Category Archives: Announcing bus stops

Spring Bouquet for Transit Driver

Yeah, yeah, yeah…it’s Saturday night and I’m going to take advantage of the fact that most people are out on the town, doing important stuff like smooching with their sweeties and I AM NOT! Sigh. Maybe it’s something in the spring air or the effects of drinking the HRM tap water, but I feel a burning desire to give one (I SAID ONE) Metro Transit bus driver a pat on the back, tip of my jaunty beret, nod of approval, and spring bouquet all rolled into one. Given the intense satisfaction I normally derive when I have the opportunity (and there are plenty of them) to blast Transit drivers (see earlier blogs), I feel oddly conflicted and confused about this new-found bus driver appreciation…but here goes; On Friday, I was riding the #14 bus, bound for the UU church on Inglis to rehearse a ‘green opera’ which I am writing and co-directing (don’t ask. I’ll tell you about it sometime). The driver was a little behind schedule, not unusual for a Metro Transit bus. It was past peak hours minutes (This IS Halifaxl) so the bus was not the packed sardine it can it can some times. I lulled into my typical bus stupour but remained minimally alert, which allowed my brain to count the turns that the bus was making (to figure out where to get off…driver had not asked me, and I thought he had sounded a tad frazzled and would probably forget to tell me anyway). It turns out that I need not have bothered. I also did not need a compass or GPS to realize that the collective, “Hey!” from passengers (Oh those eloquent St. Mary’s students!) meant that we had blown by Robie street without making the #14 route’s right hand turn off of South Street. The driver realized what had happened quickly enough (maybe it was the three panicky students who swarmed the guy within 2.749 seconds of realizing that the bus was off route). I listened to the following exchange between the driver and students ( they had quickly lurched forward to stand next to the driver, I-pods temporarily disconnected from their heads to allow their ears access to their cell phones;
Driver: “Sorry, I’m used to working the #41 route…it’s Friday….I’m so sorry.” (#41 goes right up South)
Student A: “Is this the #14 or not?”
Driver: “Sorry, I apologize…it’s Friday”.
Student B: “Are we going anywhere near St. Mary’s? I’m supposed to meet someone in…3 minutes” .
Driver: (sounding very tired) “I don’t know where to turn around”
Student C: “Are we going to go back to Robie Street or not?”
Old geek sitting across from me: “What the hell is going on?!!”
Driver: (to the driver of a passing bus he had waved over) “I have no idea what to do. Where can I turn around? What would you do? I’m ten minutes behind schedule as it is.”
Other Driver: “Just get back anywhere on the route. Happens to me all the time”.
Driver: “I don’t want to leave anyone behind on Robie or Inglis which is what’s going to happen if I blow off the route”.
Other Driver: “Do whatever you feel like” (he then left, helpful soul that he was)
Student A: “Is this the #14?”
Student B: “I’m getting off right now!” (at which point he leaped off the bus as though his pants were on fire)
Student C: “Is we still in Halifax? I’m not from here…”
Student A: “Is this the #14?”
Driver: “Everybody sit down please. I apologize…it’s Friday” (he then drove off as though his HIS pants were on fire).
We embarked on the most unusual of bus trips. We headed east, then maybe south and west…north even? I had no clue where I was, but I did not seem to mind (how unusual for me…hence my feeling of confusion). People cursed and grumbled and sighed and tisked all up and down the bus.
Me: “Can someone please tell me where we are?” (The driver was still busy driving like a man possessed).
Student C: “I don’t know where I am either”.
Old geek across from me: ” The son of a. is going back to Robie Street to pick up his route where he left off!”
Upon hearing this news, I felt an unexpected appreciation for this driver (who was still apologizing profusely as anyone got off his bus). When we finally reached my stop, (some 20 minutes off schedule by now and way too late for rehearsal),
I said to him: “Don’t worry, stuff like this happens all the time to me too….it’s Friday!”


