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Translink Buzzer Blog

Category: COVID-19 (Coronavirus)

Being a frontline worker means keeping groceries on shelves

Due to reduced revenue caused by COVID-19, TransLink has had to make some difficult decisions resulting in temporary staff layoffs, voluntary cuts in pay and reduction to service. We are actively working with senior government to secure more funding to reverse these decisions. Public transit is an essential service, and we know +75 000 people are still reliant on transit, including frontline workers. Dave’s story is another in our series about the people who are keeping our region operating during this unprecedented time. We at TransLink applaud all that frontline workers are doing, and we’re working hard to get them to their important work – Together all the way.

Dave Carbiero is used to working hard. He once worked two full-time jobs before he and his wife had their child. But with COVID-19, his life has become a challenge.

Waking up shortly after 5 a.m. to make sure he gets to work on time as an Assistant Produce Manager at a Vancouver grocery store, Dave takes two different buses and the SkyTrain five or six days a week. He’s had to start his day earlier since we started reducing service and number of seats on the bus due to COVID-19 over a month ago. Despite the longer commute, he says he needs transit to keep running to make everything work for his family.

“Don’t shut down transit [more] because it’s going to be a chain reaction. If the workers like us who provide supplies for the home, can’t come to work, where will people go to buy their food?”

Going home from work on the bus, Dave needs to pick up his child from the babysitter. His wife works nights as a care worker, so his family’s days are very busy with little time to spend together.

Added to this is the need to keep up with food deliveries so his customers have food to buy. “It’s a bit scary because a few people have left the job. We’re actually understaffed, so we need to work more and multitask… Every time I get home, I’m as tired as a dog, but I still have to take my child out for a walk or a bike ride around the neighbourhood because he has too much energy.”

Dave has worked at his grocery store since 2015 and enjoys helping his community. He’s not unlike Laura, Ava or Cara who are also frontline workers putting in time so we have the food, childcare and the medical attention we need these days.

Do you have a story like Dave’s or know someone doing good these days? If so, we’d love to hear from you via our social channels or email. Together we can get through the challenges that COVID-19 has brought. Telling stories of the effects on each other’s lives can help.

 

 

 

 

 

 

TransLink implements cost saving measures

Provincial support to restore service by September

Lincoln Station along the Millennium Line
TransLink today announced a series of cost-saving measures to preserve Metro Vancouver’s transit system along with a commitment from the Province to ensure near-regular service can be restored by September. TransLink is losing $75 million per month with ridership down by 83% while still providing transit services for essential workers. This rate of financial loss is not sustainable.

Given the significant financial challenges facing the regional transportation authority, TransLink and its operating companies today announced the following cost-saving measures:

  • Implement further suspension of transit services on Bus, SkyTrain, SeaBus, and West Coast Express, beginning this week.
  • Issue temporary layoff notices to 1,492 employees. These employees work in various positions at TransLink, Coast Mountain Bus Company, and British Columbia Rapid Transit Company.
  • Reduce senior executive salaries and Board remuneration by 10%.
  • Reduce organizational costs and program expenditures, including:
    • Deferral of the 2020 Major Road Network operations, maintenance and rehabilitation program funding to municipalities.
    • Deferral of 2020 service expansions.
  • Spend cash reserves to sustain current essential service operations through to the end of 2020.

“This has been an incredibly tough decision and one we do not take lightly,” says TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond. “We’ve done our best to try and reduce costs through other means, but TransLink is losing $75 million per month, and we’re left with no other options. It’s not lost on me what an impact this decision will have on the lives of our employees and their families. I fully expect those affected will be recalled once TransLink returns to regular operations, which we are now planning for back-to-school in September, if consistent with provincial guidelines.”

TransLink and the Province of BC have been working closely to ensure that funding is available to allow TransLink to reverse layoffs and return to near-regular operations in time for back-to-school in September. TransLink and the Province are also working on a plan to address the longer-term fiscal sustainability of TransLink in order to ensure the transportation authority can continue delivering transit services and key projects in 2021 and beyond.

TransLink’s revenue has declined since mid-March due to reduced ridership levels, falling fuel tax revenue, and fare removal on the bus system to promote physical distancing. Since the beginning of the pandemic, TransLink has:

  • Reduced Bus, SkyTrain, SeaBus and West Coast Express services.
  • Reduced the seating capacity on buses to promote physical distancing.
  • Introduced rear-door only boarding and suspended fare collection on buses to protect bus operators.
  • Introduced widespread and intensive cleaning and sanitization measures on bus, HandyDART, SkyTrain, SeaBus and West Coast Express.
  • Deferred the scheduled July 1, 2020 fare increase.

