Monday, September 9, 2013

Part 3 of a new installment, exclusive to This Crazy Train, "Meet the Deckers"

Editor's note: If you have safety concerns about Double Decker buses, drop me a line

Read Parts 1 and 2
Photo from GO Transit's official Facebook page

Special to This Crazy Train

What would Ralph Nader say?
by Ali Gator (not his real name)

In this segment of the series, Meet the Deckers, I look at safety concerns with the Alexander Dennis Ltd. (ADL) double-decker (DD) buses that GO Transit has deployed on Route 12, between Niagara Falls and Burlington GO Transit stations.  Let me start by saying that I have not been involved in any incident that has caused bodily injury to myself or others while commuting on these buses.  What other passengers and I fear are what will happen should a mishap occur with one of these buses on the QEW.  Let me say that I have the utmost regard for the drivers on Route 12; their track record is not under scrutiny.

So what are the concerns?

From the first day I travelled on an ADL DD in June of 2011, I was convinced it was a bus suited for intra-city commuters, not inter-city travellers/tourists.  Route 12 draws much tourist traffic with folks heading to Niagara Falls, especially in summer, and with that comes luggage, strollers and bicycles – and plenty of them.  Unlike the traditional MCI coaches, the double-deckers have negligible cargo capacity.  Items that are normally stored underneath the bus on a MCI model are brought on board a DD.

The cargo area is essentially the luggage rack over the front wheel well.  This picture shows an average amount of luggage, four strollers, each with an infant.   On the QEW, the bus can reach speeds of up to 109 km/hr.  Note how low the seat backs are in comparison to those on a MCI bus.

When the luggage rack is full, suitcases, etc. overflow into the accessibility area as shown in the photo above.  Occasionally, a suitcase on wheels will break away from the pack and roll down the aisle.  Have you ever seen a happier group of passengers?

Did I mention bicycles?  When the bike rack is full, supervisors authorize drivers to allow bicycles inside the bus with passengers.  This one doesn’t look to be secured with bungee cords or duct tape, does it?

And what happens when a driver is required to transport nine bicycles?  Well, two are mounted on the bike rack, three go in the rear cargo closet, four ride inside the bus, the trip is delayed, the train connection in Burlington is missed, and passengers are very unhappy

You’re probably wondering, what’s all this all leading to?  The QEW is very unforgiving when something goes wrong.  I was on an early morning bus to Burlington when we came upon this collision that had happened shortly before we got to the scene: Woman killed by flying tire on Ontario highway.  Earlier this year, the QEW near St. Catharines was closed because of this fatal crash.  Both these fatalities would have turned baggage and bicycles into projectiles within the bus.  Even a lesser crash, like this one – which turned the Niagara bound lanes into a salad bar – would have wreaked havoc on board the bus.

I know what you’re thinking.  Weren’t the double-deckers modified to have a cargo bay (of sorts) added to the back of the bus?  You’re absolutely right!  However, that cargo bay is rarely used because of safety concerns for the drivers.  I’ll address the “cargo closet” in a future article.

So, with all that stuff crammed inside the bus, how do these double-deckers manage to conform to the PublicVehicles Act?  You know, the part that says:

  1. Where a public vehicle is used for the transportation of passengers or express freight, the licensee shall provide accommodation therefor so that there is no interference with the free and ready ingress and egress of passengers to and from the vehicle and the accommodation shall be so constructed as to prevent the property or freight from injuring a passenger.  R.R.O. 1990, Reg. 982, s. 17.
They obviously don't ... unless there are exceptions I don't know about.

Scary stuff, right?

If any of you reading are highly knowledgeable (in the legal sense) of traffic laws and the Act, your input is welcome.

Let's move on.

The decorative aluminum strip on the driver’s door has sharp burrs on the corners.  Two drivers showed me the gouges they received when they brushed against these corners.  And we all know what job-related injuries mean – WSIB paperwork!

