TTC Roadeo puts Top Bus Drivers to the Test
Everyone I know thinks they're a good driver. I think I'm a good driver. 95% of the time it's the other drivers, cyclists, and negligent pedestrians on the road that cause problems, and all I need to do is stay alert and wary of their ineptitude, to avoid collisions right? Not at all.
Every vehicle behaves differently on the road. This is a reality that was reinforced today, like a smack in the face, when I drove a TTC bus for the first (and likely last) time.
To put things simply, driving an 8.5-foot wide, 40-foot long Orion VII is extremely difficult for the untrained. I first watched in dismay as a number of first-time transit bus drivers (mostly journalists from Toronto media outlets... hi Dina!) attempted to maneuver through the intricate obstacle course that was set up for the 38th annual TTC Roadeo Maintenance and Driver Competition (to be held this coming Sunday).
One by one, they took command of the bus, inched along slowly, and mercilessly bent and crushed rubber pylons all along the way. Then it was my turn to get behind the wheel, but not before putting on my (ummm... snazzy would be the wrong word) Roadeo 2009 hat and getting comfortable in the driver's seat.
Instructed by defending champion Bruce Reid, who drives with the confidence, speed, and agility only a 21-year veteran driver can display, I crept slowly through the serpentine challenge, unintentionally taking out pylons left and right (but making it look like they were worth bonus points).
Once you commit in a vehicle of this size, there's no turning back. Sitting well in front of the wheels that steer the long beast, pitching out, over-steering, and very careful watching of your mirrors are all requirements for effective, safe driving.
Even the best TTC drivers face serious challenges on Toronto's road. I asked Bruce what concerns he has when on any given shift. "People making turns without signaling, or making turns from improper locations are all too common, " he explains, "and there are people who don't adjust for the conditions."
Driving a bus in the city can also be a test of patience. Although it's expected that drivers yield to buses as they pull out of bus stops, it often happens that Bruce finds himself waiting for 10 or more cars to pass by before someone finally yields to his signal. "Some people think that the bus is actually delaying them, but really it's not, because we're keeping a lot of people off the road when they're on our bus."
I asked him if had hopes of leaving all pylons standing at the TTC competition on Sunday, to which he replied, "A perfect run is hard to come by." In practice he had one perfect run out of five.
Last year Bruce went on to the North American competition in Seattle where he placed an impressive 5th in the 40-foot bus competition. 54 companies from the US and Canada participated.
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