Details of Service Changes

TransLink is focused on maintaining as much service as possible for the approximately 75,000 people using the system each weekday. Many of these are essential and front-line workers. However, considering the current financial trajectory, service reductions across all modes will begin this week on routes with low ridership. Capacity will continue to be focused on the routes and times with continued high demand.

Service reductions by mode are:

SkyTrain Service

  • Beginning Wednesday (April 22), Expo and Millennium Line capacity will be further reduced.
    • Expo Line capacity will be reduced by 20% during peak hours. During middays, early evenings, and weekends, capacity will be reduced by 20% to 40%, depending on the time of day.
      • These capacity reductions are in addition to a 17% reduction during peak hours and a 20% reduction on Friday and Saturday evenings, which were implemented last month.
    • Millennium Line capacity will be reduced by 15% during peak hours. During middays, early evenings, and weekends, capacity will be reduced by 20% to 40%, depending on the time of day.
      • These capacity reductions are in addition to a 17% reduction during peak hours and a 20% reduction on Friday and Saturday evenings, which were implemented last month.
    • Canada Line capacity has been reduced by 18% during peak hours.

Bus Service

  • Beginning Friday (April 24), 18 bus routes will be suspended.
    • Suspended routes: 15, 32, 50, 68, 105, 131, 132, 143, 222, 480, 414, R3.
      • Most of these routes have other transit as alternatives
    • Suspended NightBus routes: N8, N15, N17, N22, N24, N35.
  • Beginning in early May, we expect another 47 routes will be suspended, and frequency reduced on many remaining routes.
    • Expected route suspensions: 251, 252, 262, 280, 281, 282, 370, 563, 564, 044, 170, 181, 182, 231, 241, 247, 258, 345, 352, 354, 391, 393, 394, 395, 416, 509, 602, 603, 604, 606, 608, 614, 616, 617, 618, 619, 719, 722, 733, 741, 744, 748, 749, 791, 042, 150, 179.
    • Precise timing for these suspensions and reductions will be released in due course.
  • TransLink is prioritizing service to routes serving hospitals and other health facilities.
  • Routes selected for suspension either duplicate other routes or are in low ridership areas.
  • The number of people TransLink can move on buses was reduced to around 30% of normal levels due to physical distancing measures. Once all planned service reductions are implemented, the number of people TransLink can move will decrease further, to around 20% of normal levels.

SeaBus Service

  • Beginning Wednesday (April 22), SeaBus will end service earlier.
    • The last SeaBus sailing of the day will happen at 7:30 p.m. from Lonsdale Quay and 7:45 p.m. from Waterfront.
  • SeaBus will continue sailings every 30-minutes.

West Coast Express Service

  • Beginning Wednesday (April 22), West Coast Express trains One, Three, and Five will continue to operate on existing schedules but will have fewer cars.
  • Trains Two and Four remain suspended.

Essential Services and Physical Distancing

With ridership down over 80% across the system, analysis suggests physical distancing will still be possible for most trips. TransLink has limited seating on buses and operators will not make any stops once capacity is reached. On SkyTrain, customers are asked to try a different car or wait for the next train if they feel there is not enough space to remain physically distant from other passengers.

Customers are also asked to only travel on transit if necessary, so space is available for essential service workers.

Checking in on our HandyDART customers

A HandyDART operator helps a customer.

A HandyDART operator helps a customer.

The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged many of us to adapt to new ways of working in order to continue serving our customers. This includes the Access Transit Customer Care team at Coast Mountain Bus Company, the TransLink subsidiary that looks after bus service in the region.

“At a team brainstorm, we tried to think outside the box and see if there were any ways we could go above and beyond for our customers during these difficult times,” explains Albert Lau, manager at Access Transit Customer Care. His team is the main point of contact for client services such as HandyDART and HandyCard registration and administering the TaxiSaver program.

That’s when the idea of wellness checks for Access Transit customers was suggested.

“Our services are for people with permanent or temporary disabilities. A lot of our clients have compromised immune systems. As we are moving through this pandemic, a lot of their services and programs are closing for safety measures. Some have support systems, some do not. Some may have people to talk to, some may not,” shares YF, a customer care representative at Access Transit.

YF suggests that doing a check-in with our customers and providing an ear to listen would reassure them that we’re are all in this together: “We want to make sure that everyone feels supported in this uneasy time.”

The team started the wellness checks with their oldest customers first.

