Torontoist‘s own Steve Kupferman takes the wheel of a TTC bus.
Every year for the past four decades, the TTC has held an event they call a “Roadeo,” wherein workers compete against each other in challenges designed to test how well they’re capable of performing their jobs. It’s part of the TTC’s annual company picnic. This year’s edition took place this past weekend, in the parking lot in front of the Arrow Road Bus Garage, near Finch Avenue West. We, along with other reporters, went there Friday afternoon, for a preview of the bus driving championship part of the event. This involved us driving an actual bus. (No amount of exclamation points will do it justice, but here are three!!!) But first, we got to watch TTC Chair Karen Stintz try it.
Stintz showed up all smiles, in business garb, and mounted the drivers’ seat of a 40-foot Orion VII bus, where Bruce Reid, a bus driver on the 96 Wilson route and also a 2008 TTC Bus Roadeo champion, coached her through the basics of releasing the brake and making the bus go. Reporters clambered on after her, and before long the vehicle was in motion.
TTC Chair Karen Stintz tries her hand at driving.
The parking lot—which fortunately was extremely large and flat and devoid of obstacles—had been dotted with orange traffic pylons. The first challenge was to weave through three of them, serpentine style.
Stintz murdered one cone. Then two. Then three.
Then came a sharp left-hand turn, also delineated by cones, more of which gave their lives in service of the photo opportunity.
The third challenge was what’s known as “rear dual clearance,” which involves getting the rear door-side wheels to pass cleanly through a narrow channel of markers, with just a few inches of wiggle room on either side. In competition, some drivers will spend up to 10 minutes lining up their mirrors before they attempt it.
Stintz blew past it, scattering markers in her wake.
The fourth and final test was the double-offset street. This challenge consisted of driving the entire bus through three sets of pylons that had deliberately been set out of alignment with one another.
And you can imagine how that went.
Stintz explained afterward, quite reasonably, that she was not accustomed to driving such a massive vehicle. “Our family car is a Toyota Highlander,” she said. She added that she bikes to City Hall from her home in Eglinton-Lawrence about once a week.
Our turn behind the wheel was about as disastrous. A TTC bus is a difficult thing to handle, but not for the reasons you might expect. The wheel turns easily enough, and the gas pedal is responsive, though it operates with a slight delay.
The first step is putting the rig in gear, which is a push-button operation. Then, you step on the air brake pedal and pull a knob to release the spring brake. (The spring brake is a parking brake, and its release is what makes that familiar pneumatic hiss when the bus pulls away from a curb.)
Turn signals are operated with small foot pedals, to the left of the accelerator and the air brake. The device with all the multicoloured buttons behind the fare box is an emergency communication console.
The problematic part is the length and width of the bus. The front wheels are about three feet behind the driver’s seat, so lining up turns is next to impossible for anyone who’s only ever driven a car. It’s very difficult to keep track of one’s road position. Every time we mashed a pylon into the asphalt, we could feel it in the suspension.
That happened a lot.
Reid, the Roadeo champion, says amateurs rarely do well. “I participated in the Roadeo about 10 times before I placed in the top three,” he said. He’s been driving TTC buses for 24 years.
Afterward, we couldn’t help but wonder if a light rail vehicle would have been easier to pilot. Pity none of those will be coming to Finch at any point in the foreseeable future.
Photos and video by Christopher Drost/Torontoist.