Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Wellington's accident prone bus lane - is bus colour a factor?

I love driving heavy vehicles, that king of the road feeling sitting above all the other traffic. I still feel more at home in a big cab than anywhere else on earth, even though it is now only occasionally I drive a heavy vehicle more than one day a week.

I drove buses, city buses and a smaller sightseeing for about 14 years in total, up to about 20 years ago. Since then  I have driven a specialised heavy vehicle every Thursday for the last 18 years, around the city suburbs. Some weeks or a several weeks I drive two days, occasionally four days.

I love driving this aging high beast (elephant?) through traffic but no one with a lick of sense driving HT vehicles can ever forget the huge minute by minute responsibility of their employment. When I was a full time bus driver every year I'd have one or two nightmares where I had of killed  or injured somebody with my bus. That's just the ones I'd remember. Obviously not entirely relaxed at a deeper level. I also remember a study they did years ago of London bus drivers, using electrodes on the pulse and head etc. Drivers were asked to rate how they felt. Even those old hands who said they felt the most relaxed as they drove through London streets recorded symptoms of high bodily tension and alertness. We always hear about the high stresses of executives (and why they deserve such high pay!!) but studies reveal it is often lower paid workers with less control over their working place or life that suffer far more from stress symptoms.

No other heavy vehicle threads so constantly through highly populated areas, constantly loads and unloads unpredictable people, in the same way as do as city buses. Kids or teenagers  jumping and out of doors, latecomers running beside the bus, pedestrians not looking crossing a road. One night thirty years ago on  Papanui Road a classic drunken Irishman (jovial, of course) waved good bye getting off at the back door, "Top of the world to you driver": the leery thumbs up goodbye. He clatters down back stairwell. Every bus driver checks curbside mirrors before pulling out. The extra bright street lights causing a dark pool shadow beside the bus, but offering a well lit footpath. And no Irishman. "What the hell?".

I hesitate, a hand appears from the gutter, the silly bugger had fallen into the gutter in front of the back wheels. He's pulling himself free, he crawls clear of the bus. The luck of the Irish. Not recommended as a habit!.

That's a mildly humorous bit because all's well that ends well. But really this posting is about a much more ghastly reality - the huge accident rate on the Manners Street bus-only link in central Wellington established a year or two back.

A jogger killed, ten others hit in the last two years by buses. The latest accident - could anything be more bizarrand ironically gross - a director of New Zealand Bus, operators of NZ's biggest urban bus fleet, Tim Brown was hit and dragged under the bus while walking across Manners Street, by one of his firm's own fleet of bus, moving at a minimal speed. He is seriously ill in intensive care. God help the poor man.

I think too, of the the other victim, poor bastard, the driver. Absolutely traumatised, in a state of shock .Jesus I feel for him or her, what a price to pay for being a bus driver, what a tough call to ever get back in that driver's seat. What a thing to carry through life however little driver fault may be involved.

I know in the 2000 page views I'm now getting per week ( blog stats, first time I've hit this mark, this morning! Yay!), there 'll be the odd transit worker or planner, including amongst this number hundreds  of USA, UK and Australian readers.  I have a question.

Wellington shifted its bus fleet colour from red to yellow and black  a few years back (regional colours and those local rugby provincial team - The Hurricanes ).  I'm wondering if there is any correlation between the colour of buses and the accident rate of the " I didn't even see it" [it didn't register in my mind] category?

I also wonder if mixing black in a two tone range, has the effect usually sought by camouflage stripes, of breaking up the solid quality of a tank or battleship, may play some part in the failure of the corner of the eye or even a quick glance to "register" an object as big as a bus (see bus face in photo above), If anyone has any comments or insight or actual experience of bus colour effects, please feel free to add a comment below and I will pass it on to those involved as I will this posting anyway.


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