Ottawa

Transitway conditions ideal on afternoon of fatal crash, OC Transpo driver says

An OC Transpo bus driver who went through Westboro station with a load of passengers just hours before Friday's fatal crash says conditions were ideal that day, and described double-deckers as safe buses that handle particularly well in winter conditions.

Experienced driver says roadway 'completely clear' of snow, ice at Westboro station

A double-decker OC Transpo bus struck a bus shelter at Westboro station at the start of the afternoon rush hour on Jan. 11. Three people were killed and 23 were injured. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

An OC Transpo bus driver who passed through Westboro station shortly before Friday's fatal crash says road conditions were ideal that day.

The driver, who has been driving with OC Transpo for 10 years, agreed to speak to CBC on the condition of confidentiality, saying he fears reprisal from his employer for speaking without permission.

"I was on the Transitway on Friday, and truthfully I was thinking to myself ... 'Wow, the roads couldn't be any better today,'" the driver said. "I went through Westboro station westbound [in the early afternoon] and the roads were completely clear."

A couple hours later, at about 3:50 p.m., a double-decker bus heading in the same direction jumped the curb and slammed into the overhang of a bus shelter, cutting through the vehicle's upper level. Anja Van Beek, Judy Booth and Bruce Thomlinson were killed, and another 23 people were injured.

Aissatou Diallo, who was hired by OC Transpo within the last year, was driving the bus at the time. Ottawa police took her in for questioning and later released her.

The police investigation into how the collision happened continues.

A tow truck prepares to remove the damaged bus from the scene. (CBC News)

Double-deckers 'handle really well' in snow

Heading into Westboro station, there's a centre median with some snow and ice buildup around it, the driver told CBC News in an interview Monday, but the road itself was clear.

"Before it happened I was just like, these are the kinds of days where I really like driving in the winter. It's cold, it's very clear, it's actually very easy to see if there's ice on the road, in my opinion," he said.

But if bright late-afternoon light was blasting through a dirty windshield, it could have significantly reduced visibility.

They actually handle really well in the snow, better than most of the other buses.- 10-year OC Transpo bus driver

"[In] this kind of weather, the salt and stuff can get stuck to the buses very easily as well. Any crud on the window, when you start shining bright light through it, it definitely makes it harder to see," he said.

The driver estimated he's driven double-deckers about 100 times, and described them as "a pretty safe vehicle."

"I think they actually handle really well in the snow, better than most of the other buses, to be truthful, just because of the sheer weight that's overtop of the axles," he explained.

"A lot of operators really love the double-deckers."

  • Are you a bus driver? Do you have an opinion about double-deckers, the Transitway, driver training, probationary periods, bus shelter overhangs or any other issue? Send us an email.

Prior collision

Diallo, the driver involved in Friday's crash, was involved in another crash in December, sources told CBC News. A bus she was driving collided with a hybrid bus at St. Laurent station.

The driver who spoke to CBC News said OC Transpo handles such incidents on a "bit of a case-by-case" basis.

The bus driver in Friday's fatal crash was involved in this crash at St. Laurent station in December, sources told CBC News. (Supplied)

"If you get in a few [crashes] within a two-year period, you get called up to talk to your section head, and they basically have a little interview with you.... It does depend on the severity I think, and the type [of crash]," he said.

A driver still on probation wouldn't necessarily be fired after a collision, he added.

"I crunched a bus in my probationary period. It was minor. I felt really dumb about it, but one of the supervisors, he said, 'Hey, don't worry about it.' It was very minor."

Drivers' lounge quiet

OC Transpo drivers were quiet the Monday morning following the crash, the driver said.

"When I got to work [Monday] morning, it was actually quite quiet in the drivers' lounge," he said.  

"It was almost eerie, because usually on a Monday morning ... it's usually quite a busy and bustling place and there's a lot of chatter and talking and it can be fairly loud and stuff. But it was a little sombre in there, for sure."

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