One of our goals at TransLink is to get more people in Metro Vancouver to do most of their trips by transit, walking and cycling. In fact, this is Goal 2 of Transport 2040, our 2010 10-year plan! Now, it’s one thing to have a goal; it’s another to actually reach it. Well, luckily we have a department at TransLink called Access Transit.
As the name suggests, the aim of Access Transit is to make the public transit system more accessible for people with disabilities, seniors and new user groups like immigrants. TransLink has focused on people with disabilities in the past (and still does), and recently, the focus has been on seniors. Helping new users, immigrants and refugees become more confident with our transit system is a new initiative, and last week, along with a Vancouver chapter of Immigrant Services Society of British Columbia, a pilot project was held to assess their needs.
It was a nice and sunny day for a change in Vancouver, so I thought I go a check out the event. Part of the pilot included having an out-of-service bus and two Coast Mountain Bus Company training instructors guide the nearly 200 people who showed up for the day of learning. Participants learned the ins and outs (literally) of boarding the bus including confirming the correct bus and desired stop as well as how to convey that to the driver and how to use bike rack. They also learned about seating priorities and standing on the bus, locating your stop and disembarking.
If you think about it, we take a lot for granted when we take transit. If you’re new to our transit system, don’t speak English or simple see the transit system as an unknown questions like, “How do I let drivers know I’m waiting for the bus?” or “How do the bus doors work?” can be a real barrier for new users of the system.
Nick Sandu, one of the trainers, says it has been a learning experience for both TransLink and the participants, “The language… it’s trying to make sure that they understand what we’re trying to say that’s a challenge.” When something wasn’t understood the instructors changed the way they said it or used body language to drive the point home. When the language barrier proved difficult, other participants helped out.
Inside in the classroom, Sarah Chung, Community Relations Coordinator for Access Transit, guided participants through the intricacies of what transit options are available to them as well as transit fares, language services (special translator phones at SkyTrains and fare machines, etc.), safety and security, SkyTrain and Canada Line staff and trip planning. Sarah said the day was a resounding success. Here’s a bit of what she told me about the event:
“The majority of the participants took both the classroom and bus workshops. Even the students who had the very low English skills were excited and smiling after their bus training. It was a very busy day but extremely rewarding.
Most of the questions we were asked were about fares, how prices and fare zones work, and what options would work best depending on the situation.
A lot of the information we provided during the presentations was information our current customers may not be aware of because they do not necessarily have the need. For example, many of the students and staff were surprised to find out that we could provide a phone-based translator service at SkyTrain stations for people who are more comfortable asking their questions in other languages. This kind of information can help people be more confident when they first try out the system. We want to help new immigrants access the public transit system, but I think that this first event in our pilot project helped our core understanding of their needs as well. The students we worked with may not jump on the SkyTrain or bus the very next day, but we have at least made accessing public transit more approachable.”