Bus drivers union says directive to announce stops is dangerous

Greater Victoria transit bus drivers have been told they must announce each stop using hand-held microphones, but their union says that’s a dangerous distraction.

Unifor Local 333 has sent a letter to B.C. superintendent of motor vehicles Sam McLeod asking him to overrule a B.C. Transit plan requiring drivers to comply beginning April 22.

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“We have huge concerns,” said Unifor Local 333 president Ben Williams. Reaching for a microphone at every stop could divert a driver’s attention at crucial moments, especially since most bus stops are located at intersections, he said.

“You’ve got an operator heading into the most dangerous part of his job, which is operating a vehicle in that intersection,” Williams said. “And now he’s got another thing added to distract him away from his job [of] operating that vehicle safely.”

Williams pointed to automated GPS announcement systems, which are common in other cities, as a safe alternative.

Use of hand-held microphones is not considered a form of distracted driving under the Motor Vehicle Act. But the microphone must be within easy reach and secured to either the vehicle or driver’s body, without obstructing his or her view. Williams said the microphones are too far away, meaning a driver must reach up, back or toward the windshield.

B.C. Transit made the new rule to accommodate visually impaired passengers, said safety and environment director John Palmer. The change follows a B.C. Human Rights Tribunal complaint, made by a visually impaired passenger and the Canadian Federation of the Blind, calling the failure to announce stops discriminatory.

Drivers are accustomed to multi-tasking, Palmer said. They regularly communicate via radio to transit supervisors, open windows, hand out transfers and answer inquiries from passengers.

The hand-held microphones are already installed in each bus and have been used regularly, he said. The only change is that drivers will be required to use them for each stop. Some buses also have boom mikes.

“We have an instruction to comply by the 22nd of April, so we have to go with what’s currently in our fleet. We’ll continue to investigate alternatives,” Palmer said.

The policy will be rolled out to other B.C. Transit regions after Victoria, spokeswoman Meribeth Burton said.

Automated GPS announcement systems could be installed in the future, but it would require financing and business proposals, Palmer said.

Vancouver, Toronto and Edmonton are among cities that have buses with automated stop announcements.

“Certainly we have talked about that and we’re investigating it,” Palmer said.

asmart@timescolonist.com

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