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Q&A with Doug Kelsey, TransLink COO, after his trip on the system on March 2, 2011

As promised — here’s the wrapup interview with Doug Kelsey, TransLink COO, after his ride out on the system on Wednesday, March 2, 2011!

To explain: the video above is a message Doug recorded for customers after his trip, and it serves as a great intro to his full interview, which you can read below. Questions and comments welcome, as always!

So where did you go during your ride?

We went to Waterfront, spent some time down there, then we went on SeaBus to the North Shore and back. We went up on SkyTrain to Commercial. Then we took the B-Line west to Fraser, came back on the 9, got back on SkyTrain and came back.

Who did you talk to, and what did you hear from them?

I spoke to some awesome customers. They all care, and they were all really glad we were out there. I heard numerous things. Let me pull some of my notes out.

SeaBus: the men’s washroom needs help. Too much odour. It needs to be refreshed—it’s got that old, bad smell. I used to experience that when I was in the oil business at service stations. One of the big issues on SeaBus was also the Sunday service starting earlier, of all things. You could duplicate Saturday service on Sunday if you’re stuck, but ideally, people want same as Monday to Friday. There were issues with lighting in the walkways leading to the waiting area on the Waterfront side of the SeaBus terminal. People wanted more presence outside the security gates on the North Shore for SeaBus, particularly for females travelling alone. But a lot of people love the service.

We heard lots of kudos to our bus drivers and SkyTrain attendants. When we were out there, quite frankly, my observation was that there was good visibility for staff.

There were varying views on selling extra services—thing like offering coffee and chips and pop on SeaBus. Some liked it, some didn’t. People liked vinyl seats over cloth, on the SeaBus and bus. Yahoo! That was totally unsolicited. That was on the SeaBus and bus.

What did you hear from the 99 B-Line?

The 99 B-Line, the 20, the 49 and the 502 need help. More service. Not a surprise.

Oh, they all really liked the idea of automated announcements. For example, when you’re riding the SeaBus to the North Shore, an announcement letting you know all the service on the North Shore is normal would be good. Or the XYZ bus is running late, with heavy crowds. We need a connection system so that on each trip, each change, people have advance notice of what’s it going to be like when they get there. So we need to do that thinking for them. And I am openly going to say that I was trying to lead them in those questions and ask, “was this important to you?” A few said nah, don’t need it, and most said that was interesting.

And there’s ways we could deliver this kind of info through mobile solutions, say.

You bet. I’m a big believer in us doing the thinking to enhance their experience. Looking at things through a customer’s lens.

Did anything surprise you?

The men’s washroom was disappointing, I gotta tell you. That’s not us. We should be less on the cleaning, more on taking a step back and asking, “Is this right?”

This was also my first chance to engage with people over Twitter, and I have to tell you, it was great. Lots of really thoughtful questions from people and it was gratifying to be able to reach people that we weren’t able to talk to in person.

Oh, and a couple of people thought we were doing fare checks and they whipped out their tickets when we came near.

Were there any memorable customers?

There was a baby taking his first transit ride ever. Erin [McConnell, TransLink’s manager of corporate communications] also got a video of the busker at SeaBus, who sounds like Zamfir but he’s using a flute that he made out of PVC pipe. He’s been there for years – he’s very good.

There were differing views of music. Some liked it, some didn’t. People talked about having TV monitors broadcasting news on the system—they asked for radio frequencies like at the gym, so you can tune into the audio for the shows you wanted to hear.

What will you do with what you’ve learned now?

I think some of it is going to have to fit into our customer service strategy. Some of it will fit into our operations right away, like the washrooms. Some will fit into our capital programming, like lighting upgrades, things of that nature. And some of it will have to fit into the long term funding. Some of these things are going to cost money and we don’t have money for it right now. I think that’s part of an honest conversation. The region’s got to make that determination that it’s prepared to invest, like in more service in the Tri Cities.

Some of these like the TV screens with news programs though, we might do through revenue generation. We can ask, can we do this with sponsorship through advertisers? The lower the cost, the easier it is to implement.

What’s most important to me is that I’ve now got a better idea about what people are asking for on the system. Every suggestion that we received, whether through the blog, or Facebook or @translink on Twitter, we’ve passed on to the right people and they’re considering it for their short, medium and long term planning. Not every idea will come to life, but every idea is being considered.

Do you think this day will help change the way you approach your work a bit? Or the issues you prioritize?

