ALERT! : More info
Translink Buzzer Blog

Hello 2009! Er… why is the snow still here?

The packed walkway between Commercial and Broadway Stations.

The packed walkway between Commercial and Broadway Stations.

Happy new year to you all on our first day back from Christmas holidays!

It’s a busy day for public transit, as most everyone is back to work or school today, but our crews are working hard to keep the system going. My own morning commute wasn’t too bad. Bus service was a bit slower but definitely consistent, and while Broadway Station was packed (as you can see in my photo to the right), the longer trains were slowly but surely moving the crowds out to their destinations.

And here’s the official transit updates as of 10:30 a.m:

SKYTRAIN
SkyTrain is running longer trains, with wider gaps between them, to get as close to full capacity as possible. All trains are staffed by SkyTrain Attendants for safety purposes. Platform management procedures are in place at Broadway and Metrotown stations.

BUS
Most routes are starting to return to normal as the snow continues to melt and the roads clear. Articulated buses are now back in service on the #3 Main, 98 B-Line and #135 SFU, as well as the 99 B-Line to UBC, which had always been using the longer buses.

Mariner Way in Coquitlam is back open, but there may be some service disruptions still at higher elevations, particularly those areas served by Community Shuttles.

WEST VAN BLUE BUS
#253 Caulfeild has returned to its regular route. All other routes are open, except #254 British Properties – on snow route.

ALBION FERRY
Is operating full service

HANDYDART
Essential services only – medical calls and as many work calls as possible. Remember that, while conventional buses use main roads, HandyDART uses side-streets as well, and may get stuck, as many buses were last night.

Again, thank you all for your patience and understanding during this trying time. Remember you can grab the latest updates at our Customer Alerts page or our Youtube info stream.


19 Comments

  • By Coffee Barista, January 5, 2009 @ 8:32 pm

    Hello Jhenifer,

    Being the Transit Super Start you are, by now you’ve probably heard hundreds of comments, rants, vents, suggestions, and who knows what other “feedback” regarding the public transit’s performance during these snowy days.

    To my surprise, there are no comments here! I’m one of the many who depends on public transit to get to and from work, so here are my 2 cents.

    Although I can understand the multiple delays this unusual amount of snow is creating, I was very disappointed in a few things, but two in particular.

    First, the poor communication provided to us, transit users. While waiting 30 minutes for the Skytrain a couple of weeks ago, we heard a single announcement that didn’t provide any details, times, or hope that the Skytrain was going to show. Eventually it did, but only after a some people left, called cabs, etc. Two days later, while riding the Skytrain, announcements were made what seemed every minute for about for about half an hour… How about creating a procedure on delivering announcements detailing frequency and reported information?

    Second and most infuriating are the late updates on the “Current Conditions & Planned Travel Changes.” It seems something not that difficult to keep up, hence the frustration. For example, as I write this at 8:10pm the latest update on that section is from 3:15pm – give me break. Really.

    It’s funny to see Translink’s cutting edge on some things like the Google partnership and this blog – which I applaud – and experiencing flaws that seem easier to correct. On that note, when are the buses going to have the GPS chip that will allow us to know when the bus will show up at the stop in real time?

    Thanks for listening.

    Coffee Barista

  • By Dan, January 5, 2009 @ 10:20 pm

    there needs to be a better communication system for everyone as the drivers were getting nowhere into T-Comm for help with messages being sent to them ” Don’t Call T-Comm unless its an emergency” I can’t notice that none of the buses have snow tires except for the Shuttle buses. There was rumor that they stopped putting them on 3 years ago. But the main thing that puzzles me and talking with a few CMBC/ SkyTrain officials. That they really don’t have a winter plan in place. There are no snow routes. And when SkyTrain gets shutdown they pull coaches off the 135 or the 99 to deal with the problem and service gets extremely effected. I personally would love to be a planner cause i have some great ideas that are pretty much common sense that would not literally shutdown transit as it has been in the last 3 weeks. Hopefully someone would like to get in contact with me so the transit system can run much more smoothly it would be great. For passengers, drivers, mechanics etc. Thank you

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, January 7, 2009 @ 4:42 pm

    Hey, Coffee Barista—I have the answer to your second question here, so I figured I’d post it while we wait for the rest of the answers to come back.

    Current Operating Conditions is updated on the TransLink website by call-center supervisors and work-leaders. They receive information straight from TCOMM, SeaBus, SkyTrain control and WCE when there is a situation affecting service.

    Their process also includes updating an internal system to provide this information to call-centre clerks and rewriting it from technical language into something the public can understand. Updates are made as conditions change.

    And apparently, with the new TransLink website that we’re launching this year, current operating conditions will be captured in data and displayed within the Trip Planner/Schedule Lookup. An alert will display if the problem impacts your itinerary, route or stop.

