Ottawa bus riders concerned about safety of double-deckers

As questions are raised about the safety of Ottawa's double-decker buses, politicians, police and transit authorities are coming to their defence.

Some call for vehicles to be pulled from the bus rapid transit network after fatal crash

A tow truck prepares to remove a damaged OC Transpo double-decker bus from the scene of Friday's fatal Transitway crash. (CBC News)

As questions are raised about the safety of Ottawa's double-decker buses, politicians, police and transit authorities are coming to their defence.

Three people died and 23 were injured when a double-decker slammed into a bus shelter at Ottawa's Westboro station Friday afternoon.

"[I] have second thoughts now, for sure," said transit user Brian McGregor, when asked if he'd be willing to get back on one of the buses run by OC Transpo, Ottawa's transit service. 

Others have suggested double-deckers should be pulled from the Transitway, as the city's bus rapid transit network is known, where the overhanging shelter awnings protrude, until more is understood about what caused the crash.

"Those canopies basically turn the Transitway into a chute lined with can openers," wrote one commenter on Reddit.

Allan Hubley, Chair of Ottawa's Transit Commission

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Coun. Allan Hubley, the head of Ottawa's transit commission, says he's confident the city's double-decker buses are safe.

Chief calls for confidence

Ottawa police Chief Charles Bordeleau was quick to dismiss questions about bus safety during a press conference Saturday.

"People should continue to have confidence in our transportation system," Bordeleau said. "Ottawa has a very safe transportation system."

Kanata South Coun. Allan Hubley, the chair of the city's transit commission, echoed the chief's confidence in the buses — even though a member of his extended family was injured in the crash.

Hubley said he hadn't heard from any Kanata residents concerned about double-deckers, and that the cause of the crash still remains unknown.

"We'll answer that through this investigation. I'm confident that it's going to come out that the bus is safe."

Six people were killed in a collision between an OC Transpo double-decker bus and a train in 2013. That crash was on people's minds after Friday's deadly collision at Westboro station. (Terry Pedwell/Canadian Press)

Parallels with 2013 crash

Yet on social media, many found comparisons to a fatal 2013 crash involving a double-decker bus and a VIA rail train too hard to resist.

"How people have to die and how many double-decker buses need to crash before you realize this stuff wouldn't happen with the one-storey buses?" one Twitter user asked the mayor and OC Transpo.

After that crash, the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) recommended public transit buses have more robust safety standards that would help them withstand high-impact collisions.

The TSB found the design of the double-decker involved in the 2013 crash provided riders with little protection.

Sebastien Urban takes an OC Transpo bus along the Transitway from his home in Kanata to his job in Gatineau, Que. He thinks double-deckers should be removed from the Transitway until more is known about the cause of Friday's crash. (Stu Mills/CBC)

'Bad situation'

Kanata resident Sebastien Urban lives in Kanata and takes OC Transpo past Westboro station to his public service job in Gatineau.

He said two "close calls" in which double-decker drivers either braked or swerved suddenly keep him from riding in the front of the upper deck.

"It's just a bad situation when there's no seatbelts and no proper protection other than one skinny yellow bar there," he said.

Even if the double-deckers are safe, Urban said they should be taken off the Transitway until Friday's collision with the protruding shelter is better understood.

At the very least, Urban said the awnings on the shelters should be removed.

"Clearly there's a vulnerability there," said Urban. "And it would be negligent to not do anything."

Ottawa Centre NDP MPP Joel Harden says he has confidence in OC Transpo and its fleet of double-deckers. (Stu Mills/CBC)

MPP confident about safety

Ottawa Centre MPP Joel Harden urged the public to remain confident in both the city's transit service and the people who drive and service the buses.

He recalled taking trips on double-deckers with his children, noting they preferred the upper front seats with their commanding view.

"I'm happy to do it again," Harden said. "I trust the fact these vehicles are being operated by professionals, and they're made by high-quality manufacturers."