The union representing OC Transpo bus operators says driver distraction is an issue and has raised it before with management. The comments from Craig Watson, the President of the Amalgamated Transit Union, are in light of the release today of the interim report of the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) into the fatal collision last September between an OC Transpo double decker bus and a VIA train.

And now some passengers are expressing concern about boarding a double decker bus, knowing the driver could be distracted.

Today, at the very spot where the collision happened on September 18, 2013, a VIA train rolls through the level crossing while an OC Transpo bus waits behind the barrier.  Much has changed in a year. VIA hired workers to monitor Barrhaven's level crossings.  OC Transpo reduced the speed of its Transitway buses at these crossings from 60 kph to 50.  They are measures that have made some passengers feel safer.

"It's been a year now,” says Nathan Obas, as he waits for his bus at the Fallowfield station, “and I’ve been on a lot of double deckers and nothing's happened now."

Sean Casey rides a double-decker to his job downtown every morning.  He's keenly interested in what the Transportation Safety Board has to say about these buses and that deadly collision a little over a year ago.

“I was a little bit surprised it was a video monitor,” he says of the comments from the TSB regarding driver distraction and the video monitoring systems on the double decker buses.

Casey says from a passengers' perspective, those video monitors are great to find out whether there are any seats on the upper level.  But he can see how they could be a distraction for the driver.

"We've got laws in this province to stop people from distracted driving, from using a cellphone or a Tom Tom hooked up to your windshield,” says Casey, “If you're a regular driver you wouldn't be allowed to do that but if you're a bus driver it's okay?”

The head of the union agrees and says it has raised this issue with management; that there are too many distractions on all the buses, not just the double deckers.

 “When I started it was a fare box,a radio, and a speedometer,” says the president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Craig Watson, “and now that whole compartment is littered with electronic stuff.”

“There's a lot of stuff going on, with the passengers, the day-to-day traffic, construction.  The city of Ottawa has grown from small city to a big metropolis and what is in driver's compartment that we are dealing with has grown exponentially as well,” Watson adds, “There is so much more that goes on and that's based on need for people to know up to the second what time that bus is going to show up.”

With reference to the TSB’s finding that the driver of the bus, Dave Woodard, had been going 7 kilometres an hour over the posted speed limit, Watson says “he wasn’t that much over the limit” and suggests, again, distractions may have played a role.

“There’s so much going on, he’s not staring at the speedometer as he is going.”

Watson is advising his drivers to keep their eyes on the road and use the video monitor only at a stop.

But with the TSB citing distraction and speed as factors in the crash , some passengers are now wondering just how safe their double decker commute is.

"That kind of concerns me,” says transit passenger Jared Denison, “because I take the bus a lot and I always want to make sure the drivers are doing exactly what they're supposed to be doing.”

The union is calling for a safety audit in light of this report to figure out what drivers really need in that compartment to do their job, for the safety of both drivers and their passengers.