After asking customers how they’re doing, and if they have any questions or concerns, our representatives provide them with information on the resources and services available to them. This includes the 2-1-1 phone line (a connection to government and community-based health and social services), food banks, BC Centre for Disease Control, Health Canada, the COVID-19 Self-Assessment Tool and non-medical lines. They also let their customers know about the cleaning measures on HandyDART vehicles to help alleviate concerns about travelling, if they absolutely must.

Albert encourages his team to go off script if necessary.

“If we can help someone out, let’s help them out. If they need us to do something or look something up on the computer for them, let’s do it. There have been a few challenging calls as well. We’ve talked to a few people whose partners are in care homes or isolation and they are unable to see them, or they’re just lonely. They want someone to talk to and we’re happy to provide that for them.”

In addition to managing their regular workload, the team has made over 600 wellness check call attempts and spoken to over 400 people so far. They’re now working through the 90-99 age group.

Some customers have been surprised to receive a call, and overall, everyone has been overwhelmingly grateful to hear from our representatives. For the team, hearing how many family members have stepped up to be there for their loved ones has been particularly inspiring.

“Our staff are truly amazing and empathetic people and they’re making some really great connections on these phone calls,” concludes Albert.

Well done to the Access Transit Customer Care team for going the extra mile to help our customers!

Physical distancing decals and signs: where to find them

There are around 75,000 – 100,000 of our customers in Metro Vancouver who still rely on public transit everyday. During this uncertain time, we want to make sure that we can get you to your essential destinations safely, whether it’s your work, pharmacy, grocery store, or home.

If you were using public transit in the past few weeks, you might have spotted TransLink’s outdoor distancing decals, yellow circles with the footprints, indicating the distance of 2m, at various bus loops and exchanges, SkyTrain stations, embarkation areas of the SeaBus and West Coast Express. These decals provide our customers with the guidance on how far they should stand from other passengers while boarding our transit vehicles and have so far been installed at over 40 locations.

In addition, we have also introduced multilingual pole signs (English, Punjabi, simplified Chinese) with health and safety tips at over 40 bus loops and stations ads and have distributed over 5000 Physical Distancing Pins to our frontline employees across the enterprise to wear as a friendly reminder for everyone to keep two metres apart.

We all could use a bit of fun these days! To sprinkle some engagement into campaign, we invited our followers and transit friends, including Washington Metro and Los Angeles Metro, to participate in our Instagram challenge and share what two metres means for them in GIFs. We were delighted to receive some great great examples! Did you know that two metres equals to roughly one Chewbacca, three 3BB8s, 20 tacos placed end to end, and 31 Venti ice coffees from Starbucks?

Please let us know about your experience with TransLink’s decals and signs so far by leaving a comment. You can also send us your feedback via thebuzzer@translink.ca.

West Coast Express attendant misses her passengers

It’s been a few weeks since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic and physical distancing measures were implemented to slow the virus’s spread.

This has changed the transit experience for both our customers and staff with total boardings across the system down by 83 per cent.

For West Coast Express Station Attendant Fiona Trumper, that means she’s not seeing all her passengers on a regular basis anymore.

“All of the station attendants and the conductors are really missing our passengers because we do really have a good relationship with them,” says Fiona, “so I think that’s the hardest part for all of us, is we’re used to seeing the same people every day and we’re actually missing our passengers.”

The West Coast Express is our commuter rail service that operates during peak morning and evening periods between downtown Vancouver and Mission.

For those who take it, it’s a uniquely community-focussed service that’s always filled with joyful chatter between long-time staff and passengers — everyone knows one another. Physical distancing means Fiona hasn’t been able to talk to her passengers as much.

It has also meant a game of musical chairs onboard the trains for passengers. Everyone has their self-assigned seat onboard the West Coast Express train because they get on and off at the same station, on same train and same time everyday. However, passengers have had to switch it up to ensure there’s adequate physical distancing between themselves and others.

“Everybody on our trains – it’s really weird, they like their own space, their own spots; they have an actual seat that they will sit in every day and I think that they’re having to change a little,” says Fiona. “It’s quite funny to see people using different parts of the train now.”

Thankfully, Fiona’s husband is a bus operator with Coast Mountain Bus Company, so she has someone to share her day with and can understand the unique challenges of being on transit’s frontlines during this time.

It also helps to be someone that prefers to stay home.

“I’ll go into work in the morning to my four hours and then come back and I’m a real homebody, so it’s not really affected me in a huge way, being home after work,” says Fiona.

Although a self-professed homebody, Fiona admits she also enjoys the outdoors and does miss things like hiking and skiing, but she finds comfort in still being able to walk her dog.

Google Doodle thanks public transportation workers

The April 14 "doodle" on Google thanks public transportation workers.

