Halifax: Life of a Bus Driver


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No meal or washroom breaks, figuring out how to catch their own buses and worries about traffic and weather are just the start of their problems

Last weekend, I was given documents----the so-called "run cut" of all the various transit routes in Halifax----that detail how bus drivers' schedules are derived. Readers can see the documents themselves at thecoast.ca/bites, and come to their own conclusions about what they mean. But what follows is my interpretation of what the run cut means for the daily lives of bus drivers.

The "report" time on the run cut is the very first consideration for a driver---it's an absolute deadline; miss it and drivers miss their shifts, and therefore their pay for the day.

For instance, the driver for run 1205 has to report at Scotia Square at 7:58am, in order to take over the bus driving the #56 route at 8:05am. She drives that route until 12:37pm, when she hands the bus off to another driver at Scotia Square. She then gets a couple hours break, but has to start work again at 2:32pm at the Mumford Terminal in order to take over the bus on the #41 route. She drives that bus until 7:04pm, and ends up at the Burnside garage.

The 1205 driver gets paid for eight hours, but her work day is spread over 11 hours and 14 minutes. In order to get around, she'll drive in the morning to Burnside, then catch one of the buses departing from the garage to Scotia Square, to start her day. At the end of the day, she'll end up back at Burnside, where her car is.

The big concern for the 1205 driver is that the bus she catches to Scotia Square can't be late, and so she sets out one bus early, about an hour ahead of time. All of us who commute by bus know this fear.

She also has to figure out how to get from Scotia Square to Mumford in time to start the second leg of her shift, eating away another hour.

That the bus drivers themselves face the same bus scheduling frustrations as every other commuter raises the question: Why aren't the buses on schedule?

There are three issues here. The first is the variables of weather and traffic; if there's a sudden snowstorm, or a massive accident on the route, time will be thrown off. There's really nothing the driver can do about this.

The second problem leading to troubled scheduling can to some degree be laid on the drivers: they're human, and so require washroom breaks.

For example, on Saturdays, there's a driver assigned to run 6138, on the #10, which runs between Dalhousie and suburban Dartmouth. He starts work at 2:23pm, then drives straight through, for 10 hours, to 12:36pm. He gets no scheduled breaks, no meal break, no washroom break.

If there are no traffic problems or other delays, the route from Dalhousie to the Dartmouth suburbs and back again takes one hour and 50 minutes. At Dalhousie, the bus sits for 10 minutes. Just maybe, that's enough time to run over to the Dal Student Union Building for a quick pee, but here's hoping there are no greater needs.

In reality, the driver has to dart out for a washroom break somewhere along the route, and gets delayed. Throw in any other delay, and the problem with washroom breaks get magnified.

The Saturday #10 is hardly unique---nearly every run has very limited, if any, opportunity for driver washroom breaks.

The third reason for schedule disruptions is a sort of catchall related to passengers and equipment. If the #10 has to pick up 50 Christmas shoppers at MicMac Mall, which happens, there's going to be a delay getting them all in the bus. The #10 is not a wheelchair accessible bus, but for those routes that are, that presents another delay.

The new buses are also causing delays, says one driver. The "wave your hand to open the door" thing can be quite slow compared to traditional "push the bar" doors, and when there are hundreds of stops over the course of a route, that adds considerable time.

These are some of the reasons for busted schedules. See more at thecoast.ca, and an explanation for why drivers want some minor control over their scheduling.

More articles on TheCoast.ca

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