Within the past few months, there have been a slew of incidents involving the University’s Blue Buses.

A driver left a bus running and unattended for hours off campus. A bus became stuck after failing to make the small turnaround near the Michigan Union. A driver crashed into and destroyed a bus stop and two students were injured after falling out of a bus when the vehicle’s rear door malfunctioned.

The Blue Bus driving staff is comprised of a 50:50 ratio of student drivers to unionized drivers, according to Jason Bidwell, Transportation Manager at Parking and transportation services. Some of the union drivers are permanent PTS staff members, while student drivers work on a temporary basis during their time at the University.

Cultivating a staff is no easy task. It takes a significant amount of knowledge to drive a Blue Bus as employees are responsible for the livelihood of students, faculty and staff in transit.

The University’s training course is two weeks. The first week of training takes place in a small classroom setting where potential drivers learn about the vehicles, how to drive safely and how to interact with riders. Trainees must test at a minimum score requirement to move onto the next section.

Next, trainees shadow and operate a bus with a licensed driver to gain a better understanding of each route.

Since the training process is time demanding, it usually takes place at the beginning of the summer. Once drivers are accepted into their positions, they have the summer season to hone driving skills before fall semester.

Over this past year, the number of student drivers has decreased, forcing some permanent drivers to work overtime. PTS executive director Stephen Dolen said student drivers’ shifts are based on their academic schedules, which can make it challenging to cover a student driver’s position when last-minute academic demands arise.

“If we had a deeper bench, so to speak, to go to, it’d be more efficient and sufficient to get business covered,” Dolen said. “We need a deeper bench.”

Art & Design sophomore Derick Adams applied to be a driver after he saw a job posting on a bus last year. After sending in an application, PTS asked him for an interview, where he was offered the job on the spot.

While Adams had no previous experience driving a bus, he had a customer service background from previous part-time jobs — a characteristic PTS desires in driver candidates. Upon being offered the position, Derick, like all potential student drivers, underwent the two-week training program. Bidwell, the PTS transportation manager, said his office usually offers positions to any potential drivers who are willing to try out the training process.

Since new drivers have to adjust to the busier atmosphere, LSA senior James Kehoe, who has been a Blue Bus driver since his freshman year, said most accidents often occur during the fall semester, as evidenced this year.

“We’re noticing more this year just because of how stupid they’ve been, to be frank,” Kehoe said.

“Accidents happen all the time, especially the first semester when the new students are really getting into the swing of things.”

While the training process teaches student drivers the basics, both Kehoe and Adams said drivers gain the majority of their knowledge and skills while on the job. Even with the shadowing process of training with a supervisor, the ability to make quick decisions comes with practice.

“Most of it is on the job, but that there’s really no way to simulate anything like under the arm of somebody,” Adams said. “When you get out there on your own, you’re going to do whatever you want anyway, so to make your own decisions, it’s going to take you out there on your own.”

The primary priority for drivers is safety. When big events come to campus — such as football games and performances, among others — PTS sends its drivers notifications and reminders about safety procedures. When an accident occurs and after the review process is complete, PTS sends out similar notifications detailing the incident and how to prevent similar ones from occurring in the future.

While the University community relies on the timeliness of Blue Bus arrivals, Dolen said PTS prefers that drivers run behind schedule to be safe, rather than speeding to make it to each stop on time.

Equipped with a GPS, call processes and radios, each bus can be tracked to keep a record of drivers’ performance. Additionally, Dolen said the campus community provides feedback to assist PTS in improving its operations.

“It’s a probably unique situation where we have the ability to get information from so many different (people) — all kinds of people that are willing to help us get better,” Dolen said.

Accidents or negligence?

Though accidents can happen, the case of the unattended, running bus earlier this month appears to be a demonstration of negligence on the part of a student driver rather than an accident.

The driver left his bus unattended and running at the intersection of Arch and White streets for as much as two hours between the hours of midnight and 2:30 a.m. on Nov. 2. Though the bus was off-campus for an extended period of time, supervisors did not make University Police aware of the missing bus. Rather, a staff member of The Michigan Daily notified University Police of the abandoned bus.

The driver was arrested on charges of unlawfully driving away an automobile, and a supervisor drove the bus back to base.

Bus drivers have certain spots — located on Central Campus, South Campus and North Campus — to park while taking their designated breaks. The location where the bus was left unattended was not a designated stopping point. At the time, University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald emphasized that Blue Bus drivers are never allowed to take their buses home for breaks when they’re on the job.

Dolen reportedly did not directly address the incident, and instead categorically maintained that safety is a top priority for PTS. He did not explain why supervisors failed to alert police to the missing vehicle.

With recent and potential incidents, PTS is constantly reevaluating and enhancing its training protocol. PTS has met with officials at the Indiana University, Bloomington, to discuss how they train their student drivers.

Dolen said PTS is also exploring different technologies to enhance the training program. Potentially, the program could feature a bus simulator to better prepare students for the road ahead.

“There’s always learning to be done,” Dolen said. “You can’t predict everything that’s going on, but you can predict a lot.”

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