The April 14 “doodle” on Google thanks public transportation workers.

If you’ve logged on to Google today, April 14, you will have noticed there’s a new “doodle” today thanking public transportation workers! It shows the letter “g” in Google tossing a heart to the letter “e” that’s operating the bus, who catches it, before exploding into more hearts.

As an organization, we too would like to thank all of our employees for keeping essential workers moving and making essential trips possible. While ridership has declined dramatically as people have transitioned to working from home, there’s still more than 75,000 people who are still depending on transit. This includes daycare workers like Ava Jade, restaurant workers like Ryu Fukazawa and nurses like Cara Muller.

The doodle part of their “thank you coronavirus helpers” series that launched on April 6 to honour essential frontline workers, including healthcare workers, first responders and the many people keeping services like sanitation, food service, public transit, schools, and more up and running.

Google explains, “Doodles are the fun, surprising and sometimes spontaneous changes that are made to the Google logo to celebrate holidays, anniversaries and the lives of famous artists, pioneers and scientists.”

TransLink seeking emergency funding

New figures show TransLink is losing $75 million per month

TransLink is seeking emergency relief funding from the Federal and Provincial Governments to offset losses incurred for providing essential transit services during the pandemic.  Without emergency funding, Metro Vancouver commuters are set to see unprecedented cuts to transit services.

“We’ve done the best we can to keep essential services operating for those workers who need it, to get to their workplaces, but we are losing $75 million per month and on our current trajectory, we will face cashflow issues within weeks,” said TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond. “It’s a dire situation which will force us to cancel entire routes and significantly reduce service levels on all transit modes, meaning far longer wait times and much more crowding for customers.”

TransLink has been deemed an essential service by the Provincial Government during the COVID-19 pandemic.  However, since mid-March, TransLink’s operating revenue has been cut in half.  Emergency funding is necessary to ensure a reasonable level of essential service can be maintained while respecting safe physical distancing requirements.  It is also necessary to ensure a rapid transition to full service can occur once the recovery phase begins.

“We need an emergency funding package from the Provincial or Federal Government if reliable transit services are to continue for more than 75,000 people, who will otherwise be left stranded,” said Mayors’ Council Chair Jonathan Coté. “Essential workers have been relying on transit to get to work every day – that’s health care workers, childcare workers, service workers.  Our transit system will also be critical during the COVID-19 recovery phase and we must ensure that it’s able to quickly shift back to full-service capacity when people start returning to work.”

TransLink’s revenue has declined due to reduced ridership levels, falling fuel tax revenue, and fare removal on the bus system to promote physical distancing.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, TransLink has:

  • Reduced Bus service by 15-20%, while also reducing SkyTrain, SeaBus and West Coast Express services.
  • Reduced the seating capacity on buses to promote physical distancing.
  • Introduced rear-door only boarding and suspended fare collection on buses to protect bus operators.
  • Introduced widespread and intensive cleaning and sanitization measures on bus, HandyDART, SkyTrain, SeaBus and West Coast Express.
  • Deferred the scheduled July 1, 2020 fare increase.

Nurse coasts her way to work aboard the West Coast Express

Cara Muller

Cara Muller is a dialysis nurse.

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended our world, challenging us to improvise, adapt and overcome.

We’re now throwing surprise birthday parties for each other on Zoom, participating in new, viral dance challenges and many people have transitioned to working from home.

On transit, we’ve implemented different measures to promote physical distancing for customers and bus operators like Bryan Stebbings, and SkyTrain Attendants like Ryan Mendoza have had to change up how they help customers who are visually impaired navigate the system.

But no group has been challenged and risen to the occasion more than healthcare and workers like Cara Muller. She’s a nurse that trains patients on how to perform dialysis at home.

Kidneys act as filters, removing wastes and extra fluid from our bodies. When our kidneys no longer work properly, dialysis is needed. It often involves diverting blood to a machine to be cleaned. Dialysis can be done both at hospitals and at home, depending on the patient.

Her role is all about supporting patients who are taking care of their own medical needs, whether that’s through in-person training or chatting with them over the phone.

These days it has become a lot of phone calls and the training list has become quite full with patients preferring to do their training sooner rather than later.

Like many others in our communities, she’s dependent on transit to get to work. Every day, along with at least a dozen others on her floor at work, she takes the West Coast Express into downtown Vancouver.

“I do it because it’s faster than driving and less stressful,” says Cara.

