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Bill and TransLink’s excellent adventure: A brief history of 35 years in transit

Bill with the 2010 Vancouver Olympic mascots

When Bill started as a farebox attendant in 1980, no one could have known it would be the start of a 35 year career at TransLink! Over the years, he’s seen more than a few changes to our system. From the early years of the SeaBus and the opening of Expo Line in 1986 to the expansion of our system for the 2010 Winter Olympics with the Canada Line, Bill’s been around for it all.

Now TransLink’s Community Relations Officer for Government and Community Engagement, Bill is the contact between our organization and other agencies who are interested in learning what TransLink does. Giving tours to interested parties from all around the world, he not only fills agencies in on how transit works in Metro Vancouver, he’s a wealth of information on everything TransLink.

With Bill’s history at TransLink, I’d be nuts not to chat with him about his experience. I checked in with Bill for a brief historical tour of his career and a rundown of where TransLink’s been and where we might be headed.

What do you feel has been the best addition to our system over the last 35 years?

I guess, that’s a toss-up between advances in customer information and the SkyTrain System. On the customer information side of things, what we can provide for customers to let them know when their bus is coming to their stop has really changed. Online information through social media and what you can do at home through trip planning is a whole new package of technology that makes access to information so much easier.

I guess the other would be SkyTrain itself. We don’t realize how spoiled we are in Vancouver with the level of service that SkyTrain provides. You go to any other major city and you might have more capacity when a train arrives, but you’ll have a longer wait until it does.

Anything you miss about our transit system that is no longer around?

I miss the Brill buses. They had certain quirks and sounds to them as well as a distinctive look that was unique to Vancouver. You would find those types of buses elsewhere, but we kept them in service long after other people had retired them. They started in 1948 and they were still operating in 1984 and even as late at 1986. That’s a long time for any bus!

How has transit technology changed?

Over the years, the automation control for the SkyTrain and Canada Line has not changed much. Essentially they do the same thing or use the same or similar technology as they always have. In terms of the bus side there has really been a change in how bus service is delivered. For example, the way the buses run now, where there used to be complex wiring, it is now run on a data network which connects different parts of the bus together. You have computer controls everywhere in the vehicle, but you also have really significant changes in technology from the customer point of view that has changed people’s lives in term of how accessible the buses are now compared with when I started. There are no stairs in the buses anymore. There are on board announcement, audio announcements and visual display announcement for every stop along the line. This technology also means that we are able to track the fleet every moment of the day and share that information with the customers.

What do you like best about giving tours of our transit system?

Everyday is different and I never know what is coming at me. My favourite part about giving tours is to impart information and also listen to others to hear what their needs are and their thoughts on the system. Anytime I’ve done tours and brought people out to our properties, the one thing that comes across to me is how proud people are about where they work and what they do.

What is your most memorable moment so far at TransLink?

I have a lot of unique opportunities. I’ve met two Prime Ministers (Paul Martin and Stephen Harper) and helped plan the opening of the Millenium Line and the Canada Line. I also got to do some really neat things like helping to plan for the christen the SeaBus.

Just curious, but how do you christen a SeaBus?

The christening was a neat ceremony to plan for. The SeaBus was put up on blocks and a nice champagne bottle was wrapped up and then broken on the vessel. Senior SeaBus employee Maureen Hayes, the longest-serving female SeaBus employee, stepped up to perform the ceremony.

During our interview, Bill shared a few other memorable moments with me, including that he used to do a little bit of social media for TransLink. According to Bill, during the 2010 Olympic Gold Medal Hockey game, he was tweeting out the score for our riders!

Thanks Bill for sharing your story!

Author: Laura Tennant


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