write this: which touts building Supergrids of underground nuclear thingys connected by rails to other cities with underground Supergrid nuclear thingys in an effort to save the world in a way that reads like a comic book super villain's plan... Soooo perhaps a rogue crack accusation may not be far off... but I digress.

I wanted more interesting stories from Ottawa politics, and I think I found it.

Jim Watson, as a young schoolperson, also dabbled in crack. While walking along Bank Street with his mother, he found crack lying on the sidewalk. As you can clearly see from this video representation that I stole from Robot Chicken, he absolutely inhaled.

Beat you to it Sue.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Goosed Stories

"Code 50, Code 50.

All drivers please be aware that there are a couple of nesting geese between Pinecrest and Bayshore stations. Please use caution around the area. Bruce the Goose is on the loose."

If you've been on an OC Transpo bus this week, you may have heard that announcement.

You may even be tempted to head down to Bayshore to have yourself a gander.

Bruce the Goose seems to have moved in, and OC Transpo seems to be supporting Bruce and his bride-to-be as they use the newest section of the Transitway to do a little dance, make a little love, get down tonight.

I can't remember the last time that OC Control made me laugh like like that. There is really no good reason to tell us about geese around the Transitway. Let's face it. If we called out every bird source obstacle in the city, we'd be calling out turkeys and geese all day long.

What makes this story funny to me is that they named the goose.

I can't help but wonder what process was used to name the goose in question. The City of Ottawa does not take naming things lightly. Take OC Owl for example. His name isn't the traditional name of every novelty owl in existance -Hoot-. It is OC Owl. We don't mess around. He is an Owl. He works for OC.

Therefore: OC Owl.


Logically, Bruce the Goose should be OC Goose. Or Transitway Goose. Or G.I.B.B.A.P. (Goose In Between Bayshore And Pinecrest)

But the city named the goose Bruce. After Bruce who?

Springsteen? He was born in the USA.

Willis? Two words: Die Hard. Why tell drivers to avoid that? He'd just string together a bus trap from some spare parts and save himself by blowing up the whole Transitway.

Bruce Lee? Enter the Transitway.

I think it may be time to call in some city staff to find out who this Bruce really is, and how he circumvented city policies to be officially named without a debate on the subject. There are clearly shennanigans at work here, and this blogger will be placing a call to CFRA's Lowell Yellow and Blue to expose this subject to the kind of scrutiny it deserves from the rednecks that listen to him.

I want answers, and I want them now.

I'm not looking for an OC Transpo investigation either. You can call off the four point nines (not quite five-oh's) and their constant observation of the area in question from the seats of their Crown Victorias at the bend near Pinecrest. The geese see you there, coppers. They HONK! in your general direction. Check out the grass beside you. There's poop in that thar grass beside the pile of Roll up the Rim cups.

As an aside, geese are actually very much like bus drivers. Not only are they likely to peck you in the crotch seemingly without warning or provocation, they also spend much time behind others of their kinds. Honking... Flapping... Walking slowly across the street in front of you when you both know they can clearly fly... Okay, bus drivers can't fly.

Nicknaming a goose requires some care and thought, not just some willy nilly alliteration joke. If this is truly to be an official City of Ottawa bird, there must be a transparent process by which the bird is named that reflects the diversity of our community.

There must be a tendering process by which the goose receives his name, so Presto and Clever Devices can develop a clear strategy to broadcast his honks in both official languages.


I'll post the results of my investigation sometime soon.

In the meantime, be careful around Pinecrest and Bayshore. Running over Bruce and his bride-to-be has been strictly forbidden by OC Transpo management.

Plus it might give you goose bumps, and other bad puns.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Jack's Back... On Wheels

Every few weeks or so, I get an email about Jack.

Where we last left the story, Greg the driver had spearheaded the campaign to get Jack a new bike. A driver, Abdullah, donated a bike. Not just a dust bucket in the shed, a good, decent bike.

Then there were a few speed bumps. The first problem was a distinct lack of Jack. Greg carried that bike around the city for a few weeks, but never saw Jack. We all kept asking Greg what happened, but Jack was nowhere to be found.

After a month or so, the bike wound up locked up at a transitway station, awaiting its new owner as soon as Greg ran into Jack. Jack had gone AWOL, and of course, the bike was vandalized. That's what happens to nice people.

To see Greg, you'd think this guy would be at home in a biker bar. He's a black tee-shirt kinda guy. Leather. Bearded. Music junkie. Greg is the kind of guy that has a favorite song by Tool, and might think less of you if you didn't. He might not even want to know you if you couldn't name one.

You might judge him by appearance, as you might judge Jack by appearance, but Greg has a huge heart. And more importantly, Greg gets it. We are all part of a family here at OC Transpo. We take care of each other. There are many stories like this one.

And what about Jack? Jack's not a driver, but we take care of him too. Right is right, and Jack's an alright guy. The drivers have his back.

So Greg had a problem. He had a bike that he wanted to give to Jack to replace his stolen bike, but now it needed repair.

Enter: Bushtuka.

They were about as good a company to Greg as a company can be, and went well beyond what most companies would do to help someone out. They took Greg at his word, and did something very special. They fixed up the bike, free of charge.

We live in an awesome city. Thank you Bushtuka.

Now get in there and buy something.

