Monday, June 6, 2011

OC Transpo bus lawsuits underline benefits of light rail

According to the Ottawa Sun, OC Transpo has been sued by a couple of local seniors for bus ride-related injuries. From the report:

Two seniors are each suing OC Transpo for $2.1 million for injuries they received after falling while riding the bus, allegedly because of bad driving.

According to their lawyer, these types of claims are becoming more common on Ottawa transit.

“It’s when (drivers) don’t wait for the people to sit down,” Brenda Hollingsworth said Thursday. “There are lots of accidents on the bus.”

Both statements of claim, which also name the city and
unidentified bus drivers as defendants, were filed in Superior Court last week.

The case hasn't been investigated thoroughly yet, so it's unclear at this point how culpable OC Transpo and the driver in question are in the injuries. Still, for anyone who's ridden the bus, it's easy to imagine such scenarios happening--and with relative frequency, although thankfully not always resulting in serious injuries. Many of the incidents may not even be the fault of drivers, but a natural result of growing bus congestion along bus corridors, general vehicle congestion along roadways, and an ever-increasing need to make good time along routes. Some drivers are certainly more aggressive than others, but even the best driver will have to accelerate or decelerate quickly in certain situation to avoid collisions or other incidents.

But do these incidents demonstrate a flaw with bus-rapid transit (BRT)? I believe they do, even if it's not a fatal flaw.

BRT is a rapid transit option that has many advantages, including low start-up costs and a high level of flexibility. But those advantages also have costs, especially to the comfort level of the ride: Bumpy roadways and aging buses can contribute to a rough ride, and the large number of vehicles each driven by independent-thinking operators will inevitably result in some abrupt starts or stops along the way.

Contrast this system with light-rail transit, or other train-based transit systems. They have higher start-up costs and are less flexible, but the tracks lead to a smoother ride and the vehicles accelerate and decelerate at a steady and (rarely) interrupted rate.

Improved comfort is far from the only advantage that a LRT system would boast, but in the face of a couple lawsuits totalling $4.2M, it could be a pretty valuable one.


Anonymous said...

Horrible as this may sound, sometimes the seniors themselves are also blame.

Example: A lot of the time that I take the 86 or the 176 down Holland, when we get near the Wellington stop I find that I often see elderly people getting up early and standing in anticipation of their stop. With the new Announcement System, they don't really need to stand that early. I always worry though, when I see them do that, that a driver may have to slam on the brakes for whatever reason and they'd get injured.

Todd said...

Agreed, and it is rarely discussed due to the “political correctness” factor, but some of these injuries are rider error just as much as driver or technology related. The simple fact is any vehicle operating on a road with other vehicles is going to need to make sudden stops – or quickly accelerate. This should be common knowledge, and if you as a passenger are unable to deal with that type of motion, you should be considering this before boarding.

Now, regarding the comparison laid out in this story between buses and LRT – it isn’t quite the same thing as the writer seems to be comparing a bus in mixed traffic with an LRT on a dedicated corridor. I’ve been on TTC streetcars that need to hit the brakes – and passengers go flying around just like on a bus! I get the overall point, and agree with it – rail generally offers a much better quality of ride than other comparable options, but a proper BRT can get pretty close. Mind you, by the time you are talking an apples to apples comparison (fully grade separated with proper headway controls etc. the difference in capital costs between BRT and LRT become minimal.

As an interesting side note, the ride on the Las Vegas Monorail is shockingly rough – so even modern rail based transit can cause problems if not maintained well (or in some cases, built well from the beginning).