Vancouver City Councillor

Category — Transit

How an uninsulated screwdriver brought the Translink system to its knees

Translink’s welcome decision yesterday to accept all 20 recommendations of an independent review of last summer’s double Skytrain shutdown triggered straightforward but sketchy news reports of how implementation of the plan would take five years and at least $71 million.

But Gary McNeil’s report sets out in chilling detail how close the Skytrain system came to disaster, triggered in one instance by obsolete circuit boards that could not be readily replaced, and in the other by the improper use of an uninsulated screwdriver.

(The Vancouver Sun has a fairly comprehensive summary here.)

That screwdriver, in the hands of an electrician who was not directly supervised, took out the main Operations and Maintenance Centre, but not the Skytrain network. For more than 10 minutes the system was running without a brain until technicians took steps to initiate a complete shutdown.

When the shutdowns occurred, chaos ensued. Why? According to McNeill, some critical procedures are not written down and reside in the minds of long-term employees who are soon to retire. There were no clear protocols in place to engage and inform local municipalities, and so on.

It was a miracle no one was killed or injured, no train derailed or crashed. That is to Translink’s credit.

But without death, injury or derailment, no report is necessary to the BC Safety Authority, the provincial body ultimately responsible for Translink’s safe operation.

That has to be fixed. Translink cannot be expected to review itself. No one was hurt — that was exceedingly good luck. No one should count on such good fortune again.


November 19, 2014

Vote the Vision slate, and vote for Ferdinand Ramos, who’s fighting for a hospitality workers’ transit discount

Once you’ve voted the Vision Vancouver slate — from bottom to top, starting with Tony Tang, Tim Stevenson, then Niki Sharma and on up the line — give a vote to Ferdinand Ramos, the Hotel Workers United council candidate who’s campaigning for a new transit discount for Metro Vancouver’s tens of thousands of hospitality workers.

The $1 billion hospitality sector is vital to the city’s economy, but workers in hotels, bars and tourism struggle to make ends meet.

Transit costs are a huge burden for hospitality workers, who often have to make a three-zone trip in the early morning to get to work and make the same trek home in the afternoon, after a full day of room cleaning, food service or guest services. Ramos himself is a tradesman at one of the major downtown Vancouver hotels.

Ramos is telling the transit story we haven’t heard enough in this campaign: the struggle of tens of thousands of workers across the region who rely on it to go to and from their jobs. His solution is practical: a transit discount pass for hospitality workers to help them get to work.

And he’s winning. The new agreement for employees at the Hyatt Regency, the Four Seasons, the Renaissance, the Westin Bayshore and Sutton Hotels includes a 15 percent transit discount pass. You don’t have to be a union member to benefit from Ramos’ campaign. If implemented as he proposes, the transit discount pass would be available to hospitality workers across the region, union or non-union.

I welcomed Ramos to the Vision Vancouver office last week to hear about his campaign and you can see a video of the conversation here. I’m voting Ramos, he’s endorsing me — you should consider him too.


November 10, 2014

Flawless rollout of Sydney’s new Opal transit card highlights delays on Translink’s Compass project

Sydney, Australia, overcame dire predictions of commuter chaos Aug. 31 with the flawless launch of its new Opal card system, a cousin of Tranlink’s long-awaited Compass card, which is being implemented by the same company. The complete launch came only nine months after the start of basic service.

It’s a stark contrast to the long-delayed rollout of the $197 million Compass card, now more than a year overdue. Translink officials have promised an update on the Compass program this month, but there doesn’t seem to be any chance that Translink will deliver on its 2013 vow to launch the program in 2014.

If Translink doesn’t announce a firm launch date, many commuters will want to know why not — not to mention the Translink Mayor’s Council, which now has two representatives on the Translink board.

Both Sydney and Translink are using systems developed by Cubic Transportation Systems.

Just a month after the Opal rollout, the main criticism is coming from seniors and students who are angry that the system has not delivered promised concession cares. Translink’s Compass fare system has been developed, but questions remain here about how it will work for students and special groups like the homeless.

September 28, 2014

Translink review has tough calls to make in face of riders’ urge to walk tracks during shutdowns

What’s the solution to Translink riders’ new urge to pry open the doors and walk the guideways during service shutdowns?

Commenters online after last week’s Sept. 8 shutdown urged heavy fines and stronger warnings, which make perfect sense, but that assumes Translink has enough personnel to despatch to such situations with the power to lay the necessary charges. (The current fine is $115.)

One of Skytrain’s great features is the low operating cost that result from automated train control. For Gary McNeil, the independent expert engaged to review the July shutdowns, the latest episodes pose a tough challenge. Adding more staff will erode that advantage.

There will be times when people do need to be escorted from stranded trains. But when they make up their own minds when and how to leave, they risk their lives and hold up everyone else. A solution will not be simple, quick or easy.

September 11, 2014