So after an entire winter of Greg the bus driver hoarding the bike in his shed, another driver, Kelly, ran into Jack and took down his contact info. She posted a note on a local driver's forum, and got Greg back in touch with Jack.

I'm proud to work with these people. These drivers that care about each other, and our passengers. I'm proud to live in a city where a company like Bushtuka would step up like they did.

I'm proud to serve in a city that makes things right sometimes.

Friday, 5 April 2013

April 6.

Clare, Brian, David, Harry, and Ray.

We remember.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Springing Into Action Without Doing A Damned Thing

I've written about this kind of thing before, but every once in awhile, I like to rehash some of my personal pet peeves.

That's a video that someone posted of a bus driver stopping to get coffee on the #8 route. I found that link via Twitter, in response to a discussion between a passenger and OC Transpo's official Twitter feed. Essentially, OC Transpo told the complainant that the driver was in fact allowed to stop and get a coffee as long as he is on schedule, which after checking the GPS data, he was.

You may not like being delayed. I get that. On the #8 route, along that stretch of Alta Vista, the schedule allows for traffic delays that do not exist on every trip. What winds up happening is that the bus gets ahead of schedule by as much as 2 minutes before the bus services the apartment buildings just past Dorion. Many drivers will stop and wait it out as they are required to do. Some even grab a coffee at the Tim Hortons. The lucky ones get posted on YouTube.

George Orwell wrote about a totalitarian society in his acclaimed book "1984". If you haven't read it, you should. The premise of the book is that society complies to the absolute strictness of the government dubbed "Big Brother". Every action of every person is recorded, scrutinized, and reacted to by the population Groupthink. Any trace of independent thought is erased by this Groupthink, and exposed to all as an example of the righteousness of the system.

YouTube is about as close as we get to Big Brother in today's society. Your every action, regardless of whether it is a spectacular fall off of a skateboard, or a bus driver getting coffee, is published for public consumption and scrutinization.

In this case, we are a little less than a Big Brother. What we have become in this case is the Whiney Little Brother, tugging at mom's pant leg, hoping upon hoping to be noticed and supported by the public, in the hopes of getting the mean bus driver in trouble.

I find it pretty pathetic.

What is it about this society that links real inaction to a sense of accomplishment, anyway?

The above story is Kelly Egan's take on inaction. He reiterates Hollaback!'s complaint that OC Transpo doesn't take assaults against women seriously enough. That may be true on a management level, and to be honest, I have no opinion on Hollaback!'s dealings with the company. I was not at the meetings.

I can tell you that drivers take assaults seriously. Certainly more seriously than Kelly Egan did.

The meat of the story is the part where Egan was flagged down by someone he suspected was in distress. His further investigation found a well dressed woman he suspected was being harassed by two "Rascals", as he put it.

If I suspected that the woman was in distress, I would have called 9-11.

Kelly instead decided to stop his car, walk over there, watch the scene play out, call OC Transpo's security department the next morning, and then write a column about how they could have watched the security video to see if the two men were wanted for something. Oh, and he's mad that they never called him back. All this in defense of the opinion that OC Transpo doesn't do enough to prevent assaults.

Imagine taking this call as an emergency control officer.

"I saw something happen last night. Well, not really happen... the woman fled to safety on a bus. I think she may have been in distress, but I'm not sure if it was a domestic dispute... or if she was in trouble... Can you check your cameras, and cross reference those two guys with your super bus-security computers to see if they're actually bad guys? My conscience is killing me. Oh, and call me back because if I know the outcome of this, it will help resolve, well, nothing."
(this is not a quote, it is a parody)

I like Kelly Egan as a columnist, but this column is a lame take on his fumbled actions.

Egan also takes a shot at OC Transpo's firing of Kim Westom-Martin, as if her gender played a role in her firing, or reflects their opinion on assaults on women. Rubbish.

If you see someone in distress on or off OC Transpo property, call 9-11. Report the issue. Get a professional on the scene. The worst possible outcome is a mistaken phone call, and an apology.

And if your bus driver takes a coffee break, ask him the question when he gets back on the bus before you post it on YouTube. You may just find out he's human.

Either way, real action doesn't commence with soliciting public reaction.

You just wing up tugging on pant legs.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Bayshore! For Squareheads.

The old two route was an absolute beauty.

You would start at Blair station, or Gloucester Centre for the old-timers, and wind an Icarus stinky n' slinky bus around Jasmine crescent to Montreal road, then head up through Vanier and across the Cummings bridge to Rideau street. You would head through the Rideau centre, then down Bank street to Somerset and follow that through Chinatown until you hit Hintonburg where it turns into Wellington street, then Richmond road to Bayshore. The bus would then turn into the mall, heading first up the cement bridge and back down again to the road way on the north-west side of the mall under the rickety and decrepit parking garage.

The sound of that old Icarus two-stroking blue smoker echoing off of the many facades of that old garage was trumped by only one other familiar sound on the number two route.


For years, drivers would pick up the "Bayshore Lady" near Wurtemburg and Rideau street, and then proceed to get cursed at all the way to Bayshore.

Legend has it that The Bayshore Lady was a relative of an OC Transpo driver. I have no idea if this is true, but if it is, and that relative is reading this blog right now, please send me a picture of her and I would be happy to post it here in her honour.