Halifax Bus Drivers Going, Going… Gone Goofy

At one time, people accused me of picking on Halifax’s Metro Transit and their bus drivers too much….they don’t announce bus stops despite the undeniable swath of pan-Canadian litigation and Human Rights rulings which has forced other cities to do so…they have inaccessible route and schedule information, AND they have yanked the “free pass” which allows the blind to travel free, a minor concession for inadequate Accommodation.
It seems that I don’t have to complain about Metro Transit drivers anymore. Why? They are behaving like a big bunch of goofs with EVERYONE these days; Recently, one driver rammed a courier’s vehicle on Barrington street and held up a busload of passengers for 20 minutes while he ranted. Then, last week, a driver refused to allow a veiled Muslim woman on his bus…a definite no-no (a bystander complained, not the woman), this on top of recent accusations of racial profiling and finally, this weekend, one particularly goofy driver got out of his bus in front of the spring Garden Road Library to whack a mock bloody seal with a stick; the toy seal was being used by anti-seal hunt demonstrators. I guess he was just trying to express his opinion? The driver was picked up by the cops and eventually returned to his bus. It seems he’s been invited to join Metro Transit big cheeses in a discussion today (Oh, to be a fly on the wall!). I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; give these drivers a refresher course…no, not ‘sensitivity training’…they need a course on how to locate their brains…the one’s stashed away in their back pockets…the pockets attached to the lard asses they sit on as they drive their buses (a job for which they are over paid, if you ask me), confident with the knowledge that the money they shell out in monthly union dues will cover the cost of lawsuits and other damage control expenditures for these ‘special’ (and increasingly often) times when they behave like the big bunch of goofs they really are.

Halifax City Council Jumps…to the tune of 1.2 Million

I am fascinated with how things get done here in Halifax through Council. I am equally interested in what does NOT get done. Our transit system for example, just scored 1.2 million dollars from HRM City council. How so and what for, you ask? The money is for a ‘security camera system’ on transit buses and ferries. It arose after a number of drivers were ‘attacked’ while on the job and the subsequent outcry from their union, as well as the press around it. I think the media attention on this whole thing is what really propelled HRM Council to move the money through to Metro Transit like greased lightning. After all, the city does not want  to appear negligent or uncaring about the safety of bus drivers. The teary radio interviews (I bet TV stuff was even more melodramatic) with the female compadres of the driver who was attacked,  really cinched it. I don’t  have any objection to driver- safety initiatives or union representation. The problem is, the idea of  cameras on buses for protection, is silly. My informal survey of female drivers has found that they don’t think security cameras  on buses will be effective in keeping them safe from the truly crazy, drunk and doped-up nuts who are the most likely to go spontaneously  berserk and attack them.  These types of live-wire attackers will not pause and reflect on the presence of a camera over their heads before they punch out a driver for not accepting their transfer or refusing to ‘make out’ with them.  It could be that grainy images of an attack, after the fact, will be moderately helpful in getting a conviction in court or  compensation  from the maimed driver’s employer (HRM).

My complaint is that our transit system gets funded, under funded, or not funded at all, in a way that is a  knee-jerk reaction to situations, trends  or public pressure. Spending seems to be totally unprioritized. We STILL, after one year of testing,  do not have a functioning ‘real time go-time’ service.  I can’t recall the price tag on that, project,  but whatever it was, it was huge. It should be given priority to get it WORKING at all costs, over some of  other recent add-on expenditures, like security cameras.  For example the city also purchased  some hybrid diesel  Transit buses last year  because of the push from the HRM’s official environmental geeks (I am a non-official geek supporter). They moved so quickly to tender the purchase of the buses,  that they scored vehicles  which apparently have proven to be defective.  I hear they are going back to the seller. We have no critically-needed voice enunciator system in Halifax,  and apparently no plan to find money for it any time soon. The list goes on.

Hey Bus Driver…Are You Serious?!!!

Com’ on! Give me a break! When I get on your bus next time, and say ” I want  Spring Garden and Summer street please” in a loud and clear voice, do not think for a minute that you can blow my stop again (like you did today) and YELL AT ME, “You didn’t ask!”, as I get off the bus. Sheesh! Even the guy in the back row heard me tell you where I wanted to get off. Next time, you will ANNOUNCE MY STOP, ’cause if you don’t… I (that is, WE, an entire organization of blind, and partially sighted advocates) will REALLY be inclined to use the incident as the basis for a Human Rights Complaint. I have had it. Metro Transit is spending another million + bucks on security cameras on their buses, because the dirivers’ union told them to?  My bus is held up twice this week for 25 and 45 minutes because the RCMP were asked to board the buses by a nervous driver, to remove some cursing kids from Halifax West Junior High?  Are you serious?  The new microphones pick up sound  on buses (how much did THAT cost?). Give the drivers Tazers and get on with it! You will save a bundle, and I bet the kids will behave a lot better. Not only that, but the buses may be remotely close to being on time!

