As any San Franciscan can testify, our streets are in a continual state of destruction, construction, and re-construction. Building demolitions are all over town as new high rise complexes go up. These sites usually have to block off the sidewalk and the one lane closest to the site.
This means the wires must first be moved over by the big yellow truck and the overhead crew, or it could mean diesel buses must pull-out from another division. Temporary reroutes are frequent and abundant.
The third possibility is to drop and rack, and battery power around. As I am writing this chapter, there is an extensive EPU (Emergency Power Unit) situation down near the foot of Market on Drumm Street to Sacramento Street.
New sewer lines are going in below street surface. Inspectors are placed before and after the construction site to cradle our poles nearside, and re-place them back on the wires after the area that has the wires completely removed. If you have ever seen those large excavation machines, attendant with their massive armature and bucket attachments, (cherry picker) you can quickly see why the wires must be turned off, moved, or in this downtown case, completely removed altogether. The risk of creating a ground short through the arm of the excavation machine sends a huge fireball and flash! The 600 volts of direct current travels between the two wires through the metal crossing. The fire department truck sirens can be heard within three minutes as observers call on their cell phones. The duty these inspectors have here gives me sympathy, as the repetitive motion they must go through to place poles down and up over several hours could easily lead to injury.
If I know a de-energized area is ahead, I cradle my poles to give them a break, especially if many coaches are close together, or coming from more than one direction at one time.
Sometimes they don't notice my poles are already cradled, and I get a kick out of their panic if they are not looking up, and then the smile and relief when they see they don't have to rack them. Other than a smile from an inspector, comes the reading of the "riot act." This is a very intense scold about a rules infraction and the threat of: I could write you up. I was very taken aback by this, until an old timer told me that this verbal riot act is a friendly reminder that I probably won't be written up because they are telling it like it is at the time I pass by. It's that contra-indication like when we get the complaint from a passenger that is passive aggressive: it is the quiet ones that don't say anything that you have to be wary of.
Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, the order to drop and rack. In most cases we, the operator, must do this ourself. The posting of an inspector is a luxury.
To me, the key is to rack my poles far enough in advance of a downhill roll, so there is not the gridlock of stopping when other vehicles add to the problem. If I can smoothly transition the area without stopping, on the Emergency Power Unit, then the flow is kept, and a back-up is minimized or cleared. If uphill, I like to put my poles on the opposing wires and travel on the left side without using a battery. Any grade above two per cent really drains the battery, and some coaches are weaker than others.
I try to communicate this status to any inspector in the area, but the chief complaint we have is that the inspector is not visible, or not standing in a position closest to where we need them to be. Inattentive police and fire crews cause minutes of delay where none need be if they understood our traveling limitations. Many times an ambulance or squad car need only be parked or stopped just a few inches difference to make a lane available to us and our passengers.
In any event, the one block spacing rule becomes very apparent when a drop and rack situation exists. Also very important to take in to consideration is the notion of if I should lose all my air, and be unable to move, can I use gravity, or battery power while I still have it, to move to a space in parked cars, or away from an intersection, to make it easier for others to pass by. An operator busy with getting people off of the bus, but with poles up on the wires, can make a bigger jam if following trolleys can not get around.
Even though the first rule of thumb is that the out-of-service vehicle should be the first one that has its' poles dropped and racked, I still act defensively by taking the offense, and rack my own poles, first. I can then go around the coach that has its' poles up, and let that operator drop them when they are of the mental capacity to do so. A successful drop and rack is not is easy as it sounds, and when done smoothly and in timely fashion is a great way to keep the Zen inside the bus, and may result in applause once clear of delay!
Once the power went out at busy 16th and Mission and I immediately switched to battery power because I knew there was a separate power block on the other side of 13th. Sure enough, I passed all the other dead trolleys and when I got through the three blocks of dead wire, the 600 volt hum returned. I had a wheelchair that needed to get downtown to 6th, and they made it without any delay.
The other operators stared with open mouths as they saw me fly by with poles up and on the wires, moving. The coach that day was one of the best for strong epu, and my speed was over ten mph. I love the cheers when we got back to power three blocks down. Here was a case when stopping all the buses was not really necessary. Knowing where the power blocks are helps keep the Zen when powerless!