To accurately describe the Bayshore Lady, words such as eccentric, loud, acerbic, sometimes frightening, all fit the bill.

The Bayshore Lady earned her moniker for shouting the same question at every driver. "YOU GO TO BAYSHOOOORRRE???" Upon answering the question, she would then proceed to the first or second front facing seat on the right side of the bus, where she could see the driver in the mirror. As people boarded the bus, she would mumble various phrases punctuated by a loud "Tete CARRE!" as she saw someone she disapproved of.

Her voice was memorable. Think of Julia Child. Add a splash of Mrs. Doubtfire. Now give it the cadence of a Monty Python faked falsetto in the Spam! skit. It was awesome, and it carried throughout the entire bus.

For quite a long time, I dreaded picking this woman up. It was like she hated me. She would take over my bus with her running dialogue, and she always looked me right in the eye when she called me a "Tete Carre". (That's squarehead in French, for you anglos) I would see her at the same stop every day as I pulled up Rideau street. There she would be, same bag in her hand, same look of disappointment on her face as she saw who was driving the bus, same question.


The badgering would then continue for the next 50 minutes, with the other passengers raising eyebrows at first, then snickering behind hands and seats, and finishing with a burst of laughter as they quickly exited through the doors. All the while, The Bayshore Lady ran through her routine. The woman was an absolute spectacle.

Until one day, I didn't see her at the stop anymore. In talking to a few other guys stuck on the 2 route, neither did they. It turns out she had moved to Orleans. I know this because I had booked work on the 125, and one afternoon, there she was at Place d'Orleans, same bag in hand, same look on her face, but as I approached I was now wondering what The Bayshore Lady was going to ask me. This would be a life altering development in the mundane world of steering wheel manipulation.

The woman was legendary in the break rooms at OC Transpo. Most drivers had a bang on impression of her, with the high falsetto "BAYSHOOORRRE" sparking bursts of laughter and recognition.

She couldn't just turn into the "INNES ROAD!" lady, or the "JEANNE D'ARC!" lady.

I opened the door, she walked up the steps and pushed a schedule into my hand. On the schedule, she had marked an X along the map, near Innes and Belcourt. I knew the spot.

She was trying to ask me something, but I couldn't understand her, and it was becoming apparent that she couldn't understand me either, in French or English. I pointed to the X, and then to her. She smiled and nodded. She sat down quietly in her usual seat. She still looked agitated, but she was quiet. I was a little unnerved.

The stop she wanted was on Innes road, across the street from a pathway that leads to a bunch of houses on the North side of Innes. This is before the South side of Innes became Box Store City, with the remnants of hay bales and cattle standing where Canadian Tire now is.

I let her off the bus on the South side of Innes, and became acutely aware that her agitation was turning to hesitation and panic as she contemplated crossing Innes rd in a spot where there is no traffic light or crosswalk. She stood there on my bottom step, looking down, then back at me, then down again.

I pulled the brakes, and turned on my four ways.

I offered her my arm, and she grabbed it with both hands in the same way my daughter does on a scary ride at Canada's Wonderland. Her grip was tight on my arm in the same stiff way one might feel leading a blindfolded friend into a surprise party. The whole walk across Innes rd took only thirty seconds, but The Bayshore Lady packed an entire novel's worth of dialogue into it. She was raving in broken French smattered with English "Thank you. Vous Etes tres bon. Oh, mon Dieu!"

My God, she was happy.

When I got back on the bus, a regular passenger told me that he thought it was great that so many the drivers helped that lady across the street. "So many?" I asked. He said that he's seen it a few times now, and that he thinks it's awesome. I thought it was awesome too, I just hadn't realized it yet.

I haven't seen The Bayshore Lady in over ten years now. The rumour mill says she passed away awhile ago. She is still spoken of in the break rooms, although fewer and fewer drivers have actually ever met her. She is the very definition of a legendary rider, which is why I'm writing about her now.

Upon reflection, I think about all those times on the 2 route where she would call me names and yell at me. That was a reciprocation of the respect she received from the drivers. We dreaded her, and she reciprocated.

But walking across the road with her was a thirty second lesson in humanity. I took that lesson several times that summer, leading her across the road, all the while listening to the blind ambition of her vocal chords work a day's worth of thoughts into thirty or forty seconds of real time.

I may not have understood her, but I understood her appreciation of being treated like a human being.

You get what you give in this life, and sometimes it takes a few months of being a squarehead to realize that.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Well, That's Just The Way The Mercedes Bends

So I'm cruising down Albert street. Ahead of me, I can barely see the buildings' high rooftops through the thick falling snow. It was reminiscent of one of those apocalyptic movie scenes where the rising smoke tells the tale of what must have been a great battle scene in some urban concrete jungle. People are walking a little slower. Traffic is beginning to slow. Just another snowstorm in Ottawa.

I dread these days.

By the halfway point of my shift, people are tired. I'm sitting in traffic, the bus is stuffy with humidity and the heat needed to keep the fog off the front window, and the later I become the more people I have to pick up. Soon the bus becomes stuffed with standing people. The crowd grows to the point where I can no longer pick anyone up, but I still have to stop on every platform because the line of buses has now become a series of small leaps forward followed by long periods of staring at brake lights.

