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The bus to nowhere


Buses ferrying TTC workers from garages to connecting routes provide an important service, drivers say, even if they leave confused passengers in their wake

Dec 19, 2008 04:30 AM
Iain Marlow
Staff Reporter

Frank Gullo spends a lot of time opening the door of his bus and telling curious and mildly annoyed people what he isn’t - the Weston Rd. bus or the Jane St. bus.

Most people, disappointed, turn away. As he hisses to a halt on Jane St. at Trethewey Dr., he stems the awaiting crowd with five words.

“This one turns down here,” Gullo says, pointing around the corner instead of straight up Jane St.

One man, confused, blurts out: “What are you? A training bus?”

It’s the same when he pulls up to a stop on Weston Rd. Gullo pulls the 171 Mt. Dennis up to the curb and then immediately freezes a woman midstep with: “This is not a Weston Rd. bus.”

“Oh,” the woman says, removing her booted foot from inside the bus.

With the exception of one “regular” and the odd straggler in the 171’s bleak, industrial stomping ground, the only people who don’t ask questions, who are not confused, and who actually board, are TTC drivers.

They use this 20-minute bus loop to get from their routes back to the Mt. Dennis garage. It is one of only two TTC bus routes that don’t connect to a subway station. It does not meet traditional ridership requirements for new TTC routes. The union negotiated with management for the arrangement, says Brad Ross, a TTC spokesperson. All TTC workers ride free.

The odd person, like William Boateng, 28, boards anyway.

“Where you going, bud?” Gullo asks.

“Where are you going?” he replies.

“Eglinton okay?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

The 171 Mt. Dennis started Nov. 23, the same day the new Mt. Dennis garage opened. Like the 99 Arrow Rd., this route exists to ferry drivers from a faraway garage to a connecting route so they can cut down time - some, on the clock, some not - and use public transport instead of walking or driving.

Most drivers riding the 171 route last Friday estimated the route eliminates a 15-minute walk back to the garage, or from the garage to a connecting route.

Ross said the 99 Arrow route pays for itself, but that the Mt. Dennis route is “unique,” meaning it doesn’t and simply arose out of the negotiation.

“I don’t know if it saves (management) any money,” Gullo says. “They could just say, `Get into work by yourself.’”

Some might raise eyebrows skyward about the arrangement, but the drivers argue the route is necessary.

“They need this bus! (The garage) is in the middle of nowhere,” Gullo says, as he scans traffic on Jane St. “There’s no way to get here by transit. It’s the same as the Arrow.”

Gullo estimates he gets six ordinary citizens a day and 99 per cent of his passengers are TTC drivers. But the route is still less than a month old. Of ridership, he says: “A few passengers here and there. They’re starting to find out about it. You can’t please everybody.”

Gullo spent 29 years out of the Roncesvalles yard, driving the 504 streetcar along King St. When asked whether his new job was a plum route, since he avoids rambunctious high school kids and rush hour, Gullo replies: “Yes and no. Sometimes the drivers can be more of a nuisance than passengers, because they know the schedule.”

And that’s a problem, he says, since the schedule says his route takes 15 minutes. “Impossible.”

One driver Gullo stops for on Eglinton Ave. waves him by. “Some guys like to walk to kill time,” Gullo laughs. “Let’s see if they want to walk in January or February.”

Tony Peart, 39, a driver, hops on.

If there was no route, “It’d be horrible, man,” says Peart. It saves him roughly 20 minutes of walking. “One guy takes his bike and puts it on the front, so he just bikes back (to the garage). Maybe I’ll do that,” he muses. “In the summer.”

At the garage seven boisterous drivers board Gullo’s empty bus. “It’s still got that new car smell,” one of them yells. One refers to the Arrow bus as a “shuttle.” One recalls fondly when his garage was next to a subway: no walking at all.

One female driver, as she dismounts, frowns at the reporter and says: “What are you going to write? That those lazy drivers have their own bus? Be kind.”