Whereas MCI buses allow up to 19 standing passengers, for safety reasons, none are allowed to stand on double-deckers – anywhere.  The following photo shows three standing passengers; two on the stairs – a definite no-no!  I’ve heard reports of triple that number standing.

OC Transpo in Ottawa also operates ADL double-decker buses in their fleet.  Last winter, two DDs were blown off Woodroffe Avenue.  Per this CBC article, the buses will not operate on that municipal road this coming winter.  The union representing the transit workers was quite vociferous in influencing that decision.
Imagine this in green and white …(click here for the CBC story and video)

In 2011 and 2012, GO Transit operated the double-deckers on Route 12 only during the summer months.  I’ve asked the drivers when the DDs are leaving this year, and I’ve been told that they’re staying.  In spite of what happened in Ottawa, it appears Metrolinx has decided to run those buses at freeway speeds across the windswept Burlington and Garden City Skyway bridges during the periods of what is the worst weather in the Golden Horseshoe.  Why?  As far as I know, the GO Transit bus drivers’ union has remained mum on this matter.  Will it take an incident on the QEW to force a discussion? Why are brass waiting for something to happen?!

Recently, I received an invitation to take another Let GO Know survey.  GO Transit wants to initiate yet another “pilot program” - this one to install a digital Audio Video Recording System (AVRS) on some double-decker buses.  Yes, Big Brother is coming to a DD on a route near you.  Supposedly, recording everything we say and do on the bus will make the trips safer for us.  The introduction to the survey never   explained how increased safety would be achieved.

If you completed the survey and can explain how electronic surveillance equipment will mitigate the issues I've outlined, could you share your insights, please?

My word. What would Ralph Nader say? 


Unknown said...

The DD buses that MegaBus runs (which I think are MCI) have HUGGGEEE spaces at the back for luggage. They are so large at least half dozen bikes could fit - and if the toilet was removed, maybe 2 more hung inside the bus. These buses also seat some 40 or more up top and maybe 20 below (I think I under estimated)... GO should borrow one of these.

Anonymous said...

Vanhool are the bus of choice from MegaBus.
Much more ideal for Hwy travel.
Driver on MegaBus has a fully working 3 point seat belt & passengers sitting at the from upstairs also have seat belts.
This however is deemed un neccerssary by GO Transit.
Passenger Charter : we take your safety seriously.
We beg to differ!

TomW said...

1) "For safety reasons, none are allowed to stand on double-deckers – anywhere." That's silly. Standing aon a double-decker is no less safe than standing on a regular bus.

2) These buses obviously aren't deisgned for long-distance travel. GO should use them on routes where people are doing shorter trips.

3) AVRS is being rolled out because (shockingly!) people do illicet/illegal stuff on buses. (OIncluding assaukting bus drivers). TTC and many other transit agencies have them for this reason. (NB: gerenally, the policy is that they store several days of footage, but no-one actually looks at it unless an incident is reported).

TomW said...

Also: Given how popular the Niagara buses are, GO should really incraese the frequency... onstead of every two hours (or so), why not every hour?

Anonymous said...

Tom. Totally agree.
They cater for Toronto traffic only.
Last bus out of NF. 21.35???
Busy place at night too!
How about those wanting to work in the Falls or St Catharines? You can't commute.
First weekend bus doesn't pull in until 10am! Farce

Anonymous said...

Aboutown Transportation, which is contracted to provide transit service in areas of Kent Region, has recently posted signs on its buses requiring strollers be folded up, and has banned using cellphones or wearing headphones attached to devices such as MP3 players. Food or drink is also not allowed..

If the stroller doesn't fold up, should it block the path of other passengers?

Unknown said...

Luggage Area on Megabus (maybe not as big as I remember it... bust still 3-5 bikes on their sides )

upper level:

lower level:

Corey Burger said...

Funny how Victoria, BC (where I live) has managed to operate these for 13 years on and off highways and to/from the ferry terminal without any problems.