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Translink Buzzer Blog

Category: Together all the way

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.

 

Bus operator embraces helping the community out

Bryan Stebbings has been a bus operator with Coast Mountain Bus Company for nearly four years. (Photo: Josh Neufeld Photography)

“I’m just so thankful that I get to, first, help out my community as much as I can, but also for my family, I get to continue to come to work.”

Those are the words of Bryan Stebbings, a bus operator with Coast Mountain Bus Company. He’s one of myriad dedicated transit staff on the frontlines ensuring the region can keep moving during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bryan operates the 7 Nanaimo Stn / Dunbar and 9 Boundary / Commercial–Broadway / Granville / Alma / UBC routes. The 9 route travels along Broadway, passing by the Fairview neighbourhood that’s home to Vancouver General Hospital and a cluster of healthcare institutions, so it’s no surprise many of his customers are healthcare workers.

He’s embracing this important role transporting these frontline workers and others such as grocery clerks, janitors and other transit staff who depend on transit to get to work. There’s also those who need transit for essential travel to pick up groceries and medication.

“Well, it makes you feel good,” says Bryan, who has been an operator for nearly four years. “There’s a purpose behind my work. It makes you want to get up, go out there, serve my community and get these people to the places they need to be to help us out.”

Transit staff like Bryan are also among the people on the frontlines and we’ve taken steps to protect them.

Buses have temporarily moved to rear-door boarding for most passengers, while customers who need mobility assistance can still use the front doors if needed. The red line, which customers have to stay behind, has been moved further back from its usual spot to allow greater physical distancing.

“Loading from the back door has really helped us out,” says Bryan. “I think that was so important to implement, and then obviously getting that six feet from the red line being moved back another few feet so the general public doesn’t really enter your space too much.”

The bus company has also accelerated the installation of operator protection barriers, which was already underway after a successful two-year pilot in 2017. In addition to daily cleaning schedules, we’re spraying all buses with a disinfectant weekly. This week, we began limiting seating on buses to allow for extra space between customers.

Bryan operates the 7 Nanaimo Stn / Dunbar and 9 Boundary / Commercial–Broadway / Granville / Alma / UBC routes.

While Bryan embraces helping the community out during this time, it’s being reciprocated by the community. SPARKMOUTH, a local tonic and sparkling water producer, reached out to TransLink to donate their beverage to transit staff.

“We at SPARKMOUTH want to sincerely call out and thank all of you at TransLink that are not able to stay at home because you are out supporting essential services for the rest of us,” says Jackie Fox, vice president of sales and marketing at the company, in a letter to transit staff.

“We recognize that you, on the frontlines, are keeping this region moving, and we appreciate and salute the work you do to help all of us during this challenging time.”

The sparkling water beverages will be distributed to transit staff like Bryan in the coming days.

Donated SPARKMOUTH sparkling water beverages will be distributed to transit staff like Bryan in the coming days. Thank you to SPARKMOUTH!

Special thanks to Josh Neufeld Photography