Go straight instead

 or, How to drive a bus (part 9)
Part 1     Part 2     Part 3     Part 4     Part 5 
Part 6     Part 7     Part 8     Part 9     Part 10
Part 11     Part 12     Part 13     Part 14     Part 15

On a 1-10 scale of dull to interesting, this one's about a 5. After this, though, the
next post will be a solid 7½, so stay tuned.

In our first week of bus driver school, we were given a blizzard of facts and anecdotes and acronyms about everything even tangentially related to driving a bus, from fare collection to the dangers of drug use. Somewhere in those sessions, I ever-so-vaguely remember hearing something about how much tire traction is lost in the rain.

Then our class left the classroom, to practice wheelchair securement etc, and then to do driving exercises in a cone-filled parking lot. In our third week, completed yesterday, we've finally been driving the bus on the streets, in traffic, dealing with cars and curbs and railroad crossings, instead of orange safety cones.

Two teachers sit behind us as we drive, telling us what we're doing wrong, which is lots. Also on the bus are all the other student drivers. Each of us gets an hour behind the wheel each day, and then we switch seats, and another student drives.

Whenever there's a lull in the thrill of driving a bus, our teachers ask questions about what we've hopefully already learned, and yesterday one of the teachers asked, "What percent of tire traction is lost on wet pavement?"

"Fifty percent," was my guess.

"No, " said the teacher, "it's ninety percent."

That's bullshit, I was pretty sure, but I want to pass bus driver school, so I simply said, "OK." But c'mon — if wet pavement sapped 90% of tire traction, there'd be endless wrecks on every street every time it was even sprinkling.

Googled for an answer later, and the best I could find from a reputable source was this, from Edmunds Automotive:  "You might lose about one-third of your traction" in the rain. Seems far more plausible.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

It would be a good idea, I think, to have a sticker or sign on the bus, announcing to the public that we're student drivers. That we don't know what we're doing. That other drivers should expect the unexpected.

I suggested it to one of the teachers, but she chuckled as if I were joking.

I wasn't joking.

♦ ♦ ♦

The first thing bus drivers do every day, before actually driving the bus, is a safety inspection of the vehicle. It required by law, and we've been told it's important, so we should meticulously check everything on the list. And it's a long list, with numerous mechanical or equipment faults that, if discovered at inspection, render the vehicle out of order. You're supposed to report it, park it, and get a different bus.

As part of our training, we conduct that safety inspection every morning, but every day, the bus we're about to drive has something wrong. The dash cam is inoperative, or the mirrors droop out of position as you're driving, etc. The buses all have on-board computers that detect rolling stops, lane drifting, speeding, following too closely, etc, and alert the driver, which sounds like a great safety aid, but I wouldn't know. That technology never works on the buses we're driving.

"In the real world," we're told, "this bus would fail inspection, and we'd get another bus, but for training, this will have to do." Thus every day, we drive buses that failed the pre-trip inspection.

Tell me I'm wrong about this, because I'd prefer to be wrong: The message seems to be, we pretend that the pre-trip safety inspection is crucial, but it's actually just a legal requirement, and nobody much cares.

♦ ♦ ♦

In real-world service, actually picking up disabled passengers and transporting them, each driver works off a list of the day's passenger pick-ups and drop-offs, called the manifest. It tells you where to go and when to be there, and it's interconnected with the bus's GPS, which plots your route to each destination.

In training, though, our only passengers are employees, so there's no manifest. The GPS doesn't work without a manifest, so the bus has no GPS. Where are we going? Wherever the teachers tell us to drive.

But we have two teachers — Vivian, who's always talking but usually not about buses, and Sienna, who's apparently new to teaching, though I never would've guessed it. Vivian seems to outrank her, and I guess Vivian is teaching Sienna how to teach us how to drive a bus.

Teachers have to be taught to teach, certainly, but it's less than ideal for us students. Vivian and Sienna don't quite argue about where we're going next, but they sure discuss it a lot, and on the bus it sounds like this:

Vivian: "Turn left at the light." 

Whoever's driving: "Left at the light, will do."

Sienna: "Are you sure it's left? I think we turn right."

Vivian: "No, it's left." 

Sienna: "OK, whatever you say."

Vivian: "Oh, wait, this isn't the intersection I thought it was — go straight ahead."

Sorry, Vivian. Can't go straight when we're in the left-turn only lane, where you told me to be.

That happens all day, and by noon everyone has a headache. Instead of getting anywhere, we're constantly circling and backtracking because we've missed our turn or gone down the wrong street.

We're half a dozen newbies who barely know how to drive a bus, there's a lot of stuff to remember and practice, and getting it right is lots harder when we're not even sure which way we're going at the next intersection.

We haven't hit anything (yet), but all the students have driven the bus into sticky situations, and many, maybe most of our sticky situations come from the two teachers' chatter and late commands.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

As for me, I'm driving OK — haven't hit anything or killed anyone yet, and I no longer have doubts about passing the course. It's a crazy ride, though, and we're rolling for another week of training next week.

or, How to drive a bus (part 10)
Part 1     Part 2     Part 3     Part 4     Part 5 
Part 6     Part 7     Part 8     Part 9     Part 10
 Part 11     Part 12     Part 13     Part 14     Part 15


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  1. >The message seems to be, we pretend that the pre-trip safety inspection is crucial, but it's actually just a legal requirement, and nobody much cares.

    I've never worked in a field like bus driving, in which safety is truly in jeopardy. But I've worked with food, and in stores, and we always have long meticulous checklists of things that need to be done.

    It's never been ACTUALLY done 100% all the time. Gotta check nine thermometers every four hours? Ehhh... Just bullshit it. Gotta temp the Subway delivery before we accept it? Bitch, the driver will laugh at your face, he has nineteen more stops today, you're gonna temp all the frozen and refrigerated food, every box?

    Gotta inspect 8 gas pumps every shift, for loose parts or leaks or whatever? Nah, just pencil-whip the form.

    It's universal.

    1. It *is* universal. Even in office work, there are required documents that are often fudged. And I've worked in restaurants, know about that fudging too. Guess everybody cheats about everything.


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