Tough questions are being asked about bus tragedy
As all of Ottawa mourns the dead and prays for the injured, tough questions are already being asked about Friday’s tragic crash of an OC Transpo double-decker bus at Westboro Station.Was ice on the Transitway a factor in the crash? Did late-afternoon sunlight impede the driver’s vision? How fast was the bus going? What were the personal circumstances of the driver? Of the passengers? Were there mechanical issues of any sort with the Alexander Dennis E500 double-decker bus itself ? Were there training issues? Are such double-deckers somehow less solid or stable than other buses? Is there anything about the Transitway design, or architecture and state of the stations themselves, that could have contributed to the crash? Should the city ask outside experts, such as the Transportation Safety Board, to lead the investigation?We know some things, as of this weekend:• That emergency responders acted quickly and professionally to assist the passengers and those on the platform, and that our area hospitals, starting with the Civic campus, put their emergency plans into practice swiftly and effectively, no doubt saving lives even amid the tragic loss of three of our citizens;• We know the city’s leaders — starting with Mayor Jim Watson and including top city brass and police Chief Charles Bordeleau — tried to share what information they could with the public as soon as possible. As with last fall’s tornadoes, they understood that, during an emergency, an informed public is a patient and supportive one;• We know that OC Transpo worked diligently to get transit users to their destinations via route and bus changes, that other drivers stepped in and that the community in general worked to help those displaced and disoriented by this disaster.On Saturday, Ottawa Police Chief Charles Bordeleau laudably pledged, “We want to be as transparent as possible because we know the community has questions about how this occurred.” Questions, yes — and traumatic memories. Most Ottawans recall stark images of the 2013 bus-rail crash that killed six, and they will demand answers about Friday’s tragedy. Inevitably, people will compare the two disasters, since both involved Transpo double-deckers. These were very different crashes, in different seasons of the year and at different times of day, but the type of bus involved raises obvious questions.Among them is the overall safety of double-deckers. Many experts say nothing makes these less safe than other buses, but that leaves open the question of bus safety in general. In its report on the 2013 bus-rail crash, the Transportation Safety Board said many transit buses were “generally subject to the fewest safety standards.” On double-deckers, it suggested there wasn’t sufficient “impact protection” for passengers seated at the front of the top row. At least two different sources interviewed by the Citizen compared these buses in some way to “tin cans” on wheels. This vivid metaphor may — or may not — reflect safety; only a thorough, transparent investigation will provide an answer.Transpo drivers, meanwhile, told the Citizen’s Kelly Egan that driving double-deckers isn’t straightforward. One said Transpo warns its double-decker drivers to be alert to Transitway overhangs. Other drivers talked about how the “curbing” is different on double-deckers. Some complained about the distraction of monitors for the upper level.So many questions, such an awful tragedy. Ottawans need answers, even as we embrace and try to support our fellow citizens so deeply affected by the crash.
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