When Does Technology on Buses Become the Problem?

Posted on January 5, 2015 by Louie Maiello - Also by this author

DRs Kulturarvsprojekt
DRs Kulturarvsprojekt

OK, I loved playing stick-ball, curb-ball and defending our turf in the South Bronx. You were known by the street you lived on. No one but no one got away with doing anything out of the ordinary on our turf. Giving and getting some lumps were part of hanging out. We all thought we were extras in the musical West Side Story by the way we conducted ourselves. The strangest thing was right after you straightened out any issues with bare knuckles you usually ended up being friends with the person you just bloodied. Go figure!

Then there were the finer things in life such as Topps bubble gum, which was included in every pack of Topps baseball cards, and Bazooka gum which usually removed any fillings that were in your mouth. The chance that you would get a Mantle or Mays in that Topps pack made all the cavities worth it. Original Drakes Ring Dings and a Vanilla Egg Cream (milk, syrup seltzer, but no egg!) was the bomb!

Technology was not in my vocabulary as a kid, but now it's at the front of the line. I’m not saying I’m against it, but could we step back a moment and catch our breath when it comes to technology and bus operations? It seems what used to be a fairly unobstructed view of the road ahead, and to the sides of the bus using simple dashboards and adequately sized mirrors, now appears to resemble a cockpit of the world’s most sophisticated aircraft.

Large fareboxes, over-sized interior and exterior mirrors, camera mounts and wide A-Frames, to name a few, make it more difficult for the operator to conduct "meaningful information gathering" scans through the windshield and through each exterior mirror.

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If that's not enough, along comes bike racks. “Why don't we just place them on the front of the bus,” someone suggested. And we did. Bikes are meant to be ridden, not to be at risk of causing an obstruction to the bus operator. Again, probably suggested by someone who has never had to operate a bus for a living, maintain a schedule, interact with customers, traffic, supervision, and deal with weather issues…Oh, and all of these things have to be handled in a safe manner, no exceptions.

With all that is occurring ahead and to the sides of the bus, the operator needs fewer obstructions not more. Add a little fog, rain and a weak defroster and who knows what's in the path of the bus?

Bus operators require a large, clear, unobstructed view of the road. We can start by increasing the depth of the front windshield, which will permit the operator to capture more information by increasing the amount of real estate that will become visible directly in front of the bus. Some bus manufacturers have already done this, but they seem to be a minority, not the majority.

Reducing the thickness of the A-Frame and, perhaps a smaller fare box can help, too. A-Frame issues and mirror size/mirror placement discussions always generate heated discussions among transit professionals.

Let's ensure that the tools we give our bus operators are helping and not hurting their performance. Favor those tools that do not divert the operator’s attention away from the task at hand. Ensure placement does not interfere with the operator’s view. Get involved in the decisions regarding what "technology" is being considered for your fleet.

Keep the operators well-being first.

To those agencies that already have a member of their training department providing input on which mirror type -- and other operator compartment additions — being considered, good job. If this is not happening and the person who makes the decisions on what technological items will be added and where they are placed is someone who has never driven a bus in passenger service at 5 p.m. on a Friday afternoon in inclement weather, with a standing load, then you probably have the wrong person making the decision. Just because some types of technology may do well in automobiles, don't make the crucial mistake of believing it will be successful on buses. Training personnel needs to make that decision, period.

Ah, to have my Mickey Mantle rookie card back in my hands once again. Technology, let’s take a good look at it when it comes to bus operations. Keep what helps, discard what hinders.

NOTE: Hi folks, here's the link from Steve Mentzer's comment below.

Louie is the former director of training for the New York City Transit Dept. of Buses Safety & Training Division and 2003 NTI Fellow. Currently, he is sr. consultant/SME in transit training & bus simulation at L-3 D.P. Associates and independent consultant at "Bus Talk" Surface Transit Solutions.

In case you missed it...

Read our previous blog, "Are your bus operators square?"

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