I have had it with the never-ending meeting of the minds on the predominant causes of left-turn bus-pedestrian collisions. This whole issue is getting obscured with presentations that slice and dice every possible cause of these incidents into a collection of symbols, numbers and formulas. Please stop.
Can we take it down a few notches? It's a simple left turn that must be made. We are overanalyzing this issue. It should not be an exercise in inventing another clever widget. Alarms, sirens, seat shakers, announcements, etc., are becoming the crutches of bus operation instead of taking on a supplemental role. That's the danger here. These left-turn incidents are mostly due to a lack of forward-planning skills, excessive speed while turning, the steering method utilized, improper set-up, lane utilization/ selection, and follow through of the turn — not blind spots. OK, I said it now let me hear from you. I can take it. Agree or disagree with me but please comment in a civil way.
Some technological devices that have found their way onto buses as so-called solutions to this left-turn issue contradict the way new bus operator candidates are trained. These devices are not being used in a supplementary role, but as a primary fix. This is exactly what happened with the introduction of the convex mirrors on buses. The convex mirror has evolved into becoming the bus operator’s primary mirror. Why do we even have a flat mirror anymore? The flat mirrors are now set so high that they have become bird watchers. You need a search party to find the rear tires.
It's inexcusable that not everyone is on the same page on exactly what should be displayed in one’s mirrors. The absolute critical things we must identify in our mirrors should be the same for every operator. There should be no options on what should be displayed in our mirrors. Mirrors should be set to encourage that an object placed along the sides of the bus will remain in view of the operator. This is possible by having both the flat and convex mirrors set properly and by the operator’s actions making visible any temporarily obstructed area. Each mirror serves a distinct purpose. The challenge is seeing the right and left side corners of the bus along with the pivot-point area up to and including the rear portion of the front tires. If your mirrors are not set properly, you WILL lose an object or a pedestrian at some point of their location along the sides of the bus.
Today, bus operators are basically being encouraged to rely on bells, alarms and recordings to do the work for them. Although they appear to be serving the automobile industry in a positive way, we should never forget that bus operators are held to a higher standard and need to understand the role that these devices should and should not play. Do we expose the new bus operator candidates to these different alerts while training on the training bus and give them a full understanding of the role of each before they enter passenger service? Perhaps, we should consider that alarms, chimes, buzzers, etc., are more effective when they are associated with alerting the operator to mechanical issues.
Bus operators are trained to rely on their good habits that were formed and enforced during their basic skill development training. These skills were taught during training and had to be demonstrated in a successful manner before achieving the position of bus operator. When in violation of an SOP (Standard Operating Procedure), such as excessive speed when turning, poor observation or improper steering method, there is a price to pay when an unfortunate occurrence occurs. To stand before a group of transit professionals and publicize videos that clearly show a violation of speed when turning left and not state that this was one, if not the main cause in striking an object or a pedestrian, is self-serving for technology’s sake. Blaming the mirror or the A-Pillar “blind spot” by showing a staged line of pedestrians standing directly behind the A-Pillar of a stationary bus is misleading. I respectfully suggest seeking out the proper definition of a blind spot. The bus operator is able to move in the seat and resolve these obstructions.
On another note, what have we done to help the bus operator? Are bike lanes a good thing to have along the right side of the bus when bus operators are constantly moving in and out of bus stops that are located (at least the last time I checked) on the right side of the street, sometimes a block or two apart? Was it ever taken into consideration that bus operators spend most of their day entering and departing bus stops by moving in and out of the right side roadway area? For the bus operator, the right side is better-served void of activity, or at least activity being held to a minimum, as to not being a hazard for the bus operator. Less things to be concerned with along the right side allows more attention to be given to the left side where the operator must prefer the activity to be. This is achieved by the operator protecting/covering the right side. This is a required skill that should be taught during training and should be demonstrated correctly by the candidate on a regular basis for their training bus instructor. If protecting the right side is not being demonstrated during the final day of training, this should warrant a dismissal from the training program. Protection of the right side has now become increasingly difficult with the creation of these bike lanes.
How about forward visibility? Example: Bike racks placed directly in front of the bus operator. Does the placement of these racks assist or hinder the bus operator in achieving maximum unobstructed views as possible? Example: Windshield wipers that remain in a perpendicular rather than a horizontal resting position. Does this perpendicular resting position provide the most unobstructed view forward for the operator? Would a horizontal resting position be of more help to the operator by improving forward visibility? With the continuous addition of the latest and greatest pieces of technology, can we ensure that they are advantageous to our operators and that they are being placed in a location that will not create less visibility for the operator? If they don't assist the operator in providing the best unobstructed views of the road/pedestrians, no thank you. Let's get the bus operator back in control of their bus.
In closing, first and foremost let’s tighten up our training programs. Ensure training is tough, but fair. Wash out those considered unworthy of placing a member of your family on their bus at the completion of available training days. Be sure to enforce SOP's and treat any violation of such with the degree of preventability associated with it. Advance only the "cream of the crop" of new-hire candidates.
Finally, the best "Collision-Avoidance Warning System" is a properly trained operator that has emerged from a tough but fair training program and has successfully demonstrated, beyond a doubt, that they will not be a threat to the public, the hiring authority and themselves.
Louie Maiello is a sr. consultant (transit training & simulation), L-3/DPA; independent consultant, Bus Talk Surface transit Solutions; and writes a monthly blog for metro-magazine.com.