News Local

Next Stop

Expert skeptical of speed claims of bus drivers

By Michael Mui, 24 Hours Vancouver



PART 3 of Next Stop: TransLink bus safety.

In the moments immediately before a crash, the average TransLink driver is likely to be travelling at just 24.7 kilometres per hour — so the drivers say.

The data was taken from 182 crash incidents in July 2014 and January 2015 where drivers in moving buses got into collisions — they reported what speeds they thought they were going in the moments just before the crash.

The vast majority of drivers, in 157 of the cases, suggested they were going at 45 kilometres per hour or less.

Neil Arason, board director in the Canadian Association of Road Safety Professionals, doesn’t buy the numbers due to the self-reported nature of the speeds.

He believes bus drivers should be required to reduce their speeds, even suggesting that a speed cap of sorts be adopted.

“All the natural things in the world that can go wrong that we kind of know about — the best antidote for that is by dropping the speed. Sudden starts, or a vehicle suddenly appears, we have to start anticipating these things ... with the magnitude of these numbers. It’s a bit of a cause for concern,” said Arason, who also authored the book No Accident.

“There’s a huge variance in the way drivers drive, some are good but others do unnecessary acceleration and stopping — that including the fact you got many vulnerable people, old people with disabilities, people not belted in — that’s a bad combination for injuries.”

Arason said that for the most part it’s police enforcement that dictates the speed of transit drivers — and that’s wrong.

“It shouldn’t just be police speed enforcement. It’s a huge role for the bus company to be monitoring the speed of their own drivers,” he said.

“In Ontario and Quebec, all trucks have speed limits on them, set at 105 kilometres per hour ... you don’t even have to have a policy to say, ‘travel lower than the speed limit.’ The policy can say ‘go at the speed limit and not above it,’ which frankly, they can.”

Arason suggested that TransLink reduce arrival frequency for buses at its stops so everything can slow down a bit.

“All the studies about speeds show that on highways, yes, it makes a little bit of difference. In cities, the difference between going a bit faster hardly makes a difference, you’re going to come to a red light anyways,” he said.

Steve Muller, TransLink chief driver trainer, said bus drivers are generally told they can go up to the speed limit — depending on conditions.

“Absolutely condition dependent. We teach our drivers in a 40-foot bus to have four seconds of following distance to the maximum of the legal speed limit,” he said.

“Let’s say we go out onto the freeway and behind a tandem dump truck — well, the speed limit is 90 (kph) but that dump truck is doing 80, we’ll stay four seconds behind them, which is quite a ways back at those speeds.

“If the truck is doing 110 — we’ll do up to the speed limit, up to the 90.”


Do you feel safe on TransLink buses?