I can see the disdain in the eyes of those who knock on my front door flashing their passes at me. "You can fit ONE more" they seem to be saying, with a throw of the hands and a turn of the heel.

It's not a fun day to be a bus driver.

On the bus however, is a different story. People are talking about what is going on, how late they are, and how grateful they are that we are not one of the many buses stuck in the snow. They all ask the same question. "How is it to drive one of these things in the snow?"

The articulated bus is a very difficult animal to drive in snow. Traction is terrible, acceleration is unpredictable, braking is inconsistent, and the articulation point is poorly designed.

Traction with these vehicles is difficult to master. The buses are rear wheel drive, which means that the trailer pushes the tractor along on a pivot. There are two problems that occur when we lose traction. First, the drive wheels break traction, then the bus articulates and the center wheels break traction. From a driver's standpoint, you don't even get the benefit of "road feel" from the bus. The trailer is in another postal code, and once you feel the sliding of the center axle, it's too late. This is why you see these buses stuck with the trailer ultimately out of line with the rest of the bus like one of those giant "Check Your Route" check marks.
Once the bus is bent, it is game over.

It really doesn't matter what kind of tires you are wearing, or how much salt you throw under the drive wheels. When the bus bends, there is simply too much friction resisting acceleration, and the torque applied to the drive wheels will seek the easiest release and simply continue to articulate the bus on the pivot. 

With the bus bent, the center axle receives this power at an angle and the tires simply cannot maintain lateral traction. Add to that the upwards force that inevitably comes with pushing on a stationary object, and you might as well put crazy carpets under the center wheels.

This is not a tire issue.

If this company is to continue ordering articulated buses, it needs to insist on a basic engineering solution to what really hinders the traction on these buses.

Lock the turntable.

The pivot is the problem. If these buses had a way for the driver to lock the pivot temporarily while he/she is in the beginning stages of getting stuck, then the overwhelming majority of these buses would be able to wiggle out of a traction issue the same way a 40 foot straight bus can.

This wont solve our current issues. The only improvement we could make with this current crop of articulated buses is an improvement in driver skill. But having said that, the traction issues are far and beyond what can be reasonably solved through training. Simply put, these vehicles are not designed for deep snow.

The double deckers however, manufactured in Britain of all places and not in Winnipeg like the New Flyer articulated buses, are wonderful in the snow. The traction control kicks in on the first sign of wheel slip, and the driver can turn that feature off should the need arise to rock the bus back and forth in a snow pile. The buses have two rear axles which seems to limit fishtailing, and the weight over the front wheels seems to aid in steering. 

I'm really warming up to these double deckers. 

Solid. Predictable. And, very wet inside. Just like Britain.


Friday, 1 February 2013

To Kill A Mocking Bee

I was about ten years old.

Prior to my parents getting sick, my family used go up to a small trailer lot about 200 feet from the entrance to the swamp on the north east corner of Bobs Lake. I spent most of my summers tooling around that lake up until I was around the age of thirteen.

My good friend Robbie sometimes made the trip with us, and we spent countless hours fishing and exploring the area, sneaking the occasional stolen cigarette, and building forts.

One weekend, we had found this small island near the shoreline, and we brought out a few nails and some rope to string up some kind of contraptional fortress to fritter away the hours of summer. While the stringing up of logs had been a great success, our main design flaw was on the lower end, where it became apparent that what was needed was a few good tent pegs to stake some rope from.

Without any tent pegs, I decided to grab a spindly small branch and jam it into this hole that was a few feet away, in the hopes that the small stick would hold up some of the slack just enough for now. What happened next haunts me to this day. The hole was the entrance to nest of yellow jackets, and my stick was their apocalypse. My arm was covered in welts before I even realised what was happening, and when I finally understood what was going on, I ran and jumped into the lake.

This may be the revisionist history of a phobic mind, but I can still remember being under the water and seeing these angry little bees dive bombing the surface like someone throwing a handful of pebbles on me as I swam.

This was the birth of my irrational phobia of most things bee.

Fast forward a few years, and here I am. I have driven all over North America both commercially and with my kids. I have hauled dynamite over the continental divide. I have dealt with mean drunks at all hours of the night. I have been mugged in New York City. I was once robbed while working at a gas station by a young man with a 9mm pistol.

And I am still irrationally scared of bees.

It is a Sunday afternoon, summer. I'm booked on this nice little piece of work on the 95 line. Orleans to Baseline, all highway and transitway, just point west and drive. The old Icarus bus doesn't have air conditioning, so all the windows are open and I'm having a really nice summer day.

As I'm passing the lights near Dominion Station and the entrance to the western parkway, I feel a thump on my arm. Instinctually, I brush off the area without looking, but I feel something there that gives off a rapid vibration like one of those joy-buzzers my buddies thought were such a scream in grade school.

I look down from the road, and there, to my horror, is what appears to be a stunned bee. It wasn't one of those cute fuzzy bees that lumber around the yard sucking on flowers, it was one of those sectioned bees with dangley back legs and the flight path of laser-pointer dot being operated by a three year old.

This little creature is on my lap, as I am driving at 60km/h in a bus full of people, and it appears to be waking up. I toggle between looking at the road and the bee, not quite sure of which threat I would rather lose sight of.