The day for me is not unique. I come from a service background. The day was hugely validating though. It just reinforces the importance of connecting with the front line. Not being in your office. It’s also a chance to thank the staff for doing great things. They are really the unsung heroes. They have to make those split second decisions around the customer experience. And they’re doing it while they’re multitasking. So I think everyone should get chances to support front line staff and interact with the customer. It’s just good business.

That brings me to something we were talking about before—you try to hand out your business card to people, don’t you?

Oh yes. Always have. My cell phone number’s on there. People will phone me in some instances. I say phone me if you need me, and you’ve found other venues won’t work. Don’t phone me because you’ve found a Kleenex on the platform. But I will answer every single phone call, usually within 24 hours.

And another hallmark of yours is picking up garbage while you’re out on the system, isn’t it?

Yes, I’ve always done that too. Lots of people tell us they leave the newspapers behind for other people to read when they’re done – that’s fine, because if you leave it on the seat, it will stay in good shape and be of use to the next interested customer. It’s when the bus or train or SeaBus gets crowded and the papers are slid aside and fall to the floor that the newspaper becomes garbage. I work at TransLink just like anyone else, so I pitch in and help by picking up the papers and garbage to keep our system clean for the customers. It’s all part of being a customer service organization.

Are you going to check back in to let us know about progress on any of the items that you’ve brought up?

Not me personally—I’m turning this over to our operations folks. They’re the best to take action from here.

And that’s all I had to ask. Is there anything you would like to add?

I wanted to say this is great. We can’t do enough of it. I think it needs to be a natural discipline and culture of this organization, whether you think you have a direct customer responsibility or not.

Thanks Doug!


  • By Ric, March 4, 2011 @ 12:10 pm

    I wish I could have made it down to waterfront station and asked him some questions and gave some recommendations about service improvements and such.

    Here are a few

    More service on the Westcoast express. It would be good if the service could run in both directions during

    the day instead of just one way.

    More service on the 410

    Articulated bus service on the 410 during the rush hour

    Highway coach service on the 301

    Highway coach service on the 410 outside rush hour

    Interior lights on the buses turned on when its dark out

    Bus arrival times at bus stops similar to the ones used on the 98 B-line

  • By Derek Cheung CMBC, March 4, 2011 @ 12:22 pm

    “We went to Waterfront, spent some time down there, then we went on SeaBus to the North Shore and back. We went up on SkyTrain to Commercial. Then we took the B-Line west to Fraser, came back on the 9, got back on SkyTrain and came back.”

    And guess who was the operator of the #9?

  • By Ric, March 4, 2011 @ 12:35 pm

    Derek Cheung, you were the operator of the #9

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano - Buzzer Editor, March 4, 2011 @ 1:01 pm

    Well done Derek, as always :)

  • By Ivan, March 4, 2011 @ 5:12 pm

    Tell Doug that on all skytrain platforms, when a train approach, that there be an automated announcement, for passengers to stand back and let people exit first before entering the train.

  • By Sheba, March 4, 2011 @ 11:09 pm

    Maybe we can gang up on him Ivan ;) I’ve been asking for that automated announcement to be returned to the next station announcement on the trains but nothing’s happened. I didn’t think automated announcements like that were difficult or expensive.

    I just heard today that the “walk left, stand right” signs are being removed from the escalators. What’s up with that? It’s already hard enough to get onto the platform at some stations, and now TransLink is going to make it more difficult?

    It’s be nice if he moved a little further out of downtown Vancouver, like riding the Expo line out to Columbia Station and then taking Millennium back downtown. I’m sure people outside of Vancouver would like to speak to him too.

    I laughed at the comment about people thinking they were doing fare checks. I have the disability bus pass. I don’t ride during morning rush hour and I tend to only do short trips during afternoon rush hour as I don’t like feeling like a sardine. But I do loads of trips during the day, plenty of them to Metrotown (one of the places transit staff tend to congregate). So far this year I have been fare checked at a Skytrain station on Jan 21. That’s the one and only time this year. It makes me wonder how TransLink comes up with the numbers on how much fare evasion there it.

  • By Last351, March 5, 2011 @ 11:16 am

    Re: newspapers left on the seats

    I have seen people just swipe those straight onto the floor with a quick flick of the hand. The person who left the paper is thinking “I’m not littering, I’m doing the next person a favour.” and the person swiping the paper onto the floor is thinking, “I’m not littering, I’m just moving someone else’s litter from the seat to the floor.”

