Thursday, March 14, 2013

OC Transpo Condoned Timmies Run

The actions of the driver in summer 2012 in this video are endorsed by OC Transpo management.

A similar issue happened to myself yesterday ironically with a different driver at the very same stop the above video occurred. I boarded the Route 8 OC Transpo bus bound for Gatineau heading north on Alta Vista Drive at the Dorion Drive stop which happens to be in front of the Tim Hortons location at the Alta Vista Centre shopping plaza. The Route 8 bus was in service and about three minutes ahead of schedule with at least ten fare paying passengers aboard.  Normally a bus like this with proper space to wait, like the bus bay at this stop, would wait out the two minutes before resuming the route back on scheduled time.

Not so with the bus scheduled to leave Dorion Drive at 9:16 A.M.  The bus driver boarded the passengers and then got up and left for the Tim Hortons location.  Sometimes bus drivers get up and go if they have to use the washroom in emergency situations.  So I watched carefully, if I saw the Gary Bettman look a like driver return empty handed, nature called urgently I could understand.   Sometimes one cannot spend the two minute drive to nearby Hurdman Station which has employee washrooms.  The driver though returned with a large Tim Hortons Roll Up The Rim To Win contest coffee cup in hand.  I rolled my eyes that the driver thought it was appropriate to exit the bus, walk across the parking lot and visit Tim Hortons for a coffee while at least 10 passengers were aboard.  I shook my head realizing the possible liability issues if anything were to happen.

Later on that day I came across a Twitter posting about this blog post about waiting for over an hour for a Route 1 OC Transpo bus. I decided to tweet OC Transpo about my issue.  Here is where I thought my open and shut case turned into an interesting adventure of what OC Transpo bus drivers are allowed to do.

I reported the Route 8 Tim Hortons issue to @OC_Transpo (the official Twitter feed of the City of Ottawa's OC Transpo Transit system) on Twitter:
A couple of minutes later this (duly favorited) reply came back:
I was a little floored about the response. In my case the Route 8 bus driver didn't delay us as the bus was 3 minutes ahead of schedule but leaving the bus running while obtaining a coffee while on duty seemed to present an issue of liability.  With that I replied:

I also inquired if the City of Ottawa's Transit Chair, Councillor Diane Deans, knew about this policy:
No response as of yet from either Councillor Deans or OC Transpo about her knowledge of OC Transpo condoning a Tim Hortons coffee run mid route.

Before OC Transpo could reply to my other question, another Twitter user forwarded me this story by CFRA about off duty OC Transpo drivers grabbing a coffee at the Tim Hortons on Belfast Road.  Ironically that Tim Hortons happens to be a two minute drive from the Tim Hortons location on Alta Vista where Route 8 seems to be having issues. I followed up the tweet to clarify that the issue I was talking about was an in service Route 8 bus with fare paid passengers aboard.

Finally a reply came back from OC Transpo on my query about condoning a bus driver leaving an in service bus with passengers aboard to grab some java:
Yes, right from OC Transpo, a bus driver with a bus in service and passengers aboard can disembark, grab an extra large double double from the Tim Hortons, run back and get the bus in gear as long as he/she is no more than 5 minutes late.  That is because the driver would be adhering to OC Transpo's 0-5 minutes late standard.

I then questioned with two tweets if this policy had been passed by the City of Ottawa's Transit Comittee and if the City's insurance agent know about the Tim Hortons run policy?  No reply came forth.

Instead OC Transpo then followed up with tweet about a washroom break in Toronto:
To this I of course replied to OC Transpo that my incident was not a bathroom break as the driver returned with a coffee to an in service bus.  Also, I suggested that if it was a bathroom break of a non-emergency variety but couldn't make it to the end of the route that Hurdman Station was two minutes away with both fellow OC Transpo drivers and Supervisor on seen to ensure safety of passengers on the bus. To this reply I got:
This was also followed up by another tweet by OC Transpo on the issue about drivers washroom breaks:
I was in no mood to go through it as I had provided OC Transpo with all the details in my Twitter conversation. If OC Transpo was really interested in following up with the driver to solve the problem they could easily do so.

In my experience with York Region Transit (YRT) usually what comes of calling in with a complaint about a driver is you spend 5 minutes on the phone waiting for someone to pick up the phone, another 10 minutes to explain the problem and for the Transit Customer Service Operator to record the information.  From there the customer either never hears back or gets some lame excuse that the driver has denied doing anything of the sort.  Unless there is photographic evidence of the incident, there is nothing that can be done.   So why would I waste my time with OC Transpo doing the same thing when I wasn't in the mood?  Hence my reply:
On the issue of adequate drivers washroom breaks I replied that this issue was a OC Transpo, driver and/or Union issue and not a customer problem.  OC Transpo replied that this issue is always a topic of conversation and GPS study with adjustments being made whenever possible.

Finally, OC Transpo replied to my issue of the in service Route 8 at the Tim Hortons:
I made one final tweet on this issue summing up my learnings of the day:
During the above conversation with OC Transpo, I tweeted the Ottawa Citizen's City Hall Reporter David Reevely who confirmed he hears about this issue every now and then but has not heard anything untoward happening on a bus in similar circumstances.

Later, I did turned to Google for a little assistance to see if others had been through it.  I laughed when I found the video at the top of this post with a different driver at the exact same location the summer before my incident.

Generally, should bus drivers, no matter if they work for the TTC, YRT, GO Transit, and/or OC Transpo be able to grab a coffee?  Yes and No.

Yes: If the driver is on a schedule break or is not scheduled to drive a bus with passengers aboard.

No: The driver is using an in service bus with fare paying passengers aboard.  This obviously presents scheduling and liability issues if something were to happen.

As for issues around lack of breaks for drivers due to late buses, that is for transit agencies, drivers and/or unions to resolve during bargaining or consultations and not an issue of fare paying passengers. After all scheduling of employees for shifts and turn around time for drivers were both issues during the last driver strikes at OC Transpo and YRT that with a new contract were resolved.

For emergency washroom breaks, sure by all means drivers can feel free to check into a Tim Hortons or other coffee shop to use the facilities.  Just do not exit with a coffee in hand as that shows possible ulterior motives and how much a driver really cares about the fare paying customers they provide service for.  Ulterior motives? Yes the optics show the driver is more interested in the caffeine fix rather than ensuring the safety of passengers on the bus by keeping watch and/or possibly making an effort ensuring passengers reach their destination by the scheduled time. But lets remember that emergency calls of nature do happen.

In the end, though the most burning question through this entire post, Was the driver winner?  The bus driver did not win at the Tim Hortons Roll Up The Rim Contest. But he was a winner for working for OC Transpo who pays their employees to grab coffee while operating an in service vehicle with fare paying passengers.  My only follow up request, could we get drive thru next time?

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