Mitchell Rouse! In the 1980s, a strapping, 6'4"-inch-tall visionary who had inherited a 50-vehicle taxicab company and, within a few years, expanded it into a 350-vehicle leviathan, along with eight small paratransit operations. With a heavily-computerized operation a decade before Windows took over the World, his dispatch office still answered every call with a live Earthling. Wilmington/Checker Cab was all about decency, respect and efficiency. And at a time when most of Los Angeles County was beginning to deteriorate rapidly into lines, menus, incompetence and traffic. Yet, as a brilliant manager with an expanding corporate mentality, Rouse was also a rabid supporter of Unionism, and embraced his Teamster's affiliation with pride.
Like every mode of public transportation, and for almost every aspect of our society, the motorcoach industry has, over the decades, been affected significantly by regulations. Some of these experiences were challenging yet produced dramatic results that, among other benefits, have saved us money. One terrific example is that modern motorcoaches dump perhaps one percent of the particulates into our environment than they did a mere two decades ago. Here, the regulations, though challenging, were at least realistic. But our industries' (and other bus modes') responses to it - effectively our engine manufacturers - were far more important than the regulations: Their responses were magnificent.
The explosion of digital technology has triggered increases in vehicle costs, purged small and medium-sized companies from the transportation landscape, and contributed to a nationwide shortage of qualified drivers. But it has taken its greatest toll on management, where supervisors with a genuine understanding of transportation are gradually being replaced by armies of "templeteers."
In the last installment of National Bus Trader, "Fatigue Monitoring Technology" presented an overview of the approaches and devices in development, and available, to prevent and detect driver fatigue. But unlike prevention technologies, fatigue detection devices raise a unique question: What happens when they work?!
Little in public transportation is as challenging as driving load upon load of wheelchair occupants, with unique needs (and often unique chairs), in all directions, with last-minute one-of-a-kind trips dispatched into tight schedules created days, or even weeks, in advance. Yet this is precisely what paratransit drivers do - hour after hour, day after day.
With panoramic/wraparound windshields lying against the front plane, sun visors, tinted windshields, crossover and parabolic mirror systems, ergonomic driver compartments with tilting/telescopic steering columns and pneumatically-adjustable seats, video surveillance cameras and motion detection sensors - much less corrective lenses, sunglasses, annual vision examinations, and continual improvements in headlamps - one would think that bus drivers could see and react to large objects appearing directly in front of their vehicles. But, as many jurors learn, one would be wrong.
Comparing their relative safety to that of other vehicles, a number of motorcoach features come immediately to mind: Mass, monocoque construction pneumatic suspension, and fully-padded, forward-facing seats. Yet incidents like these still occur:
The previous article in this series emphasized the importance of transportation professionals selecting bus stops instead of students or their parents doing so. Regardless, while plenty of tools are available to help, the critical tool for evaluating and approving safe bus stops is a live Earthling.
In the last installment (STN, Jun, 2007), I stressed the importance of distinguishing between an actual bus stop and the waiting area across the street from it in terms of safety. But the selection of the stop and waiting area also involves concerns for student security. Sometimes, there are trade-offs that must be made. These trade-off are often complex and subtle. But they must be made correctly.