The bee is starting to do the equivalent of air-pushups, flying up a centimetre and landing back on my lap with it's razor sharp teeth, hunched back, and dangley hind legs. I am having a full blown panic attack.

The little guy then attempts flight. He makes it to eye level, and realises that the suction of the window is pulling him outside, so he flies to the top of the steering wheel and lands. I am no longer at ten and two. Nope. Sixes all around.

I haven't even made it to the Woodroffe exit yet, but as of now, time has been passing slower than a Presto launch.

As the bee is walking back and forth on top of the steering wheel, I could swear he's looking at me, mocking my fear, and I could swear he's licking his lips and blowing kisses as he bathes his dangley hind legs in various yoga-poses. This has become a full blown standoff, and I am painfully aware that I do not have a very particular set of skills that this bee should be aware of. As if smelling my fear,  he releases his hold on the wheel, flies first toward me, then 8 inches to the right where he lands on the face of my transfer printer.

The transfer code of the day OW. Very funny, God. Top notch.

There is a lady standing beside me, who is also now looking at this pacing bee, and at me, in amusement. She has a rolled up newspaper, and a smirk.

"You need me to get that?" she said?
"Sure. Please." I replied.


She smacked the bee. Dead on. However, the bee is clearly not dead. He's pining for the Fjords. I am now travelling at 60km/h with an angry bee whom I just saw fly to my shoe and land, and I have lost sight of him. The only logical place for this bee to have flown to at this point is directly inside my pant leg. If I remain perfectly still, maybe he will fly out. There is a problem with that strategy however. I am driving a bus.

Every small gust of wind, every small movement of my seat as I drive along, every wisp of motion in the leg of my pants is The Bee. He has moved in to my pants, and I'm positive that at this point, he is making a nest behind my calf muscle.

Atticus Finch once said that to truly understand someone, you first have to climb into his skin and walk around in it a bit.

At that moment, the bee must have been coming to the realisation that walking around in my skin was about to become that funny story about the bus driver who furiously took his pants off at Lincoln Station.

The light at Lincoln Station changed quickly to green as I approached, and I flew around that corner to the platform after a healthy bump of the curb. My mind was racing. My legs were killing me as I realised that I had not actually been sitting on the seat, but more of a hovering over the seat type of posture. It is difficult to navigate a slinky to a platform while doing a quadriceps squat over your seat, all the while and trying maintain eye contact with the floor below you.

With the bus stopped, I jumped up into the aisle and shook my leg, then my pants, then my legs again. Bus driver Hokey Pokey. That really is what it's all about.

Still no bee.

I turned the driver's compartment upside down looking for that little ball of black and yellow. Not a dangley leg to be found anywhere. There are not many places for a bee to hide in the driver's compartment of an Icarus. I tried to shrug it off and just chalk it up to a little Houdini-ism on the part of mother nature. I spent the rest of the shift wondering. Worrying. Looking.

It wasn't until I got home that night that I found out the fate of my little mockingbee.

As if in a modern take of the Greek myth of Icarus, the bee had simply flown too close to the calf muscle, and with his wings burning up, he had fallen from the sky and drown himself in my shoe.

I'm just glad I didn't take my pants off.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Evolution and Trained Monkeys

In my last post I poked a little fun of the Trained Monkey perception that many folks feel best describes the job requirements of an urban transit bus driver. Tongue in cheek? Sure. But in all humour, comes a grain of truth.

This job really has changed over the years. This city has changed too.

If you pulled aside drivers in order of hire date, and asked them to write a paper on driving a bus for OC Transpo, you might get some very interesting and diverse results.

The newer hires mostly remember what the real world is like. They come from jobs that paid less, are grateful for it, and have had recent training and exposure to company policy. The company has really (and rightly) focused on hiring people with customer service backgrounds in the past few years, and these folks are generally better at dealing with the public than the more senior drivers.

The scheduling system actually improved many of the new drivers' working conditions. Where a 6 hour day spread over 13 hours was the norm, they can get a 12 hour day and be guaranteed 3 days off every two weeks instead of one day per week.

Many of the newer hires have more diverse resumes. They have more experience and more education than the longer term employees. The newer driver is less concerned about preserving the old ways of doing things, and is more apt to follow new policies without question.

The hardened vet has an entirely different view of the job.

As a kid, I remember bus drivers as being authority figures. First off, they had taller hats than most. It was a conductor's cap, tall in the front and lower in the back. The hat always had a shiny ornament of some kind in the front, the same way a policeman's did. Bus drivers wore suits, neatly pressed, and had their hair trimmed tightly and were clean shaven.

You paid your fare or you walked in the old days. If you were causing problems on the bus, you walked. If you hit a bus driver, he would likely hit you back. He might even chase you down the street to do it.

Perhaps we shouldn't pine for the old days, but the authority is all but nonexistent in the present days, as is the professional standard that lined it with its polished sheen. Too many policies are obfuscated by "driver discretion" issues that create conflict with our clients. It is very difficult to maintain authority when so many other drivers' discretion is inconsistent with yours. Add to that the toothless response systems to conflict in any government employment, and you get an interesting mix of resentment and job dissatisfaction.

A newer hire might view a fare dispute as just that... a dispute... where a long term vet might view that same dispute as a challenge to his authority.

