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Category: Special Series

Transit triathlon: a multi-modal commute from Langley to Vancouver

Arthur Orsini makes the daily “triathlon” by bus, SkyTrain and bike to get from Walnut Grove in Langley to the Fairview neighbourhood in Vancouver where he works.

As Metro Vancouver’s transportation authority, we’re here to support you whether you’re taking transit, walking, cycling or even driving.

When it comes to cycling, our program is vast and varied. It covers everything from the BC Parkway and Central Valley Greenway multi-use paths, cost-sharing with municipalities to fund improvements, to end-of-trip facilities like bike parkades and lockers. At our Bike Parkades, you can lock up your bike for $1 a day (fees capped at $8 a month) and connect with SkyTrain or bus to continue the rest of your journey.

Arthur Orsini is an essential worker. He’s also a multi-modal commuter — that means he uses more than one kind of transportation to get to where he needs to go. In his words, he does a daily “triathlon” to get from his home in Langley’s Walnut Grove to work in Vancouver’s Fairview neighbourhood.

That’s a very fun and interesting way to describe your commute! What do you mean by “triathlon?” 

I take the 555 Port Mann Express bus to Lougheed Town Centre Station, then the SkyTrain to VCC–Clark Station where I pickup my bike from a locker that I rent $10 a month, and then I bike the last portion to work. Each segment is about 20 minutes.

Where are you headed to? 

I work as a Healthy Transportation Lead at Vancouver Coastal Health. My role is to deliver projects, events and facilities that support our staff in more healthy, active and sustainable commuting.

Interesting stuff! We’re asking customers to only travel on transit if necessary and outside of peak hours, so space remains available for our essential service workers. What would it mean if you weren’t able to get to work? 

My job is to help nurses, doctors and other hospital and clinic staff navigate the changes in their commuting options. The pandemic has brought on a lot of new stresses for health-care workers, so we are trying to make the commute safer and more comfortable. Although I usually try to steer our staff towards cycling, transit and carpooling; at present I’m working on parking solutions and finding vehicles for staff dealing with a lengthy or crowded commute.

TransLink’s losing more than $75 million a month, but we remain committed to providing transit services for essential workers. We are continuing to push for funding from senior levels of government. In your words, why is it important transit keeps running?

I rely on transit and I know that many of my colleagues do too. We depend on SkyTrains and buses to get us to work on time, and home again after a long work shift.

Now let’s talk about you. What’s one little known fact about yourself that most of your colleagues or acquaintances wouldn’t know?

I’ve never owned a car.

What are you looking forward to the most when the COVID-19 pandemic is over?

I’m not going to miss my role as the recipient of a long list of emails from staff describing parking tickets, frustrations and over-crowded parkades.

If you could offer words of hope, what would it be?

My bike ride is the best part of my commute, so I’d encourage more people to get on a bike …even if just for the duration of a coffee break. And, with Mobi bike share offering VCH staff free 90-day Essential Worker memberships, a bit of cycling is even easier.

One final question. I hear people wondering about this a lot, how does one cycle in Raincouver without getting wet? 

Rain is really no barrier to cycling. I would rather just ride in my ‘ordinary clothes’ and find them insufficient about three or four times a year rather than fully outfit myself with typhoon gear. A rain jacket and gloves is usually enough for most cloudy/rainy days.

Public transit is an essential service, and we know +75 000 people are still reliant on transit, including frontline workers. Arthur’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.

Do you have a story like Arthur’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.

Delivering essential banking services

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, our lifestyles have drastically changed, as we found new ways to readjust to the new reality. We attend birthdays, family reunions and work meetings with a click of the video call button. Store pickups and home deliveries have become a new norm for shopping for household necessities.

Essential workers, who are behind all the services and infrastructures, play a crucial role in our communities, enabling us to carry on with our daily lives. Sandy Yang is one of them. She works at the local branch of a bank based in Richmond and ensures that day-to-day banking activities of her customers happen without major interruptions.

Sandy is new to Vancouver. In fact, she has moved to Canada from Taiwan in December and started her job just a few weeks before the global pandemic was announced. When asked about her impression of the last few weeks, she said “I just got to Canada, so I haven’t been around long enough to compare. But it’s unusual to see how everything is closed and everyone is staying at home during the pandemic.”

For Sandy, her work duties as a bank accountant require her to be physically present in the office. “Even though most of our services are carried out online, we have security measures in place, so we need to be at work to access all the information and make sure that our customers are served,” she explained.