Opal Goes to a Luncheon at City Hall

Mum says we’re going to a boring luncheon at city hall today. I don’t get it. I LOVE luncheons, especially at city hall where there is always lots of food, even though mum says the food is overpriced plastic crap payed for at the taxpayers expense.  She says we have to go so we can bug the mayor and some city councillors while the going is good…something about a municipal election coming up and they’re falling all over themselves trying to get some votes.  They don’t usually hold this event until springtime, but the mayor (you know, the little guy with a whiny voice?) wants to score political points NOW.  She says we must shmooze with them…work the room before they know what’s hit them.  I don’t get it. Why would HRM council not want to do the right thing in the first place?   She says they could  build me a service dog run (yeah!!!) and improve transit (maybe pay for a voice enunciator on buses to announce stops), and hire some bylaw enforcement officers, and FIRE some dead-weight HRM staff whose salaries suck up the city’s budget which could be better applied elsewhere, and get some funding to provide recreational programs for kids with disabilities, and spend more money on removing physical barriers instead of making ridiculous expenditures like the Chebucto road widening project which destroyed property and trees to allow a few more gas-guzzling SUV’s to squeeze into town, and make the public library services more equitable for the blind who don’t care to use the ‘charitable’ library, and find some balls ( not the kind I like) so they stop caving to the interests of developers who are destroying the city with condo and commercial development in all the wrong places, and….why don’t they just listen to mum in the first place? I think SHE should run for council in the next election. I’d love to run around my new service dog run.

Still Not Announcing Bus Stops in Halifax

Hmm. Yesterday was hot and humid. According to those who saw the interview on TV, Opal looked bored. I can tell you now, she was hot and bothered. So was I.  A CBC ‘Nova Scotia News at 6’ reporter phoned to ask me for a follow-up interview about Metro Transit’s policy/lack of policy/inability to comply with a policy to ANNOUNCE BUS STOPS.  You would think that this is a no-brainer. Apparently not. Metro Transit’s acting general manager was asked to comment on the elusive plan to install a ‘voice enunciator system’ (automaticaly announces stops as buses cruise along the route).  Money. Yes, it’s all about the underfunding, the high cost of such a system…. but one day…

Sorry, that’s not good enough.  Halifax must come to its senses and get in line with major cities across this country (including Vancouver, Toronto, Winnipeg, and Ottawa) and the dozens of small town transit companies who have adopted a policy to announce stops on buses and on other forms of transit.  Some have seen the light all on their own,  while other cities (like Toronto and Ottawa) have been mandated  to do so through Human Rights Tribunals and other legislating bodies.

This is the city that is trying to sell its HRM (Halifax) By Design strategy. If this town wants to become an urban mecca, then it needs to get serious about transit. That’s right. Get the money from the feds, the province or maybe the money can be secured by taxing the gas-guzzling  (usually single-driver) vehicles entering the downtown core (like London).  I don’t really care. Neither does the rest of the blind population AND the other citizens in this city who would like to know where they are on the bus route. We have several universities here with a huge student population arriving “FROM AWAY” each year.  We have a small invasion each summer of cruise ship passengers and other tourists.  We have numerous  people immigrating to Canada  who land on our shore and into our city each year as well as  other newcomers to town.  NONE OF THEM KNOW WHERE THEY ARE GOING!!  Surprise!  You must realize that not all residents know where each street, transfer point, major intersection or significant public building is located on every bus route. So, find the money for the automated system. Pick a date for the project to be finalized by. In the meanwhile, make the drivers announce major stops!!! They can do it the old fashioned way and shout out the stops! Give them a trip sheet to figure out what those major stops are. If they don’t like it, TOO BAD!  Maybe the pressure Metro Transit management gets  from their union (you KNOW they will go cry foul to the union. Winnipeg drivers did) will be motivation to find the money for the automated system lickety split! Sheesh!