The hardened vet has lived through a few strikes. He has lived through a mass shooting in his workplace. He has lived through many regimes of managers and politicians, all who think their ideas of transit are the right ideas for transit. The hardened vet has lived through the era where a fare evader was a reason to kill a bus on the spot, and that decision was encouraged by managers and the public alike.

Now, a fare evader is tolerated after a single request for the person to exit the bus.

While most drivers would not admit this, reduced driver decision-making authority over day-to-day situations is one of the most stressing aspects of being a long term bus driver.

It is tough to be a principled person and let other people (who will likely not show up in time) deal with something you used to be expected to deal with.

The veteran bus driver has lived through the era of respect for professionals and graduated to the reality of today where 140 characters are more important to most people than saying Good Morning.

Authority is only one aspect.

Where a bus driver used to serve a neighborhood, he is interlined throughout the city in a series of mad dashes across the city to cover the master computer's next big idea to save money.

Let that sink in a second.

A bus driver used to serve a neighborhood. People used to know our names because we used to serve the street they lived on every day, all day. If there is one thing that the scheduling issues took from us, it is the ability to serve an area, a community, a neighborhood.

I miss the old folks on the 16 route as I chugged my way through to Carlingwood. There is just something special about picking them up every day, and hearing them make references to "Simpson" Sears. Then I'd pick them up a few hours later and drive them home.

One day, an older man got on my bus with a newly purchased set of jumper cables with a Sears logo on them. I quipped "You can ride, just don't start anything". For weeks that story was retold on my bus.

I work hard to try and establish these kinds of connections with each new booking. It's not the same as it used to be, but I still get Christmas presents from customers every year. So, it's not impossible.

Whether you are a hardened vet, a new hire, a manager, or a passenger, take one thing from this little rant.

The evolution of this job has moved us away from the professional standards and customer service principles we try to enforce with policy.

Policy is cold and obtuse.

If we want to make transit better, we need to find ways to create connections with our clients, and get drivers focused on getting job satisfaction through those connections.

We need to evolve back to the old days.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Your Chance To Be A Trained Monkey!

I'll never forget the way the call-in shows and Letters to the Editor treated us during the strike. I'm not going into the politics of what happened then, so put down your sharp objects. The strike was horrible for everyone, and should not have happened. I'm just talking about what people think a unionized bus driver's job entails.

The typical view of any job that begins with the word "unionized" is that image of four construction workers hovering over a single shovel, one working, the rest supervising. When you combine "lazy" with strike action, you get some pretty wild public accusations on these call-in shows, or in the Letters section of the newspaper.

The theme that always killed me was this idea that a trained monkey could drive a bus.

Now I'm not arguing the fact that a monkey could be trained to push the pedals and turn the steering wheel. It most certainly could be done. But let's see a monkey fill out an incident report, or argue with a drunk who insists his TD Bank card is in fact a Presto card.

So There it is. The link to Trained Monkeydom. Your ticket to $100k-a-year lazy afternoons of union employment.

Now there are a few clarifications I would like to make about the perks of the job.

You will not make $100k a year. Yes, there have been drivers on the Sunshine List, but those drivers (All one of them) work 120 hours every two weeks, the most hours allowed under Federal work/rest regulations. And, all one of those drivers are in the top seniority bracket at OC Transpo, meaning he's been there over 25 years.

You can expect to make between $52k and $57k working at standard 40 hour workweek at OC Transpo.  As stated ad nauseum in Letters to the editor, an entry level bus driver makes about the same as an entry level firefighter. What the letters do not state however, is that a 20 year veteran OC Transpo driver also makes about the same wage as an entry level firefighter. The only factor that affects your salary as you pile on the years is your access to overtime. Federal work/rest rules have forced the company to increase its workforce to reduce overtime in the name of compliance, so don't expect to be on the Sunshine List any time in your career.

The second thing you need to know before you apply is that unionized work is not necessarily lazy unionized work. Getting your paycheque at OC Transpo doesn't mean standing around watching a shovel.

Think of the last time you drove to Toronto. You hopped in the car, maybe with the kids in back. You headed out onto the 417, then to the 416 for an hour or so, onto the 401 for 45 minutes or so before you stopped to take a quick refreshment break. You then headed down the 401 into heavier traffic, and after another three hours, you were on the DVP heading to your downtown hotel. The trip took you around 5 hours, and the feeling of getting out of that car was sensational. You stretched your legs, and let out that kind of half yawn/half groan as your back straightened out and the blood came back to your legs.

Now think of that 5 hour drive as your first shift of the day at OC Transpo. Only add in about 750 transactions, 30 people asking you for directions or instructions, 7 or 8 people you don't know who want to get into your car and don't want to help you pay for the gas (and expect that you will comply regardless of what you say to them), and just for fun...throw in a drunk guy who you think might vomit on one of your kids.

Now go into your hotel, and come back out at 3pm, because you still have 3 hours left to drive if you want to pay your mortgage this month. Oh, and don't forget. You will be doing the same thing tomorrow. And the day after that.

