Some Dublin Bus drivers say they’re in pain from hours of sitting twisted while driving, because of how some seats are aligned with the steering wheel.
Dublin Bus hasn’t responded to queries sent Friday morning about whether it thinks there are problems, and if so, what they are doing to address the concerns.
Dockets filled out to report problems with buses from the past few months show several complaints from drivers, who say misalignment means cushions are worn down on one side, adding to the discomfort.
“There was a day a couple of weeks ago that I actually did suffer afterward for a few hours,” says Onofrio America.
“It was kind of a feeling like I had been bruised, but there wasn’t a bruise,” he says.
Strain and Pain
The issue has gotten worse in the last two to three years, says America, who’s been a bus driver since 2007.
The problem, he says, is how a driver has to turn their body towards the steering wheel, because it’s not lined up comfortably with the seat.
“To centre your driving position to the wheel, you’re sitting with your right leg in the middle of the seat and your left leg on the left-hand side of the seat,” he says.
The seat cushion’s foam gets worn down on the left-hand side from the driver’s weight, he says. “The right-hand side even after a few years, it would be almost as good as new.”
“It’s like sitting constantly on a piece of wood or a piece of metal that keeps pushing into your bones,” America says. That affects his coccyx, he says.
The foam seats were manufactured by USSC Group, which in 2015 inspected the density of the foam on the cushions in more than 540 buses after a large number of complaints, say minutes from a meeting of SIPTU’s Vehicle Design Committee in September that year.
They found that 37 buses had the incorrect cushion fitted and those were “immediately replaced” in garages on Conyngham Road, Ringsend and Phibsboro, the minutes say.
They were also trialling a new seat cushion, with a better shape, sloped toward the front, they said.
America hasn’t had to take time off work, he says. For that, he credits the radio controllers and maintenance team, who are quick to send a replacement bus when he complains about a seat and says he needs to switch.
Raising the Issue
Ten recent drivers’ signing-off sheets, nine from between February to June 2019 and one with an unclear date, mention complaints with seats, and the cushion in particular.
These sheets are filled in when a bus driver reports a problem with a bus and are given to the depot inspector or relief driver.
“Foam failed in drivers’ seat,” says one.
“Bottom of seat unwinding,” says another.
“No support on left hand side of seat,” says a third.
The majority say the left side of their seat cushion has worn down. “Drivers’ seat very hard to sit on,” says one. “Leg getting painful in back.”
The seat problem doesn’t seem consigned to one model of bus. The signing-off dockets, show drivers were steering a few different models: SG, GT, and EV.
The SG model is the most common across the seven Dublin Bus garages, according to the Dublin Bus website. Dublin Bus has a fleet of 1,014 buses.
“They do take it off the road for a day,” says America, about what happens next, after a bus is flagged as defective.
Wear and Tear
Brian Crinion, a physiotherapist and director of Spectrum Optimise, says he’s treated bus drivers in the past.
“Bus drivers can experience a wide range of issues,” says Crinion. “You can feel hip pain, lower back pain from driving a bus.”
“Some bus drivers drive the same routes everyday,” he says. If they’re turning their body only one way throughout the route, for example, that’s putting a strain on them.
Malalignment can make a problem worse, he says.
Crinion says he sees worn-down seats more often in cars than buses. “If a person sits crooked, especially for longer periods of time, often a wear pattern can develop on a seat due to uneven pressure while driving,” he said.
It can become more noticeable over time, he says.
“People sometimes think that new or updated equipment is the answer,” says Crinion. “But ergonomics comes down to education and teaching people to use what they have available to them.
“Some companies don’t know how to adjust equipment,” he says.
A May 17 letter to Dublin Bus Chief Engineer Frank Kerr said that a review of Dublin Bus seats by the National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) had found that 10 percent of the vehicles failed inspection and had to be grounded.
A SIPTU spokesperson had a slightly different account. “There was a city-wide seat check of the Dublin Bus fleet by SIPTU and NBRU in May,” they said, by email.
Both unions represent Dublin Bus drivers.
SIPTU found a problem with seat fittings, but not with seat positioning, he said. “There was no issue found with regard to the alignment of seats to steering wheels. The defects related to fittings and cushions.”
“Up to 20 buses from the fleet of 950 approximately were removed from the fleet due to the seat defect,” they said.
Ten percent of the buses inspected had minor seating defects, he said, but these buses continued in service and were fixed later.
“Unions and management are working together to ensure that the issue is resolved and will not recur,” the SIPTU spokesperson said.
America says he has a favourite bus to drive. “One of the buses has a really great seat. It’s the SG 363,” he says. “That’s the seat I would like to see on all buses. That seat is phenomenal.”
It’s completely different, he says. “It’s wider, it’s thicker and it’s much more comfortable. It’s like sitting on a sofa.”
America says the National Transport Authority (NTA) should deal with the issue.
The NTA are responsible for regulating public bus services, since the Public Transport Regulation Act was passed in 2009.
“I think the NTA should jump in and take responsibility,” America said. “They should keep [the buses] healthy.”
The NTA referred a request for comment to Dublin Bus. Dublin Bus hasn’t responded to queries.
If you’ve questions around jobs in the city that you’d like to see answered, or ideas for jobs-related stories relating to wider trends and practices, government policies and programmes, or curious professions, we’d love to hear from you. You can reach our reporter Aura McMenamin at [email protected]