The HSR drivers’ union says large “blind spots” on newer buses place pedestrians at risk and may have played a role in recent collision injuries.
The union local for Hamilton’s 450-plus city bus drivers has endorsed a cross-North America call for safer bus design spearheaded by parent organization Amalgamated Transit Union. Highlighted problems in Canadian and U.S. cities also include bad ventilation, poor ergonomics and a lack of protective shields.
Some of the alleged problems — like rodents in buses — do not apply to Hamilton.
But local bus drivers, pedestrians and other road users are “definitely at risk” from blind spots created by wide window pillars and poorly placed side mirrors in some newer city buses, said ATU Local 107 president Eric Tuck.
“The buses keep getting bigger and so do the blind spots,” said Tuck, who added the local ATU first complained to the city about the issue nearly two years ago.
“Locally, we believe on two or three occasions (in the last year) when pedestrians have been struck, that problem may have played a role,” he said.
Transit director Debbie Dalle Vedove was not available for an interview Tuesday, but forwarded a statement acknowledging the union has brought up such concerns in the past.
“We are continuing to work together to identify opportunities for continuously improving our vehicles and equipment. Buses and other equipment are inspected regularly by our staff — as per (provincial) regulations — and are safe for the road.”
It remains unclear if the city believes blind spots are an issue, or contribute to more collisions. Two years ago, then-transit director Dave Dixon expressed concern about rising collision stats for the HSR — then averaging about 25 a month — and vowed to do more research into the underlying reasons behind the accidents.
Tuck suggested the problematic bus design is an “industry-wide” issue in North America, compounded by the practice in Hamilton and other Ontario cities to partner on large bus orders with provincial transit agency Metrolinx. He estimated dozens of buses received or on order by the city have the design issues identified by the ATU.
Metrolinx spokesperson Anne Marie Aikins said Tuesday she wasn’t aware of GO bus drivers raising the blind spot issue, but added she was looking into the matter.
The ATU says many Canadian and U.S. bus makers are producing vehicles with larger front window pillars, in part to fit new technology and wiring.
The union points to European bus designs, which include wraparound windshields and side mirrors placed above the driver’s direct line of sight, as possible solutions.
Those changes mean drivers no longer have to “bob and weave” to see pedestrians entering an intersection, Tuck said. “The technology is there. We just have to apply enough pressure to make it standard,” he said.
The ATU, which represents more than 250 locals across the U.S. and Canada, suggests bus blind spots contribute to one injury or death per week across the continent.
In Edmonton, union officials raised the same issue last year when an 83-year-old woman was killed by a bus turning left through a crosswalk. They argued some city buses had a blind spot stretching more than 30 centimetres.
Locally, Tuck said it’s possible the blind spot played a role in HSR buses hitting two different pedestrians within the last year — a woman at the MacNab Street transit terminal and a woman crossing the street in the east end.
Both resulted in serious injuries to the victims and charges against bus drivers, he said.
Tuck wouldn’t talk about the cases because they are before the courts, but did say the union hired lawyers to examine whether the blind spot was a factor.
The union announcement also calls for the city to experiment with “shields” to protect drivers from spitting and other assaults.