    So, really, as far as I know, the information on the Current Operating Conditions should be quite accurate. Maybe the changes from 3:51pm were still have been in effect at 8pm? If not, my apologies. But just keep an eye on it and let me know if you track any more issues with the Current Operating Conditions page. I can certainly investigate.

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, January 7, 2009 @ 5:08 pm

    Dan,

    Thanks for your comments. I gave my contacts at CMBC a call about the existence of a snow plan, and I can now assure you that there is most definitely a plan for snow and other adverse weather conditions. In fact, I’ve got a copy on my desktop. (Among the many things detailed in it are responsibilities during the emergency and clear directions about reroutes and ice-cutting on trolley wires.)

    I really feel your frustration with the difficulties of travelling during the snowstorms though. I mean, snowfall like this is unheard of in our region. Roofs caving in! Cars snowed into the side streets! In Metro Vancouver??

    And I must say that no matter the service level, we here at TransLink are really proud of our staff for standing up to the snow challenge and working long hours through the holidays to help you guys get where you needed to be. Really, everybody worked so hard!

    And in terms of rating the effectiveness of our winter planning, I think SkyTrain performed quite amazingly during this whole period. While there were service disruptions and delays, SkyTrain itself never shut down entirely, which is quite a feat during a record-breaking snowfall.

    Thanks again for sharing your experience, Dan!

  • By Dan, January 7, 2009 @ 5:23 pm

    Jhenifer,

    Would it be possible if i could get a copy of the CMBC or SkyTrain snow plan. Thank you

  • By Sungsu, January 7, 2009 @ 7:40 pm

    The snow routes/snow plan, or at least a summary for public consumption, should be published on the TransLink website. See, for example, http://www.mbta.com/about_the_mbta/news_events/?id=14129 and http://www.mbta.com/uploadedFiles/Documents/Schedules_and_Maps/Bus/093map.pdf.

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, January 8, 2009 @ 9:52 am

    Dan, Sungsu:
    Well, you know, you’re right. I’ve talked to staff over at CMBC and they are going to put together a summary of the snow plan that I can post up on the blog. We can’t really give you the exact snow plan document since it lists many names and such. But the summary will provide pretty much all of what happens in case of snow or adverse weather. I’ll post it up when I’ve got it.

  • By Coffee Barista, January 8, 2009 @ 12:52 pm

    Thanks for the reply Jhenifer.

    I see it’s a quite complicated process, but even you are not sure if a report from 3:15pm was valid almost 5 hours later. It’s not a reassuring system, right?

    Please make a strong suggestion for the reports to have a reasonable time stamp – even if conditions haven’t changed.

    Thanks!

  • By Dan, January 8, 2009 @ 1:10 pm

    Jhenifer,

    Would it be easier to scan in the report and black out the manager names and such cause most transit companies including BC Transit have it available as it is at public interest. As far with the updates from T-Comm to customer info. With speaking to one of the road supervisors during the “snow crisis” He was telling me and you could hear it when he asked them over the radio. T-comm “forgot” to notify customer information and people were very upset, the supervisor felt bad and the driver didn’t even know as they couldn’t even get in contact with T-comm. Mind you with the delays that happen and the information the notification to Customer info from t-comm is actually pretty poor. Even if you phone info and they tell you your wrong. And your telling them about a problem that is happening. This is room for huge improvements and a problem that will not go away until it’s. resolved properly.

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, January 8, 2009 @ 1:36 pm

    Hi Coffee Barista,

    Nope, I wasn’t sure if 3:15 was the same as 8pm, but that’s just because the updates page has changed since then. Question about the timestamp you’re suggesting: do you mean you think the timestamp should be continually updated to say the current time? I’m not sure that would useful from the operating side, since then staff might be confused about when the page was last updated. Let me know what you’re thinking.

  • By Coffee Barista, January 8, 2009 @ 2:15 pm

    Not necessarily the current time, but in tough weather conditions, at least every hour.

    I’m not sure about the logistics on how to implement it or how they go about updating in detail.

    But let’s say you’re about to leave to the airport to take a flight and it has been snowing heavily for the last 4 hours. You check the airport’s site and you see a status report 5 hours old. Wouldn’t that make you a bit uneasy? Wouldn’t you call the airport just to make sure?

    That’s what I did (and still do), if there as big time gap between the report and the current time, I call Translink. If the time stamp is recent, I don’t.

    I’m sure I’m not the only one.

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, January 8, 2009 @ 2:18 pm

    Coffee Barista:
    Thanks for that. I’ll pass your note along to someone in customer information.

  • By xl, January 8, 2009 @ 10:09 pm

    There is a lot of talk about a revised translink website and also GPS timetable updates for the SMS. Jhenifer, do you have a tentative timeline on when your readers can expect to see the technology implemented? Can you narrow down the month in 2009?

    The GPS SMS timetables would have greatly helped with the bus stop waits with the recent bad weather.

