Training day on the road

By Sasha Harrinanan

The Public Transport Service Corporation (PTSC) has a significant shortage of bus drivers and is in the process of recruiting 300 men and women to fill these vacancies.

Deputy general manager of Operations Brian Juanette sat down with Business Day recently to discuss the on-going exercise, in which two groups are currently being trained to operate Class Six vehicles – buses, formerly referred to as omnibuses.

“Until we get a full complement of drivers, we operate a lot of the routes Mondays to Fridays only. At times, drivers work overtime on trunk (major) routes due to traffic jams, inclement weather and major accidents. What we are in fact doing is operating without any reserve staff but we are getting the job done in an efficient manner,” Juanette said.

The recruitment process began in 2008/2009 when the corporation first began expanding its services but the need became even greater after the People’s Partnership came into power on May 24, 2010. That’s when Minister of Works and Transport at that time, Jack Warner began calling for more routes to meet the needs of commuters, especially in rural areas.

Juanette said his original target of 200 new drivers was increased to 300 after the launch of routes such as Montrose Junction, Chaguanas to Port-of-Spain via the Southern Main Road.

It takes a certain type of person, with a special set of driving skills, to become a PTSC bus driver.

“Applicants must be between the ages of 25 and 60, have five to six years driving experience, with a Class Five licence that is at least one year old – they must be able to operate Extra Heavy vehicles, and of course, have a friendly personality, enjoy interacting with people,” Juanette explained.

There are two classes underway at present – one in Scarborough, Tobago the other in San Fernando, Trinidad.

The Scarborough class consists of nine men who began their six-week course at the start of June at Johnson Defensive Driving School. They are expected to begin operating PTSC’s expanded Tobago fleet by the end of this month.

However, the 28 men in San Fernando only started their training at Kenson School of Production Technology on July 4.

Each batch of recruits is assigned to training in their future base of operations, which in itself is usually determined by where they live. Included among the south batch though, are four men from east Trinidad.

They begin by learning how to drive a manual bus, even though 90 percent of PTSC’s fleet is automatic. Juanette said this was because each driver is required to know how to drive every type of bus the corporation operates, as well as all major routes, no matter their base of operation.

A challenge perhaps but one recruit, Toco resident Kesean Glasgow said it was his life-long goal to join the PTSC.

“My mom worked as a PTSC conductor for most of her career, so since I was small I knew about buses and wanted to drive one for the PTSC. Driving is my passion and I’m loving the training. It opened my eyes to dangers bus drivers face, plus I had to learn how to lock the bus when turning corners. When you swing with a bus the back is very long, so you always have to make sure the back is secure before moving forward,” Glasgow said.

Glasgow and his three classmates from east Trinidad all wake up before dawn each day to ensure they reach Kenson on time. Although they tend to arrive at the school around 6:30 am, Glasglow said it was less stressful than being stuck on the highway in road work-related traffic for a couple of hours.

Glasgow is also determined to succeed because this was his third attempt to become a bus driver. The first time he applied, he was rejected because he did not have a Class Five licence, the second time he had not yet acquired the minimum one-year driving experience driving Extra Heavy vehicles.

PTSC line instructor Ryan Davis said turning corners safely is a key part of bus driver training. He said the difference in the handling required for straight corners versus curved ones.

“On a curved corner you have to get the back wheel to the curve before you actually start turning but with a straight line corner, you start turning after the shoulder of bus has passed the corner to avoid hitting the curb. That’s because the beginning of a curve is actually five feet from the corner whereas a straight line corner is right at the edge,” Davis explained.

In addition, Davis said each PTSC driver is now taught a variety of skills.

“PTSC has embarked on improving our customer skills, marketing skills and even first aid, so in the event of an emergency, the driver would know what to do for a passenger. We don’t just drive the vehicles anymore, we are responsible for the passengers too.

“Like pilots, we conduct safety checks before driving a vehicle off of the compound. Although the mechanical department checks the engine and transmission gears, the driver has a check list of his own, including making sure the tyres are properly inflated and all of the instruments on the dashboard are working,” Davis said.


PTSC driving academy


Juanette said there are plans for PTSC to establish a driving academy, complete with a $3 million bus simulator, on the Beetham compound of the Vehicle Management Corporation of Trinidad and Tobago (VMCOTT).

The idea of a training facility was conceived and approved under the previous board but Juanette said the current one, appointed in November 2010, decided to continue with it because they saw the value in being able to train their staff using the latest techniques, while earning revenue by training drivers employed by public and private institutions.

“Our municipal bus simulator would be the only one in this part of the Caribbean. I believe Jamaica has one but ours would be the most modern in the region. Our simulator is expected to arrive in Trinidad in another month or so and was ordered from FAAC; First Ann Arbor Corporation, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA,” Juanette said.

Why invest in a simulator? Davis, who has first-hand experience in an FAAC simulator, said it allows the driver to see a bird’s-eye view of his handling of the bus.

“The simulator is a good tool because if a driver makes a mistake, it shows an overhead view and a replay of it. It allows the driver to see exactly how he is handling the bus, including manoeuvering, cornering and reversing techniques. Using a simulator actually tells you how you can be a better driver. It has a lot to do with defensive driving,” Davis noted. While he said there is no substitute for learning how to drive a bus on a real road, Davis believes a simulator should be the first tool in training.

“Trainees can see what they are oing from various angles and so be more aware of areas of weakness when they do start practicing on the road,” Davis said.

When asked about the role of current training partners, the corporation’s deputy general manager of Operations said they would be sub-contracted for some aspects of training.

Juanette also gave a timeline for the projected opening of the driving academy.

“We would sincerely like to open the academy within the next two to three months – September to October. We are waiting on the appointment of our line instructors as driving instructors, the installation of the simulator, the arrival of the team from FAAC to train the staff who would be actively involved in the academy,” he said.

Juanette said PTSC intends to earn revenue by training and re-certifying drivers employed by government entities and private organisations in defensive driving and other skills associated with safe driving.


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