Sandy works three days a week in the office with her supervisor. She doesn’t hold a driver license in Canada and has been commuting by public transport. These days she uses West Coast Express and SkyTrain to get to her work .

Social life is something Sandy misses the most about her life before the pandemic. She told us that catching up with all her friends will be the very first thing she’ll do when restrictions will be lifted. She would also like to see her family, who are now living in Taiwan.

Sandy shared a note of appreciation to everyone working on the front line:

“Thank you to all the front-line workers for being there and fighting for us. I have a friend who is currently working at the St Paul Hospital. We all know it’s very intense to work under this circumstance but again thank you!”

Public transit is an essential service, and we know +75 000 people are still reliant on transit, including frontline workers. Sandy’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 and essential workers are doing, and we’re working hard to get them to their important work – Together all the way.

Do you have a story like Sandy’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.

Nurse thankful for the community support and transit

Laura is a nurse who depends on transit for all aspects of her life, including work.

There is no playbook for the COVID-19 pandemic — something none of us have experienced in our lifetime. In many respects, we’re all making it up as we go, adapting as each curve ball comes our way. But the more things change, the more they stay the same.

We’re social beings. We value our connections. In a curious way, although we’re apart, we’re closer than ever.

This rings true for nurse Laura Mills, who says the biggest change COVID-19 hasn’t been in the work, but how it’s brought the healthcare and wider communities together.

“As health care teams we have such a sense of unity and purpose, and a renewed drive for delivering the best care we can for our patients,” she says. “And bringing community together as a whole; we are in such awe and so grateful for how our community has gathered together to offer support and kindness in so many ways.”

Every evening at 7 p.m. since the the middle of March, we’ve made our way to outside — or if you’re on transit, you would have heard an announcement — to make some noise for our essential workers. Our West Coast Express trains are sounding their horns at 7 p.m. as it pulls into Pitt Meadow Stations to drop off essential workers like Cara, returning home after a day on the front lines.

Laura’s heard the appreciation loud and clear: “It made me cry. Like that was really significant for us, so thank you for that.”

She, however, is quick to point out she cannot thank the respiratory therapists enough because they are the true front lines of this pandemic. Respiratory therapists initiate and manage life support for people in intensive care units and emergency departments.

As a neonatal intensive care unit nurse, Laura works with premature and critically ill infants.

“These infants are at a particularly high risk of getting sick, especially with respiratory illnesses, as they have underdeveloped lungs and almost no immune system,” she explains. “As nurses, 12 hours at a time, we help these tiny, vulnerable babies to heal and grow, and to help families learn how to care for their tiny new babies and walk through the fearful and unknown times of having a critically ill child.”

To get to her 12-hour shifts, which are either 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. or 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., four days a week, Laura relies on transit, which she says is usually accommodating.

Most days, she’s able to make the hour-and-20-minute commute by taking the bus and SkyTrain, but when she’s scheduled to start at 7 a.m. on weekends, she depends on the NightBus. That’s because on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, the first train from Waterfront Station isn’t until 6:44 a.m. and 7:44 a.m., so SkyTrain crews have a larger overnight window to complete critical maintenance to keep the system running for years to come.

With TransLink losing $75 million per month with ridership down by 83 per cent, we made the extremely difficult decision earlier this week to reduce service in order to preserve our transit system. We remain focused on maintaining as much service as possible for the over 75,000 people using the system each weekday.

We’re prioritizing service to routes serving hospitals and other health facilities to ensure essential workers, like Laura, can continue to serve our community — all while actively working with senior government to secure more funding to reverse these decisions.

Her weekend 7 a.m. shifts have been affected by minor service modifications to the NightBus and her manager has been accommodating in changing her schedule around. It’s clear she’d be in a pickle if there’s more widespread changes to transit schedules.

“I have to take transit — not just to commute to work — but for everything,” says Laura, who sold her car as a cost-saving measure when she moved to Vancouver. “I don’t really know what would happen to me with that. I maybe have to stay in a hotel, which would be very expensive or I just wouldn’t be able to get to work at all.”

That’s why Laura’s so thankful for transit staff and other essential workers, and TransLink for operating essential transit service.

“I can’t say it enough, thank you to everyone at TransLink and the public transportation sector for the sacrifices you’ve made for supporting our communities. And for continuing to provide service for hospital access — for that, I am so, so thankful.”

