Behind the scenes on transit delays 0
A transit road services mechanic repairs a problem with the trolley bus connection to overhead wires above at the Marine and Cambie station. (CARMINE MARINELLI/ 24 HOURS)
Late bus? Did a driver pass you by? Misleading next-vehicle information posted at transit stops? These are issues Coast Mountain Bus Company supervisor Richard Drake knows well.
Drake can pinpoint what each bus is doing at any second by zooming out on a map of the entire TransLink service area — a “shifting puzzle” flowing with small logos lapping over one another, constantly moving as the GPS map updates vehicle positions by the second.
It’s here behind the monitors at Surrey Transit Centre that Drake liaises with bus drivers over radio, dealing with everything from major accidents to punctured bus tanks leaking hazardous fluids.
The centre potentially deals with more than 1,000 calls each day. Last year there were 3,076 complete bus breakdowns. Other calls are more minor.
Each day is an adventure for Drake and the centre staff.
It’s 7:55 a.m. on a Thursday morning. Drake is investigating why 12 school children have been left stranded at a community shuttle route in Maple Ridge, discovering the previous driver left the station three minutes early, missing the pack.
“They all tried to get on the next one and they can’t quite all fit,” he said. “In this situation, they (the drivers) weren’t watching.”
Less than 30 minutes later and several cities away, Drake then finds a delay nearly an hour long on a heavy work route by Tilbury Park in Delta.
“It says (that driver is) running 41 minutes behind schedule. This is a total classic,” said Drake, explaining the bus would then be asked to skip bus stops ahead to “catch up” to schedule as soon as traffic breaks.
“So quite often, I might have to shoot the guy somewhere as ‘not in service’ so we might have to miss a piece of the trip, half a trip, or a whole trip to put him back on schedule again.”
Those passengers in the “skipped” stops might then wonder why their regular bus, perhaps only half empty, drove right by. It’s a necessity to avoid long “trains” of buses, all released from traffic congestion at the same, arriving simultaneously at a stop, Drake said.
Another two minutes pass — it’s 8:32 a.m. now — and Drake finds out a bus inbound to VCC-Clark Station never left its depot berth. The bus driver didn’t come in that day.
“Whoever is waiting at that bus stop for the bus, it (was supposed to) leave in one minute, but his phone will just suddenly say, ‘It’s not coming.’ And it’ll give the time for the next bus.”
Only nine minutes have elapsed and Drake’s attention is diverted again. In this case, a driver’s left mirror was clipped in a hit-and-run in Burnaby. The driver reports the suspect’s plate number and vehicle description to Drake, who notifies the authorities.
A video of the incident is recorded by on-board bus cameras and forwarded to the company’s security office.
Perhaps a sign of how common bus mirrors are clipped, barely 13 minutes pass and another driver’s mirror is struck — this time it’s completely cleaved off.
That driver’s passengers are directed to disembark to board the next bus, while he’s told to drop the bus off at a station for mechanics to fix.
And so the day continues at Coast Mountain Bus Company, the TransLink subsidiary overseeing the workings of 1,500 buses. The other commuter branches, SeaBuses, SkyTrains and the West Coast Express, are other matters, each with its own challenges and quirks.
Drake, now nearing the end of his shift, his coffee still toasty on a hotplate plugged into his desk, looks at his five monitors with a satisfied grin.
“You might be late for work,” he smiled. “But we’re going to make sure you don’t miss work altogether.”