DEN­LEY : Pub­lic tran­sit poses real risks

PressReader - Tke Channel - DEN­LEY : Pub­lic tran­sit poses real risks
As a re­sult of the hor­rific bus crash at West­boro Sta­tion, peo­ple are ask­ing if dou­ble-decker buses are un­safe. We are miss­ing the big­ger point. Ev­ery tran­sit bus on the road has in­ad­e­quate safety pro­vi­sions. Pub­lic tran­sit is a sys­tem that puts rid­ers at risk by de­sign.Ev­ery day in Ot­tawa, peo­ple ride on OC Transpo buses that go bar­relling down the Queensway. Those lucky enough to get seats have no seat­belts. Pas­sen­gers who are forced to stand can grip a strap or a metal rod, if they can reach one. Keep­ing your bal­ance is a chal­lenge ev­ery time a bus swings around a cor­ner. The in­te­rior of the bus is full of hard metal sur­faces, just wait­ing to in­jure a stum­bling pas­sen­ger. And yet car driv­ers us­ing the same road are pro­tected by manda­tory seat­belts and an ar­ray of airbags.How can that make sense?Canada is fi­nally wak­ing up to safety on other kinds of buses. Trans­port Canada has de­creed that all large and medium high­way buses must have seat­belts by Sept. 1, 2020. In an­nounc­ing the change, Trans­port Min­is­ter Marc Gar­neau said, “By hav­ing seat­belts on high­way buses, we can help re­duce in­juries in se­vere col­li­sions, such as rollovers, and im­prove safety for ev­ery­one.”Trans­port Canada hasn’t been as smart about school buses. In 1984, the fed­eral agency con­ducted a study that con­cluded that school buses didn’t need seat­belts be­cause, in the event of a crash, stu­dents would just bounce harm­lessly off the high, padded seats.That odd con­clu­sion held un­til a 2018 CBC in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­vealed an un­re­leased 2010 Trans­port Canada study that found school buses failed safety tests and did not do enough to pre­vent “se­ri­ous in­juries.”En­hanced tran­sit bus safety re­mains a blind spot. It seems to be an is­sue that is nei­ther stud­ied nor dis­cussed.Trans­port Canada is now look­ing at seat­belt safety in school buses, but for­mer On­tario premier Kath­leen Wynne wants quicker ac­tion. She has in­tro­duced a pri­vate mem­ber’s bill in the On­tario leg­is­la­ture, call­ing for all new school buses to have seat­belts start­ing in 2020, and older buses to be retro­fit­ted by 2025.Since 1999, 16 stu­dents have been killed in school bus ac­ci­dents in On­tario and more than 6,000 have been in­jured. Im­proved safety for yel­low school buses could be com­ing, but what about the thou­sands of stu­dents who use OC Transpo ev­ery day?En­hanced tran­sit bus safety re­mains a blind spot. It seems to be an is­sue that is nei­ther stud­ied nor dis­cussed.It’s not that dif­fi­cult to see why gov­ern­ment wants to look the other way. For pub­lic tran­sit, adding seat­belts would be a ma­jor cost. School bus seat­belts would cost about $10,000 a bus. That would be a mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar cost for OC Transpo alone.The big­ger prob­lem is what to do about stand­ing pas­sen­gers. The cur­rent model of ar­tic­u­lated bus from the com­pany New Flyer car­ries 59 pas­sen­gers in seats and 57 stand­ing. Were gov­ern­ment to ban stand­ing in buses, it would mean twice as many buses and twice as many op­er­a­tors to run a pub­lic tran­sit sys­tem. The cost of a bus sys­tem where all rid­ers had seats and seat­belts, and there was no stand­ing in the aisle, is cer­tainly unat­trac­tive.And yet, the way we ap­proach tran­sit pas­sen­ger safety is a throw­back from the era when peo­ple be­lieved it was fine to let the kids roll around in the back of a sta­tion wagon, or that rid­ing in the bed of a pickup truck on the high­way was a smart thing to do.We don’t yet have enough de­tails about last week’s Ot­tawa crash to know if seat­belts or no stand­ing in the aisles would have re­duced in­juries or fa­tal­i­ties, but it’s not too soon to con­sider whether we need to make tran­sit buses as safe as every­thing else on the road. It wouldn’t be cheap, but hu­man life shouldn’t be, ei­ther.

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