Eight stages of recruitment, six weeks of training before OC drivers on job

The training of OC Transpo operators will undoubtedly be raised in the wake of Friday’s tragic crash, one of the worst in the company’s history.

It appears to be quite rigorous, consisting of seven steps before a candidate is even chosen for the formal six-week training course given at OC headquarters on St. Laurent Boulevard.

“It’s very comprehensive,” said one driver Sunday, speaking on condition of anonymity. “If there’s one thing I don’t fault OC Transpo on, it’s the level of training they give operators.”

Among the minimum qualifications needed to even apply to join the 1,700-driver force:

* A high school diploma or the equivalent, including proof of credentials if education was done outside Canada.

* A valid G driver’s licence, with a clean driving record for at least five years, free of demerit points.

* Possess or obtain a so-called Z “endorsement” that shows familiarity with air brakes.

* At least three years’ experience dealing with the public in customer service.

* A current police check that permits “vulnerable sector” work.

* Eventually, a C-class learner’s permit must be obtained, then sufficient hours on the road to earn the full C bus-driver designation.

This is only the start. If applicants pass the first couple of barriers, there is a road test done with a private vehicle through a residential neighbourhood. While driving, candidates are asked things like “count down by 3s from 1,000” or told to name streets or house numbers as they manoeuvre the vehicle.

“They want to see how well you can multi-task while on the road,” a driver said.

In other stages, applicants must show proof that they’ve gone on “observation” trips on OC Transpo routes and provide reference checks and medical and vision assessments. There is a face-to-face interview, multiple choice tests and questions that aim to gauge behavioural attitudes.

The initial stages can take months to complete.

Only at Stage 8 are applicants chosen for the six-week training course, which they must pass and during which they are paid half a regular operator’s wages.

It consists of roughly 50-50 classroom and road training. Candidates typically study in the morning, then drive buses in the mid-day slow period (11 a.m. to 2 p.m.) when part of the system’s fleet is idle and available for practice time.

Newcomers start slow, always with a certified trainer with them. First rides are on 40-foot buses, sometimes in a parking lot, sometimes down short stretches of Belfast Road. Student drivers graduate to 60-foot and double-deckers buses as their confidence improves.

Drivers are also taught to inspect a bus, an review that consists of about 100 points.

“I have faith in the training program,” said another driver. “Over the years, the washout rate has increased. I think this is because it’s been steady hiring for 10 years and the labour pool is smaller.”

Once hired, new drivers are assessed on their routes, work with a mentor and remain on probation for a number of months.

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