A West Coast Express train at Waterfront Station

The West Coast Express is our commuter rail service that operates during peak morning and evening periods between downtown Vancouver and Mission. For those who take it, it’s a treat, offering an unparalleled transit experience where one can enjoy the serene Burrard Inlet against the backdrop of North Vancouver’s sweeping mountains.

In the mornings, trains start departing Mission at 5:25 a.m., stopping in Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows, Port Coquitlam, Coquitlam and Port Moody along the way, and start arriving at Waterfront Station at 6:40 a.m. The trains then make the reverse trip in the afternoon, starting at 3:50 p.m.

Even though there’s now free parking at hospitals and there’s considerably less drivers on the road, she’s still choosing to take the West Coast Express because its feeling of community is so attractive to her.

She’s been taking the West Coast Express for about ten years now, so she’s gotten to really know the attendants and conductors — many of whom are long-time employees.

“I like the time of being on the train getting ready for work or de-escalating from work on my way home,” she says. Cara admits these days her commute home is a lot of watching Dr. Bonnie Henry deliver her daily updates to British Columbians.

Cara has this message for all us: “I think if everybody just keep doing what they’re doing, I think we’re gonna get out of this okay.”

And asked what she’s looking forward to most when the pandemic’s over, Cara responds, “Probably just seeing everybody and hanging out in groups again.

“Our neighbourhood is pretty social, so it’s been kind of hard just waving at people and not stopping and really chatting like we usually do.”

Us too.

How to find and give support during the COVID-19 pandemic

A COVID-19 sign at YVR-Airport station

A COVID-19 sign at YVR-Airport station

During these challenging times, we want to make sure that all TransLink customers feel informed and can access the resources they need.

Below you’ll find a list of services and resources available to you and your family here in Metro Vancouver:

COVID-19 Information

Social & Community Services

Financial Support

  • Access support for individuals, businesses, and industries through the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit.
  • Learn about the BC Emergency Benefit for Workers, which provides a one-time $1,000 payment for people who lost income.
  • Discuss options to refund Compass Card monthly pass by calling 1-888-207-4055, or refund West Coast Express monthly parking pass by emailing or calling 604-488-8906.

Getting Around

Giving Back

 

If you have any other helpful links or ideas, add it to the comment section below or send us an email!

Author: Rebecca Abel

Dispatching the frontlines: a look at “air traffic control” for Metro Vancouver Transit Police

Allison Hansell (front) and Jully Tmana (back) are police communications operators with Metro Vancouver Transit Police.

When you travel on transit, Police Communications Operators in the Operations Communications Centre (OCC) at Metro Vancouver Transit Police play a key role in making sure that you arrive at your destination safely. Often referred to as dispatchers, the team that works in the OCC does far more than dispatch Transit Police officers to where they’re needed.

“Aside from answering calls and text messages that come in from the public while they’re using transit, we also take calls from other police departments such as E-Comm (911), transit frontline staff, and many others,” says Allison Hansell, who has worked in dispatch for 10 years, five of them with Transit Police. “But taking calls is just one of our responsibilities.”

Jully Tmana, another dispatcher, adds, “We also track all of the on-duty police officers’ locations at all times, to make sure they are safe and so that we know who’s available to respond when there’s an incident. We look up information in several different databases to help officers do their jobs. For example, we can let them know if the person in their custody has any warrants. And we help coordinate responses to incidents with TransLink and external agencies.”

Operating 24/7, the OCC is where information is exchanged at lightning speed to ensure that anyone traveling on transit stays safe. Through teamwork and an unparalleled ability to multitask, OCC operators make sure that when you need help on transit, it will be there.

“Teamwork is a top priority in the OCC as we rely on each other a great deal, especially during time sensitive matters where multiple calls are occurring at the same time,” says Jully, who started with Transit Police this past February. “One co-worker will often be contacting outside agencies or transit partners while another is dispatching, and is still taking the initial call.”

Allison says, “I’m proud to be working with Transit Police and TransLink, especially during such critical times where passenger health and safety is paramount. It is satisfying and helpful to be able to see all the measures being taken to ensure the safety of the public.”

It’s Emergency Services Dispatchers and 9-1-1 Awareness Week from April 5 to 11. If you find yourself contacting Transit Police, be sure to let the dispatcher who answers your call or text know how much you appreciate what they do to keep transit running.

Anyone who feels unsafe on transit, is worried about the safety of someone else, or sees anything suspicious can contact the OCC directly by phone at 604.515.8300 or by texting 87.77.77. Always call 911 in an emergency.

Connect with Transit Police Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.

Keeping the system open and accessible for those who need it

Ryan Mendoza is a people person. Being as hands on as possible and  interacting with customers is what he likes best as a SkyTrain Attendant.

