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Drive Life : May 7th 2010
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Keeping Sydney's traffic moving is a difficult and often thankless task and one of its unsung heroes is RTA traffic commander Shane Bentley. Bentley had previously served 13 years as a NSW police officer, working mainly with the highway patrol and the crash investigation unit. This gave him, as he puts it, ''a close relationship with traffic'' and a career with the RTA seemed a natural move. In 2002, he took up a dual role as a traffic commander and road safety officer on the central coast; since 2003, he has worked exclusively as a Sydney traffic commander. The job of the traffic commander is to co-ordinate all RTA resources at any major unplanned incident with the objective, as Bentley says, of ''expediting the clearance of the incident and minimising the impact on the road network''. At any big incident on Sydney's roads -- which could be a crash, a fire, a truck rollover with a spill of hazardous material or even a burst water main -- the relevant emergency service has responsibility for what Bentley calls ''the inner cordon'', with direct access around the incident site. ''The role of the traffic commander at this point is to liaise with the emergency services to obtain the resources that they require,'' he says. This could range from bringing in street sweepers, cranes or heavy towing trucks to remove vehicles. Of course, an incident site could also be a crime scene and Bentley's paramount concern is not only safety but also the preservation of evidence. After the emergency services have done their job, the traffic commander takes responsibility for getting everything back to normal, which usually involves more towing and cleaning, and even resealing the road. ''My crash investigation background allows me to accurately assess how long an incident will take to clear.'' From the moment he arrives at an incident, Bentley is feeding information back to the RTA Transport Management Centre. This in turn feeds into variable message signs and speed limits and the RTA web pages to help drivers avoid an incident site. The RTA can also enhance the phases of traffic signals to help keep traffic moving. The traffic commander's job is certainly not about drinking coffee and waiting for something to happen. Bentley and his colleagues are always on the move in their Mitsubishi Pajeros. ''Because I'm in traffic all the time, it's very easy to identify abnormal congestion,'' he says. The Pajeros are equipped with lights and sirens to get him to any incident that bit faster. Sydney has 10 traffic commanders, working day shifts and rotating nights on call to ensure the four traffic quadrants are always covered. Teams of traffic emergency patrol vans, which carry cones and other emergency equipment, back-up the traffic commanders and are often the first to arrive at an incident. Traffic commanders are required to be at an incident within an hour of getting the call. Communication skills are a vital part of the job, with Bentley frequently facing the challenge of fatalities and grieving relatives. Most of his colleagues are also former police officers and so liaising with the emergency services is already second nature. Bentley urges anyone who sees an incident affecting traffic movement to dial the 13 17 00 number and report it. The call goes not to a call centre but direct to the Transport Management Centre, to be acted on as soon as possible. ''The public are our eyes and ears and the earlier we can get to an incident, the quicker we can get it resolved.'' Despite the challenges of his job, Bentley wouldn't trade it for the world and his colleagues clearly feel the same -- no one has left in the eight years he's been in the job. ''One day I could be at a truck rollover, the next day I could be chasing cows off the M4 at Penrith. You never know what each day will bring.''
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