If you have ever lived in one of the world’s major metropolis, you’ll almost certainly have experienced the phenomenon of the g-force happy public transport operator. This might be your bus driver, tram, trolley or train driver or maybe even a snarky black cabby eager to show off the virility of his new TX4.
In each case, the result for the poor, defenseless public transport user is the sensation of being tossed around like a cherry tomato in a particularly vigorous salad spinner. On London’s buses I’ve seen grannies thrown to the floor, coffees dashed against windows and handfuls of coins tossed to the floor as a driver, seemingly in the belief that only he is on the bus (and road), pulls away from the stop like one of Max Power’s finest.
In London, by the time I left it seemed there was nary a driver or operator left who understood how to drive the monstrous vehicles for which they were responsible. Given automatic gearboxes and a tidy nine litre engine, these beasts are capable of out-accelerating many of the smaller cars on London’s roads. In the hands of the hoolies who drive them, they are more than capable of disrupting the connection between floor and foot of even the toughest young London commuter.
It’s not just London though, and it’s not just busses. Even in laid-back Melbourne, Yarra Trams seems to employ a number of real bruisers in the cabs on their shiny (and some not so shiny) trams. While in general, better than London bus drivers (I have yet to see any wearing those string-backed driving gloves that I noticed appearing on the hands of some particularly speed obsessed drivers), I have been chucked about pretty effectively by one or two testing out the grunt available from their charges.
So what’s the answer? I remember a few years ago reading an article (probably in the Metro – where else would you find it) about a study of London Underground operators. This study found that passengers generally prefer the style of women operators. In the absence of those ‘amusing’ commentaries that some operators like to provide their passengers, this would be an entirely ‘blind’ test and potentially very reliable. By all accounts, the female operators were able to accelerate, brake and corner their trains in such a way that passengers were able to maintain contact between foot and floor and bum and seat. Something that was simply not possible when their male colleagues took the stick.
Sadly though, I suspect that Britain’s discrimination laws would see off any chance of firing all the male drivers out there. Realistically then, we can only expect the ladies to sort out a proportion of the problem. Luckily, I have a solution for the rest.
Accelerometers. It’s really very simple. Just a lorry drivers have a record kept of their speed and duration in the seat. Just as airline pilots have their every action tracked, monitored and investigated and just as MPs honestly track their expenses (um), public transport operators should be allocated a maximum average ‘G’ per KM travelled in any given day.
The driver who accelerates smoothly, brakes anticipatorily and treats their passengers like, you know, passengers will set the benchmark. The drivers who think that their job is a competition to achieve the greatest deviation from centre of gravity for the top deck of their bus will by contrast find themselves receiving remedial training around Swindon’s Magic Roundabout (and if that doesn’t teach them, they can just stay in Swindon).
Just imagine being able to walk the deck on the bus to your seat safe in the knowledge that your driver isn’t going to attempt to place you on your backside on the floor. Bliss, and all for the sake of a little bit of electronics and some damn harsh sanctions.
And yes. I smacked my head on one of the yellow rails of a tram a few days ago after the driver of a 96 decided to find out what the 0-60 time of the Bumblebee was.