“You want to leave passengers and customers with a positive experience when they’re done. Even with something as simple as loading their Compass Card, you want to show them how, instead of saying, ‘Hey, see that button on the left there press that,’” explains Ryan.

It’s been a been little more challenging with physical distancing these days where you have to maintain a two-metre space between yourself and everyone around you.

“It seems so simple but with what’s going on right now, you realize how you had taken for granted the way in which you go about doing things like that now.”

But that’s not stopping Ryan from working on delivering the best customer service he can for passengers.

Having worked at Commercial–Broadway Station since the Millennium Line opened in 2003, Ryan’s used to a busy environment. One that’s filled with customers and great relationships with passengers from across Metro Vancouver.

“You end up actually getting to know the customers by first name, where they’re going, where they’re coming from, what their day is like,” says Ryan, hoping they’re doing well and staying healthy. “I wonder what they are up to, now you’re not part of our days.”

Among the customers that Ryan enjoys helping the most and gotten to know the best over the years are customers who are visually impaired. Physical distancing means he’s had to update his approach to help them navigate the SkyTrain system.

“Instead of leading them with their hand, we can lead them with their walking sticks, through more verbal cues, or in another way that is comfortable for them in these unusual times,” Ryan explains.

There’s a host of other people that depend on transit to get around. That includes healthcare workers, daycare workers, restaurant workers, grocery clerks and other transit employees.

For Ryan, keeping the system running is about ensuring those without other transit options and those in essential services can still get around. “We need to maintain a system running for people who have to still go to work,” he says. “Health care workers, people that work at grocery stores, even people that work in the janitorial industry.”

“If we were shut down and – oh my gosh, how could they get from A to B, if they don’t drive, or they don’t have access to the car share program?” Ryan wonders aloud.

As for himself, Ryan is happy to be out there doing what he can.

“Personally, as long as I’m doing the best I can to stay safe – like I’m maintaining my distance, I’m watching what I’m touching, I’m okay with it, I understand that,” he says.

“We’re an essential service.”

Helping those helping us: a bus operator doing what he can

Noor Khan has been a bus operator for 13 years. He’s always seen his job as being essential to keeping the region moving but these days he’s seeing, more than ever, just how important his job is, “I will say it’s a critical service because it’s taking those people around who are doing essential services,” said Noor Khan of public transit during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The other day I was driving the 375 bus which goes to a White Rock hospital and there were about 10-12 people on board, and I dropped off two or three nurses at the hospital.” He also dropped off a nurse to a care home on that drive, as well as others working at essential businesses.

Noor works in Surrey, out of Surrey Transit Centre, but never really has the same route – “Surrey usually is interlinked; usually you’re doing different routes, even in the same day.” Even when the routes would change, the buses would be full but for the last few weeks the buses are emptying out to help maintain physical distancing to stay safe on transit amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Every job is like you’re accomplishing something,” said Noor about driving buses for TransLink. “But in this job, you come across people who are really in need of this service – whether they don’t have a car, want to commute for financial and environmental reasons, or are students.”

The safety of his bus is also something Noor is appreciative of. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, TransLink has upped it’s safety measures to keep services clean and workers safe. Buses like Noor drives, for example, are cleaned daily and disinfected weekly.

“You can smell that, driving the bus you are able to smell that it’s been cleaned and properly sanitized,” said Noor.

In addition, TransLink implemented measures such as limited seating and rear-door boarding to better enforce physical distancing.

“Everybody’s conscious enough to not go out there just for fun, when someone is getting a bus, even if you can’t tell, they have some essential work to do,” said Noor.

“When I sit in a bus and drive, I realize there are some people that have important work to do,” said Noor. Khan and the rest of the TransLink staff are there to make sure that essential workers get to where they must be.

 

From one frontline to another: restaurant worker serves up for the community

Ryu is a transit customer who takes the Canada Line to get his place of work.

Ryu Fukazawa is an frontline worker that takes transit.

He works at a Mexican restaurant that serves takeout burritos, tacos and more in the Fairview neighbourhood, which is home to Vancouver General Hospital along with other healthcare institutions. Naturally, healthcare workers form a small part of their customer base, along with walk-in customers in the community and orders through food delivery apps.

Over the past few weeks, he’s seen an small uptick in healthcare workers ordering takeout from their restaurant. Being able to serve them and others in the community has been rewarding for Ryu and as an added bonus, to be able to continue working.

“It’s rewarding to be able to provide something good to the community,” he says, “Just last shift, I had a couple regulars come in and tell me that they’re surprised we were still open. I know many places have been reduced to a drive-thru/delivery-only model, and it’s really fulfilling to be able to serve those who can’t drive, or those who can’t afford the upcharge that you might face through food delivery apps.

