Edmonton city bus drivers put to the test at annual skills competition

Edmonton city bus drivers put to the test at annual skills competition

Edmonton city bus drivers got to show off their skills in an obstacle course on Saturday at the annual Transit Skills Bus Roadeo.

The 43rd annual competition takes drivers through a parking lot with 12 obstacles, including backing a standard 40-foot bus into a tight space, zigzagging through pylons and accelerating through a narrow corridor lined with barrels.

"It's a great opportunity for them to kind of show their skill, and a good opportunity for us to learn what it takes to drive a bus," said ETS branch manager Eddie Robar.

"It gives you a whole new appreciation for the task of manoeuvring a bus through the city."

CBC reporter takes the wheel

For the media invited to give the obstacle course a try, the expectations were straightforward: complete five obstacles and try not to hit any barrels or pylons (or people.)

It became clear I'd chosen the right career when the barrels started flying and the volunteers went running.

After almost forgetting to buckle up and then nearly driving away without closing the door, I proceeded to swallow up pylons like a real-life game of Pac-Man — except the Pac-Man was 19,000 kilograms of steel.

I managed to back the bus in between two rows of pylons, but only after a five-point turn.

The grand finale of the obstacle course was a 30 km/hr drive through two rows of barrels, with just inches of space on each side. I slammed into the entire right row of barrels.

International competition follows 

For ETS drivers, the course is a piece of cake compared to rush hour traffic. Drivers need a class two licence and must all undergo a six-week intensive training course before hitting city streets. 

"If you see some of the professionals go through [the barrels], they can thread the needle on that one pretty easily compared to somebody like me, or some of the people who went through earlier today," Robar said.

"There is a lot that goes into manoeuvring a course like this. People who win this roadeo have done it year over year and really understand where to point a bus, how to turn... what not to hit."

Almost 120 contestants will compete in the event throughout the weekend.

The winner of the competition will go to an international bus roadeo and compete against fellow professional bus drivers from across North America.