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.