    Re: “99 needs help”

    And that was observed only 2 stops into the line! Imagine spending an hour a day on it!

  • By ???, March 5, 2011 @ 12:07 pm

    It’s been discussed before that the Broadway corridor is at capacity for transit. In recent years there is an attempt to spread the load across 49th, 41st, 33rd and 4th Ave. It’s a mistake to run the Millenium line East of Commercial first. We should have stuck with the original plan and go West to UBC first. A compromise is to extend the VCC segment to one of the Canada Line stations ASAP.

  • By Ben K, March 5, 2011 @ 4:27 pm

    While I applaud Mr. Kelsey for this effort and for taking note of real problems faced by real people in the use of our transit system, I find it hilarious that his excursion was newsworthy. By playing up his day trip, Translink is effectively trumpeting to the world that until Monday its executive officers had never really bothered to use the very system they administer!

    Look at Gregor Robertson for a counter-example: the man advocates for bike services, and he actually rides a bike to work each day.

    If Mr. Kelsey rode transit once in awhile, this story wouldn’t even exist. Shouldn’t Translink be embarrassed?


  • By 410, March 6, 2011 @ 1:01 pm

    Fair to point out though that Mr. Robertson is an elected official whose job it is to advocate for things in the public forum. Personally I’d love to hear more about transit than bikes from him.

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano - Buzzer Editor, March 14, 2011 @ 2:29 pm

    Ric: here’s the answers to your questions.

    We are unable at this time to provide additional WCE Rail service outside of the hours we provide now due to our contract with CP who use the line for freight at those times. Until we prepare a longer term study on future service requirements for WCE service, we do not anticipate any changes to the service. We do however provide some limited reverse daytime and evening TrainBus service as an alternative to rail. This service stops at all the same stations as the peak period rail service.

    More service on the 410 – We have continually improved the 410 route and will monitor for future improvements when funding and vehicles are available. We have improved service in peak periods in Dec 2006, Sept 2007, Sept 2009 and improved service other times of day or on weekends in Sept 2006, June 2007, April 2008 and Sept 2009.

    Articulated bus service on the 410 during the rush hour – at this time we have no spare articulated buses. In addition use of articulated buses on this route would require significant upgrading to bus stops to accommodate the longer buses (approximately 52 bus stops would require upgrading. Estimated cost several years ago was in the range of $600,000.

    Highway coach service on the 301 – highway coaches are generally used on the longer haul commuter routes where we have minimal on and off activity along the route. This is because of the single door on the bus. If the bus is continually stopping and having to drop off and pick up through the one door there is significant time lost. Before someone can board the bus, someone has to get off, you cannot have both activities occurring at the same time as you can on the regular buses, with customers disembarking at the back door while loading at the front door.

    Highway coach service on the 410 outside rush hour – see response above, on-off activity is too great on this route for the use of these buses

    Interior lights on the buses turned on when its dark out – operators are required to have interior lights on unless there is an adverse weather situation where the lights can create a driving hazard or distraction such as extreme fog. If this is a problem we ask the customer to contact our Customer Relations Department and advise of the route, time and bus number so that the issue can be addressed with the operator.

    Bus arrival times at bus stops similar to the ones used on the 98 B-line – large infrastructure cost to implement, each of the shelters are specially wired etc. The #3 Main Street cost approximately $1.8 million dollars for this technology.

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano - Buzzer Editor, March 14, 2011 @ 2:30 pm

    And everyone: this is belated, but I did pass along your comments with Doug et al for capture! Thanks again for the feedback.

  • By Eugene Wong, April 1, 2011 @ 12:54 pm

    I finally watched the video. He has gained quite a bit of respect from me. Don’t get me wrong. I appreciated him before, but in the video, he seems to exude genuineness, trustworthiness, and the ability to do something.

    I like the way that he talks about the washrooms without blaming himself or anybody else.

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano - Buzzer Editor, April 1, 2011 @ 1:01 pm

    That’s good to hear, Eugene: I’ll pass that on to Doug!

Other Links to this Post

  1. The Buzzer blog » Watch for TransLink CEO Ian Jarvis on the system next Mon Apr 4, 2011 — April 1, 2011 @ 11:17 am

  2. The Buzzer blog » Wrap-up note from BCRTC president & general manager, Fred Cumming’s, ride on the system, July 5, 2011 — November 15, 2011 @ 12:08 pm

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