Driving a bus is not lazy work. We OC Transpo drivers are some of the hardest working people in the city. Our shifts are comprised of turning the wheel, pushing the pedals, and doing transactions from start to finish. It is sheer ignorance to suggest that bus drivers are lazy. An 8 hour shift, be it a straight shift or a split shift, is 8 hours of driving a vehicle. Bus drivers do not get lunch breaks. The only time the wheels stop is what is referred to as "Recovery time", which is service recovery time according to the control center and not driver recovery time. Meaning, if you are late getting to the end of your run and are supposed to leave right away, you are expected to leave right away on your next trip.

Hard work does not necessarily mean difficult work. I will undoubtedly get emails from from a few nurses saying "Uh yeah. You should see what WE put up with." Bus drivers are not nurses, that is for sure. Those people are pure A-types. Salt of the earth.

In the Letters section of the newspaper, responses to the driver bashing letters were met with equally absurd responses from drivers describing wind swept platforms in the dead of winter, and almost all letters had one common theme.

The Twenty Thousand Pound Sixty Foot Vehicle That We Have To Lug Through Traffic.

I always get a kick out of that hyperbole. If you are thinking of applying for this job, you need to understand that you only have to push the one pound pedal, and the motor pushes the rest of the 19,999lbs.

Relatively speaking, driving a bus from a purely mechanical perspective is pretty easy in comparison to driving a large tractor trailer. The first large truck I ever drove had an 18 speed transmission, and had the turning radius of a jumbo jet. Matching engine RPMs to transmission speeds in order to shift was a skill you absolutely had to master, because taking 80,000lbs over the Rockies requires careful speed management and an almost zen-like connection to the machine. Don't even get me started on navigating the 1300+ low bridges in the city of Chicago.

Driving an automatic transmission bus on roads that give priority to transit is a skill that most people with intelligent driving habits can master. If you're looking to drive a bus for a living, don't let the vehicle scare you. It is not a hard thing to drive, with a bit of coaching and practice.

I highly recommend working as a bus driver for OC Transpo.

When you consider that so many students graduate from university looking for white collar jobs, and wind up  serving coffee, waiting tables, selling insurance, or taking dead end contracts with the government, a job with long term security and a pension looks pretty enticing. Employers have been shifting away from benefits in their relentless efforts to cut costs and generate share profits. The job market right now is a wasteland of short term work and underemployed baccalaureate degrees just looking to pay off the student loans. The value of our labour has never been lower as these underemployed people compete with each other for jobs they consider worthy of their schooling, but they have no concept of what their labour is worth taking short term contracts without any kinds of benefits.

These are generally the same people that throw this reality in my face as I defend union work, saying that "I don't have sick days or a pension... and Unions were created to stop slavery..."

Seems the conservative mind will not rest until no one in the country has sick days or a pension. Then we can all work until we are 80 or we are dead. It'll save money.

I digress.

Driving for OC Transpo may not be prestigious, but there are plenty of hours the city needs you to work right now, and will be there for many many years. You will contribute to a pension that will help you live out your retirement with dignity. You will meet some of the best and some of the worst that Ottawa has to offer. You will serve Ottawa in a way that might surprise you, the sheer volume of people moving about their daily lives is astounding.

The rewards of serving people will only be enhanced as you master the art of thick skin, and come to the realization that people in general are pretty decent and cool. All it takes is a little extra effort once in awhile to make someone's day, and making someone's day can be a job perk not spelled out to you in the official job description.

You will be part of a family of very highly trained monkeys at OC Transpo, a family that will stick up for you when needed. I guarantee that it will never be boring.

You may get a little poo flung at you every once in awhile, but monkeys can't read anyway and the bananas are company issue.

So, grab a vine, and apply.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Adventures in Doubledecking

"So, how are these things to drive?"

Easily the most asked question a double-decker driver hears on a daily basis.

Meet Alexander Dennis.

The UK based manufacturer of the Enviro500 double deck buses likely never thought their buses would be fighting this kind of winter, and only time will tell if the brand will stand the test of time.

First off, I love driving these buses. I like the novelty of it. I like the feel of it. And, once the off-gassing of newly cured paints, plastics, and upholstery products subsides, maybe I'll even enjoy the experience of it. "New car smell" is horrible after an hour or two. "New bus smell" is downright nauseating.

The driving experience itself is unique to the fleet. The bus is equipped with a Cummins ISL9, a, 8.9L turbo diesel that puts out 300hp and roughly 1100ft/lb of torque. It'll do 0-60 in 15 minutes, unless you're doing the #14 route, as the bus is slowed down greatly by old tree growth. (You didn't really think I'd take bus stats seriously, did you?)

I have driven both models of double decks, the older taller version and this new fleet. Performance wise, no difference.

Winter handling is pretty good, with two biting axles to provide traction in deep snow. Steering is good right up until you brake, as it is with any large vehicle.

From the seat however, I have a few opinions.

The bus has been spec'd with a giant Recarro seat with full armrests that you cannot move without pinching your fingers, as the driver's compartment has a tub-style door that interferes with the movement of any part of the seat itself. It's as if Alexander Dennis engineering department designed the driver's compartment with The Shire in mind. I'm a pretty lean guy, and I still found it a little difficult to unlock the tub door to get in and out. It's very Jenga-esque in there. It took me longer than it should to adjust things, settle in, and get going.