“Work isn’t the same when I’m not interacting with my customers, and I think it’s a positive thing for both me and my guests to have even a little bit of familiarity in times of crisis like this and I’m really grateful to still be working full time hours.”

To get to work, he takes the 406 Richmond–Brighouse Stn / Steveston from his home, then he rides the Canada Line the rest of the way to Broadway–City Hall Station. Transit is the only way for him to get from Richmond to Vancouver.

Dedicated employees like bus operator Bryan Stebbings and attendants on SkyTrain are on transit’s frontlines helping Ryu and daycare workers like Ava Jade get to work and making essential trips on transit possible. As one of these people, Ryu is appreciates physical distancing on transit.

“And at first, I thought it’d be a little challenging to physically distance because it’s usually quite crowded,” he says. “But, what I realized the last couple weeks is there’s not a lot of people on transit anymore, at least on like my route, and it’s actually quite easy to like distance yourself from others.”

Over the past few weeks, ridership has gone down on the system, which has made physical distancing easier on transit. We’ve also implemented measures to help with physical distancing on transit, including rear-door boarding for most passengers and limiting seats on buses.

“Like many grocery stores and chain restaurants, we’re staying open because were deemed an essential service,” he explains. “Thanks to not only TransLink, but everyone else that’s avoiding public transport, making the trips of those who still need to take it that much more safer.”

Pulling the curtain back on who keeps SkyTrain operating

SkyTrain staff Andrew Ferguson and Annaliese Hunt

SkyTrain’s Andrew Ferguson, a vehicle technician, and Annaliese Hunt, a control operator.

As night descends, SkyTrain’s Operations and Maintenance Centre in Burnaby becomes a hive of activity, as staff complete critical maintenance, both on the tracks and in the shop, to ensure there’s a full complement of service in the morning.

It’s a race against the clock that takes a host of characters working together to complete.

On the SkyTrain tracks, the tasks change every day. They include everything from grinding rail to smooth them out for a more comfortable ride for our customers and replacing aging tracks as part of our Expo Line Rail and Rail Pad Replacement program, to retrieving dropped cellphones and cameras for customers.

A guideway technician replaces a piece of rail on the SkyTrain tracks

A guideway technician replaces a piece of rail on the SkyTrain tracks.

And back in the shop, as we reduce service after the evening peak, every SkyTrain car starts going through the Vehicle Cleaning and Inspection Facility to receive a disinfectant wipe down of poles, seats, ceilings, handles, windows, sills and other surfaces within the cars from cleaners.

While each SkyTrain car is cleaned, vehicle technicians like Andrew Ferguson are on the lookout for seats, lights and doors that need repairs. Andrew, who has worked at SkyTrain for five years, explains how vehicle technicians are trying to clear out as many of these faults that have been registered on the onboard computer throughout the day.

Vehicles needing more extensive repairs or are due for routine maintenance are queued up outside the shop and removed from where the automatic trains can go by SkyTrain Control. One-by-one, they’re manually driven inside by vehicle technicians to be looked at. This includes things like routine maintenance for HVAC and propulsion systems, or changing out the “shoe” that the train uses to draw power from the rails.

“There’s a bigger window at night to take care of it, especially after they’ve reduced the service for the evening,” says Andrew, “so a lot of the work is done at night when we have access to more of the trains and more time to work.”

Vehicle technicians working on a SkyTrain car

Vehicle technicians working on a SkyTrain car

Even though the trains only carry passengers for about 20 hours a day, it’s a 24-hour operation at SkyTrain for both vehicle technicians and control operators, like Annaliese Hunt, who has worked for the company for about 26 years. Annaliese not only helps to keep the trains moving, but also has a very important safety role as a control operator.

“A control operator conducts safety critical work 24 hours a day, not just during revenue service,” Annaliese explains. “We ensure maintenance staff are given safe access to the track area where they’re working, otherwise they could be in danger of an automatic train.”

For example, staff who are performing nightly track maintenance, cannot enter without what’s called an “occupancy permit” from the control room, which they can only grant after the tracks have been powered down and the area where they’re working is removed from where the automatic trains go.

And during the daytime, control operators are monitoring the tracks and trains even though they’re operating automatically, responding to everything from a lost child on the system with SkyTrain Attendants, to system delays.

Photo of SkyTrain's control room

The SkyTrain Control Room, which is the nerve centre for all of its operations.

“SkyTrains are known as being automated but in actuality, they are remote controlled,” explains Annaliese. “The trains don’t move without a control operator providing commands to the computer interfaces.”