Blind Etiquette 101: For Transit Drivers

It could be that your town or city has a wonderful training program for its public transit drivers. Ideally, it would include a ‘people skills’ component. In other words, bus drivers, and subway, trolly car and ferry boat operators would be provided with a set of guidelines, which outline how they should interact with their passengers…the sort of ‘sensitivity training’ that keep them from making total goofs of themselves. An additional part of driver training, would specifically outline appropriate responses, behaviour, and interaction with passengers who have disabilities.
They seem to have missed that part of training here in Halifax. So, if I were Queen of Halifax for a day, I would mandate our transit drivers to comply with this set of guidelines. It is not a complete Wish List. I leave it up to others to suggest other aspects of training.

1- When you pull your bus up, and someone asks, “What number bus is this?”, YOUR ANSWER is: “Number 14” or “Number 81 downtown”,etc. NOT, “Can’t you see?” or “Look for yourself”. The person asking, might have a visual, perceptual or intellectual disability. It’s not up to you to make a diagnosis or comment. Please say it nice and loud too, because there may be ambient noise outside your bus making it hard to hear you.

2- On the same note, drivers (and EVERYONE) should know that there are DEGREES of Blindness and vision loss. Therefore, learn to recognize the standard white cane (long cane typically used), the white ID (identification) cane, the white support cane (used by someone who has both vision loss and mobility difficulty…often an elderly person), or a sign on a walker indicating the individual has a visual disability. A person with a Guide dog, by the way, should be a clue for you, that the person is blind. FYI Some people are Partially sighted (legally Blind) and might be wearing corrective lenses. Comments such as, “you’re not blind, you’ve got glasses” are NOT appropriate.

3- Now that you know how to spot the person who has a visual impairment, and you have appropriately identified your bus number, you should check the front area of your bus and then indicate to the person, where they might find a seat. example: “there’s a seat on your left, by the door”, or “there’s a seat behind me”. “Over there”, is not helpful. I realize that there is no OBLIGATION to force any other passengers from the front area seats on a bus, but, if there are no available seats, you should, POLITELY REQUEST that someone give up their seat. (Many blind people, or people with other disabilities, prefer to sit up front to facilitate any communication with the driver.)

4- The next appropriate action is: Ask the person who is Blind or partially sighted, “What stop do you want to get off at?”. (They may ask you first). Unless your city has automated voice system technology on buses and subways, the person with vision loss, has a difficult time to determine where they are on the route. Your city may or may not be required to ‘announce’ major stops on the route, though many Human Rights challenges have been fought and won over this issue.

5- Try and refrain from pulling away from the stop the second the passenger is aboard. Give the Blind person a chance to sit down before taking off. Doing so, averts risk of them falling and getting injured.

6- Remember to announce the requested stop. Do it in a loud, clear voice. DO NOT FORGET! Blowing by a familiar stop, may reek havoc for a Blind person. It can be difficult to get oriented when the blind person is even one block off the stop they wanted.

7- When the blind or partially sighted person is getting off your bus, advise them if the bus is a distance away from the curb, or if there is a snowbank or icy patch where they are about to step down onto. At a stop congested with people who are about to board, you should call out that they should step aside, if they are not clever enough to do so on their own.

8- If you are driving a bus that “kneels on request” (Accessible Low Floor or other), OFFER to lower the bus (boarding and getting off). Some people have Guide dogs that object to the high pitched lowering ‘alert’ noise. Other people just don’t require or want it. Some NEED it.

9- Be aware of the Guide dog Access Laws that protect Guide dogs and their handlers, allowing them to board the bus, subway etc. Do not talk to the dog, pet it etc.

10- In most cities, it is against policy to stand and chat with the driver while the bus is moving, unless there is a valid reason. It is distracting for the driver. It also blocks the bus aisle, making it awkward for a Blind person to get on or off, especially with a Guide dog (require wider space to pass). Mindless conversation might also distract you, (the driver) to the point where you forget to announce the requested stop.

11- If your blind or partially sighted passenger asks you a question, such as, “Is this Main Street?”, reply loudly and clearly. Do not nod your head, or grunt.