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, January 9, 2009 @ 9:46 am

    xl:
    As far as I know the new website is coming in February. I really believe it’ll be done by then, but I’m not going to be too surprised if that deadline changes.

    The GPS stuff has also been long in the works. Apparently the appropriate TMAC stuff has all been installed in the buses as of December. They’re apparently in testing right now, but I’ve put a call in on that and will get back to you with a more definitive answer (hopefully).

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, January 9, 2009 @ 9:47 am

    Coffee Barista:
    I have answers to your question re: SkyTrain announcements! Here it is, straight from SkyTrain:

    Through the media, we try to keep advisories frequent, indicating things might be operating a bit slower, or delayed if there are specific issues. Updates were issued at least hourly during our recent snow storms, more frequently when we were experiencing delays for fallen trees or switch problems.

    For specific announcements, we try to have Control Operators make them as frequently as possible during delays, but we don’t commit to a set frequency because Control Operators are often called upon to deal with other issues – train faults, passenger alarms, passenger intercoms, security alarms, etc. Ideally announcements would be about every 1.5 to 3 minutes if the Control Operators are not dealing with other issues.

    Recognizing the frequency of announcements can be a challenge with personnel dealing with other arising issues, we are looking at ways to record and broadcast messages automatically. We are also moving towards improved digital signage located at station entrances so customers will know before they enter stations that operational issues or emergencies are being experienced. We hope to have these signs in 5 stations by the end of March 2009.

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, January 9, 2009 @ 11:35 am

    Dan,

    So, in your first comment you’ve raised some concern over T-Comm. I talked to Ben Taub, one of T-Comm’s duty managers and asked about T-Comm’s work and its response times in the snow emergency and during regular hours.

    First, T-Comm is staffed by 25-28 people, handling over 200 routes with over 1100 buses in rush hour. On a regular day, T-Comm deals with about 1000 calls from operators. Emergency calls will be handled in seconds — they’ll drop everything and jump on the issue. Non-emergency calls are usually dealt with within three to four minutes.

    During the storm, however, the number of calls into T-Comm doubled. Ben also said they constantly saw 15-18 priorities (top-ranked items that they must deal with) desperately calling for attention the whole time. He’s worked in regional transit for 31 years and at T-Comm since 1994, and never in his history has he seen that many priority calls simultaneously needing attention as they did during the storm.

    Extra staff were brought in to help deal with things as best they could. But in light of dealing with the 15-18 top priority items on the list (jackknifed buses, buses stuck in snow in precarious situations etc), yes, non-emergency calls were getting a response time of up to 90 minutes

    So that’s not great, I know. But for T-Comm too, this was an extremely frustrating situation too. They were really working hard to managing priorities the best they could in a heavy snow storm, and this wound up being the result. It wasn’t as though they didn’t care or want to respond to every operator who needed help.

    T-Comm is really very conscious of the expectations from transit operators in the field. They work their hardest to manage those expectations and respond to their requests. Ben says that for the most part the drivers were heroic, so there are no complaints about them, and they certainly have a right to vent. They should just again be aware that T-Comm has limited capacities, even though they try their best to handle so many calls.

    And the message if any is that the snowstorm was NOT a normal situation. Again, during rush hours, the expectation for operators is that emergency events will get a response in seconds, and non-emergency events will get a response within three to four minutes.

    I hope you’ll also be happy to note that CMBC has also scheduled some meetings and debriefs and are hoping to learn from this situation to better handle the next adverse weather event.

    So… I think that’s about all I have on this. Hope this helps!

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, January 9, 2009 @ 11:44 am

    Dan:
    Sorry, I won’t be putting up a blacked-out version of the snow plan. It’s an internal document and not really prepared for customers, so the summary is a better way to get the contents to you guys in a readable/understandable form. But don’t worry, the content will be basically what’s in the actual plan!

  • By Scott, January 9, 2009 @ 12:45 pm

    Thats a reasonable explanation, but it still doesn’t excuse the fact that Translink doesn’t respond to it’s customers comments and complaints in a timely fashion. I sent in a complaint the weekend before Christmas and have yet to see a response, probably because it was criticizing a driver for pulling into the bus loop at Surrey Central and realizing there were a lot of passengers waiting, so he left and never came back.

    I’m understanding that buses will be cancelled and will be late, but there needs to be a communication between CMBC and the people who are waiting. I never once saw a supervisor in the loop while waiting 90 minutes in the cold that night.

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, January 9, 2009 @ 4:38 pm

    xl:
    Here’s the follow up to my earlier response about when real-time schedule information would be available. The project is not currently in testing—it is in the preparation stages and funding arrangements for the project are still being hammered out. The project is tentatively scheduled to be finished by fall of 2009. Don’t be surprised if that changes though.

Other Links to this Post

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

Please read our Participation Guidelines before you comment.