This is critical when SkyTrain has to run alternative service for example. During a system delay, like a medical emergency, a control operator would have to make on-board announcements to keep our customers informed, re-route trains so they use the same track in both directions (called “single tracking”) and help maintain system safety, powering down track sections if necessary.

Needless to say, SkyTrain’s vehicle technicians and control operators are integral to a safe and reliable service for our customers. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s not lost on Andrew or Annaliese how important their work is in ensuring the region can keep moving for essential workers.

“There’s lots of important people such as the healthcare workers, grocery workers and elderly that depend on transit to get around, so our job is to keep it running and keep it safe,” says Andrew.

Annaliese adds, “The working class needs us so they can be the backbone of this crisis and of our economy. Janitors, hospital workers, CareAids, daycare workers, grocery clerks, gas station attendants, etcetera need transit. We need to be there for them.”

“I am proud to be an integral part of keeping transit moving.”

Annnaliese Hunt, a control operator at SkyTrain.

Annnaliese Hunt, a control operator at SkyTrain.

Taking care of kids of frontline workers

picture of Ava Jade, who works at a non-profit childcare facility that looks after kids of frontline workers

Ava Jade works at a nonprofit childcare facility in Kitsilano, making sure that the kids of frontline workers are taken care of. (Photo courtesy of Ava)

Ava works as an administrator at a non-profit childcare facility that looks after kids of frontline workers. She also regularly posts uplifting Instagram Stories while getting to work on public transit, sending kind words of support to all the essential workers and encouraging everyone who does not need to commute to stay home. She’s also a singer, songwriter and bunny rescuer, but our story focuses on Ava’s full-time job because it happens to be one of the essential professions in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We managed to get in touch with Ava just before her morning commute to learn more about her and the important work she does.

Ava moved to Vancouver in 2011 after leaving school in Southern Ontario to look for a life that would be purposeful and enjoyable. She found these things in her work at Hudson Out of School Care Society based in Kitsilano. Ava’s office shares the same building with a preschool, which is a small yellow schoolhouse located on the grounds of Hudson Elementary School. She has been working there for five years.

“I find it really fulfilling because you really get to be a part of these children’s lives. One of the favourite parts of my day is when I get to interact with all the children. They just bring you so much joy.”

Hudson Out of School Care Society was founded in the 1970s with the support of government funding and help from parents who wanted affordable childcare before and after school. While the childcare facility usually takes in kids from the local community, beginning this week (March 30,2020), the facility started accepting only the children of essential workers with the guidance of Vancouver Coastal Health, the Ministry, and the Vancouver School Board.

“We have children of nurses, people who work in pharmaceutical industry, infrastructure… You know, when we are thinking of essential workers, we tend to think of doctors and nurses, but there are so many more people who are crucial during these times.”

Ava and the whole team are working on getting the ball rolling and keeping the channels of communication open with families who require childcare. She explains, “If you’re a nurse, for instance, you can tell other nurses at the hospital that we’re open, and we’ll take in new children at this time.”

With the events quickly unfolding, the childcare staff is making sure that all the kids know how to protect themselves. “We’re communicating things like washing your hands every hour and not touching your face to children through stories and books. We’re trying to make it fun and informative.”

She also added, “I have to give [my appreciation] to childcare staff, who are still coming to work and taking care of kids. They’re amazing.”

These days Ava uses public transit to get around. “I’m definitely a huge transit user. I take two different buses in the morning to go to work and then at night to get back. I also use the bus to get my groceries.” Before the pandemic Ava used car share sometimes but thinks that now it’s especially important to only go to essential places to keep ourselves and everyone else safe.

When asked if she feels safe commuting and going to work these days, Ava responded:

“For us essential workers, every day you get up, and you have to make a choice. It’s a really hard choice no matter what work you’re doing right now because there is a risk involved. But as long as everyone is doing their part, people are staying at home, keeping everything clean for frontline workers, everything should be fine.”

She wants to thank everyone, whether they are a frontline worker or working from home or not working, for making those hard decisions. “We all are doing our part here, and the choices we make affect everyone else.”

For those who are staying at home and wonder how they might help, Ava suggested that they can reach out to local initiatives and communities. “Around my building, we have elderly residents. So, I’ve been sanitizing and bleaching the door handles in my building. There are things that we can all do to keep each other healthy and safe.”

We, at TransLink, applaud Ava and all the frontline workers who are doing so much during this difficult time. Do you have a story like Ava’s or know someone doing good these days? If so, we’d love to hear from you via our social channels or email.