Finally tucked into my compartment and on my way to Hobbiton, I began driving. I muddled my way through what I remembered of my training, and set out to decipher the symbols that represent functions on the bus's control panel. Like many UK companies, A.D. loves the so called "Universal" symbols. These ones aren't as bad as the old Icarus buses, with their ancient Germanic hieroglyphics and complex calculus function codes, but they are... well, annoying. Alexander Dennis is from England, and hey! I'm English. Why not put A/C instead of a snowflake symbol. Any why put a snowflake symbol if what you actually meant was Climate Control. We have winter. I want to turn the Snowflake off, not on.

Climate control is completely out of the driver's hands, by the way. The Computer whom I've named ADHAL (and you can pronounce that @#$%!) controls the heat level of the bus. A few days ago, the outside temperature was a balmy -16C.  Heat rises, so the people coming down the stairs complained to me that the bus is too hot. ADHAL likes it cool, so the people downstairs complained that the bus is too cool. I pushed the snowflake up, then down, then back up. Nothing. ADHAL was in charge.

After trudging through the snow to get into the bus, shaking off the icicles from my hat and shoulders, I found myself cursing the fact that the bus is not equipped with any kind of driver compartment (or even just a basic coat hook) to place winter gear once you start driving. I found myself draping my winter coat over the back of the driver's seat. Melting ice became water, and before long I found myself with wet shoulders.

ADHAL helped me figure out why there is no hook for my jacket.

After 10 minutes, there was still only a lukewarm breeze emanating from the driver's heat vent. I turned every control to its highest setting, and still no real heat. Just the lukewarm breath of  ADHAL, and his off-gassing plastics, apparently burping out whatever leftover heat remained from passing his antifreeze through every other heat dissipating radiator in the bus.

I put my jacket back on. And my gloves. And lit a fire in the garbage bin. Okay, I made that last one up.

The driver's compartment is very cold in any kind of extreme temperature. Windows ice up. Feet ice up.

The actual driving (other than temperatures) is pretty decent. I don't feel like I'm going to tip over around corners. As a matter of fact, the computer controlled suspension is pretty awesome. It hugs the road. Bumps are easily handled unless you are braking. I love the fact that the engine retarder can be activated with a light  tap on the brake pedal, light enough in fact that the actual service brake doesn't engage. Properly mastered, I can bring the bus to an almost complete stop without using the service brakes. (Smooth like Buttah!)

Wind is an issue, the bus does tend to wander on the Fallowfield transitway. It's nothing unmanageable, but I could see a driver getting a little spooked by it if they weren't expecting it. And, judging by the number of people who have mentioned to me that The Other Driver is so freaking slow, I'm guessing more than a few drivers get spooked.

Some drivers have complained that the smaller radius steering wheel to too tough to turn. I don't find this to be an issue myself. The whole reason buses came with larger radius steering wheels is because buses used to be equipped with Armstrong Steering. (No power steering, for you rookies out there) These buses steer well enough to be almost car-like.

The service side of things is very predictable.

The double deckers have many seats, and that is awesome. People really seem to like that aspect of the vehicle, but you cannot stand upstairs unless you are under 5ft tall. I watch you folks in the camera, head down, knees bent... then THWACK! Getting up is harder than it looks and our memories are short! Funny how Zamboni drivers have to wear helmets to clean the ice for 10 year old figure skaters who don't wear helmets. The city should reallocate those helmets to tall bus riders.

Kids love the double deckers, too. Hard not to feel like a rockstar when I pull up to a stop with a couple of young ones waiting there. It'd be nice if there was a place to store a stroller while mum and dad take the kids upstairs though. Being a kid stuck on the bottom floor of a double decker is like putting a swing in the backyard of Disney World. "Yeah, we went, but we just rode the swing out back and watched the rides."

From a "Keeping the schedule" standpoint, these buses take a longer time to load that the 60 footers do. Fewer doors make for longer loading, and people have to walk up a flight of stairs to get to their seats, and then walk down a flight of stairs to get off the bus. This takes more time than a conventional bus. Hundreds of U of O students test this theory on a daily basis as they board at MacKenzie King station, go upstairs, ring the bell, and get off the bus two stops later on Campus. (I could swear I hear them saying Wheeeeeeeee! in their minds)

I remember shaking my head a few years back when the suggestion was made that the lesser road footage of the bus would ease gridlock, because the buses take less room than 60 foot buses. That's a shining example of book smarts beating street smarts to the buzzer with a wrong answer. More doors make for faster loading. Period. Want to speed up the core?  Take all service out of it, save for an East-West line that starts at Lebreton and ends at Hurdman. Load up your double deckers and 60 footers at those stations to head on their express routes. Without a 60 item menu of buses in the core, you'd be amazed at how fast everyone just grabs the first thing smoking and heads out of dodge.  No more deadheading across the core. No more multi-stopping buses trying to round up an indecisive herd of clients. No more browsing. Doors open, get on, move along. (precisely why light rail works so well, btw)

When the transitway shuts down, I hope we'll see this kind of shift in thinking and that we can use these double deck buses in this kind of fashion. We will see them shine, used properly.

All in all, the buses are better than I expected on the service side of things. The ergonomics need a little tweaking, but I can see that once we master that, it'll be a jolly good time, and I look forward to seeing what ADHAL thinks a snowflake means in +30C.

Given that none of the windows open, I'm hoping it's literal.