Public transit is an essential service, and we know +75 000 people are still reliant on transit, including frontline workers. Laura’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.

Do you have a story like Laura’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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

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.

A local business provides protective gear for frontline workers

Taylor Gatenby is one of the 75,000+ people who rely on public transit to get to work everyday. She is a cashier at a small local store that provides essential equipment to various government and public organizations, including transit workers and transit police, Vancouver Police Department and Royal Canadian Mounted Police, military, emergency medical service workers and fire fighters. In addition, the local business also serves the general public offering a wider range of outdoor tools and clothing.

When the pandemic broke out, many businesses have diversified their products to join the battle against COVID-19. Taylor’s company is not an exception. These days it stays open to supply much-needed equipment and protective gear, from masks to specialized apparel for those working on the frontline. They are also trying to source other essential products, including face shields and get them out to various destinations.

The security gear store also supplies large volume of sanitizers. “The amount really varies depending on the requirements of different organizations and departments,” Taylor explains. “Sometimes we’d supply them in drums. Just to give you an idea, you would need a wrench and a hose pump to get those out of the containers. Some other departments would buy four litre bottles in mass quantities.”

It has been a challenging time for Taylor and her colleagues, since they also want to make sure they can serve the general public when they can. For safety reasons, the store has encouraged its customers to order products online and has made in-store pick up and home delivery options available to those who need them.

“We still have customers, especially frontline workers, who drop by our store for essentials like uniforms.” Taylor mentions. As a cashier, she regularly manages one-on-one interactions. To stay safe, she makes sure she always wears gloves, disinfects high touch surfaces, such as the debit machine, and works behind the plexiglass partition that the store has set up for their employees.

Everyday Taylor takes SkyTrain and a bus to commute to work from Downtown Vancouver.

“I’m just so proud to be part of a community that is working hard to keep the front liners and the rest of us safe. I’m proud of every other worker who shows up at work to make sure we’re all okay.”

When asked about the first thing she would do after the quarantine ends, Taylor replied “I will take a plane and visit my grandmother in Kelowna. It’s really hard because I can’t be there for her right now.”

We, at TransLink, are deeply grateful for all the hard work that frontline workers are doing during this difficult time, while also dealing with all the personal challenges that the pandemic poses. Do you have a story like Taylor’s or know someone doing good these days? If so, we’d love to hear from you via our social channels or email.

 

On the frontlines policing a moving city

Constable Mike Yake with Metro Vancouver Transit Police

Constable Mike Yake with Metro Vancouver Transit Police

Metro Vancouver Transit Police Constable Mike Yake expected that he would be working in the Transit Police Recruiting Unit this spring while also training for his new role as a Media Relations Officer for the department. But that’s not the way things went.

Instead, he’s found himself on the frontlines in the Patrol Division, playing an important role in ensuring the safety of the people who rely on transit.

“We’ve all had to adjust,” says Cst. Yake, who’s been a Transit Police officer for 5 years after working as a Deputy Sheriff prior.

“As a department and as individuals, we continually have to adapt and overcome obstacles to ensure we are not only operating safely, but are on the road enhancing public safety and assisting those in crisis. It’s challenging to help someone while maintaining physical distance, or making sure that PPE is donned before responding to certain situations. But safety is always our first consideration.”

In this time of uncertainty, tensions can run high and Transit Police officers find themselves responding to a variety of volatile situations that can include weapons and sometimes put officers in harm’s way. But Cst. Yake is quick to point out that the job is still very rewarding.

He recalls one recent file as an example.  “While on patrol, I came across a man that was in possession of a bike valued at nearly $8,000. I was able to confirm that the bike didn’t belong to him and thanks to Project 529, I was able to find the rightful owner. When I brought the bike to her, she was ecstatic as she’d thought that her prized possession was gone forever.”

Transit Police is the only police agency in Canada that is focused on a public transportation system. Transit Police officers have full police powers within the province of British Columbia, both on and off duty, the same as municipal police officers. They investigate crime, enforce laws and statutes (including the Criminal Code), and help provide seamless policing across Metro Vancouver in partnership with local police agencies.

They are a key factor in keeping transit safe, a role that Cst. Yake doesn’t take lightly.

“In unprecedented times like these, I am incredibly proud to have the ability to play my part in supporting those in need and enhancing public safety,” he says.

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

Follow Cst. Yake on Twitter. Connect with Transit Police Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.

 

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.”

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.”