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When a bus pulls out

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Age: 57
Joined: 29 Aug 2007
Posts: 67

PostPosted: Wed Dec 10, 2008 7:58 pm    Post subject: When a bus pulls out Reply with quote

Snow, freezing rain, OC Transpo.
Hugh Adami, The Ottawa Citizen
Published: Monday, October 27, 2008
OTTAWA - Snow, freezing rain, OC Transpo.

Which one of the above makes a set of snow tires on your car an even better idea this winter?

Motorists who travel Ottawa's busiest roads are all too familiar with that nasty little habit that some Transpo drivers appear to be committing more and more under the province's yield-to-bus law -- cutting them off.

The law took effect in 2004 and essentially gives bus drivers the right of way when pulling out of a bus stop and into moving traffic again. Motorists aren't supposed to impede buses from getting into the traffic flow, but the law isn't meant to shield bus drivers from breaking traffic rules, either. A motorist approaching a bus stop shouldn't suddenly have to come to a screeching halt or perform a Steve McQueen/Bullitt-like manoeuvre to avoid a rear-end collision.

The law, which has been in place in other North American jurisdictions for years (Quebec has had yield-to-bus since 1982), is designed to improve the efficiency and reliability of public transit. But, say police, it doesn't give bus drivers merging into traffic the right to cut off motorists. Bus drivers can only re-enter traffic if they can do so safely -- just as a regular motorist can turn right on a red or switch lanes if it can be done without impeding others on the road.

Even though being cut off by bus drivers is a regular topic around the office water cooler, Transpo says it gets so few complaints from the public that it's not even an issue.

Ottawa police say it's tough for them to get a handle on complaints, and that's probably because motorists vent directly to Transpo. The Toronto Transit Commission, meanwhile, estimates it has received 150 complaints so far this year about its drivers cutting off motorists under the yield-to-bus law.

"That's way down on the complaint totem pole," says TTC spokesman Brad Ross. "A million-and-a-half (riders) use the system every day ... the vast majority of complaints (are about) fare disputes, courtesy, running behind the bus and it didn't stop."

In Ottawa, Vincent Patterson, Transpo's manager of performance, says "there's been nothing significant" in terms of complaints regarding bus drivers and the yield-to-bus law. During the week of Oct. 5, for example, OC Transpo received 310 "comments" -- which included praise about the service -- and only 15 were from riders or motorists criticizing an operator for poor driving or speeding. Patterson says it's the same pattern through the year.

About 370,000 riders use Transpo daily.

"The operator as well as the general public are expected to drive safely and in a defensive mode," he says. "Chances are the operator has more training and retraining behind the wheel (than a regular motorist)," says Patterson, implying that a bus driver is likely more cognizant of when it should be safe to pull into moving traffic.

"At the end of the day, they're professional drivers (with the safety of their passengers their first concern)," says Patterson.

Bay Ward Councillor Alex Cullen, the chairman of the city's transit committee, says he, too, has received "hardly any" complaints regarding the yield-to-bus law.

Perhaps one of the reasons few complaints have been lodged with Transpo and the TTC is that some motorists are under the impression that they have to yield, no matter what. "It's the law," according to an ad campaign. Yield stickers mounted over the left rear signal lights of Transpo buses display the back of a bus and an illuminated light.

But Cullen says bus drivers are subject to laws under the Highway Traffic Act, just as all motorists are. "You don't often see a policeman pulling over a bus, but it has happened.

"And when people do complain, there is a followup by OC Transpo management. (Complaints) don't disappear into the ether. They do follow up."

Well, this is as good a time as any to have a show of hands from all Joe Motorists out there.

Do you think Transpo drivers are flouting good driving habits with the yield-to-bus law?

Patricia Evans, a Nepean resident, says she's been caught a couple of times braking suddenly to avoid a rear-end crash with a Transpo bus. And, in a more recent incident, she says a bus driver came up from behind as they exited the westbound Queensway at Carling and Kirkwood avenues. She says the bus overtook her and then virtually squeezed her and her little Ford Focus onto the shoulder at a red light. When she reached for a pen to write down the bus's number and licence plate, the driver, she said, "dangled a pen out of the bus window to mock me."

Evans says she filed a complaint with Transpo, but hasn't heard back.

Ottawa police Const. Jean-Paul Vincelette says a motorist who has been cut off by a bus can ask police to lay charges even if there isn't an accident. But the motorist has to be able to identify the bus driver as the one who cut him off and witnesses are needed, too.

"That's a lot of trouble if there isn't an accident."

The bottom line, it seems, is that motorists aren't going to win when the big bad bus decides to pull into traffic again. Probably the best advice is to keep within safe braking distance at all times so when that signal light goes on at the rear of the bus, there's enough room for it to merge without killing you.
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