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Dec 30

Canada Line and Snow (Feb. 2017)

By Rick | British Columbia

TransLink’s Canada Line experienced two major shutdowns (Feb 3 / 6, 2017). The cause was the apparent inability of trains to travel northbound between Bridgeport and Marine Drive Stations.

These incidents are a reminder of a similar incident in November 2010 when an early winter snow storm led to service disruptions in the same location. At that time, Transport Action BC engaged with TransLink over the incident because we felt that the Canada Line’s private operator (InTransitBC / Protrans) should have been better prepared for such storms, which are not unknown in Vancouver.

One of our concerns was that there were no public statements about performance penalties to the Canada Line’s private operator. We assumed penalties were in order, based on our understanding of P3 contracts, whereby the contractor receives bonuses for exceeding performance standards and is penalised for failing to meet them. TransLink indicated that performance penalties were not an option because the incident occurred during the contracted two year “learning curve” in which performance penalties would not be applied to InTransitBC / Protrans. Details of that discussion are here.

A secondary concern was that P3 “value engineering” may have designed resiliency out of the system in order to minimise costs and/or maximise profits. This issue was never addressed by TransLink.

The February 2017 incidents have received much more public scrutiny, possibly because social media allows a quicker, more voluminous public response forcing mainstream media and TransLink to respond in kind. The general disenchantment of TransLink as a result of the 2015 Transit Plebiscite’s No Campaign may also have been a factor.

According to TransLink, the cause of the latest delays is a steep section of track to the bridge over the North Arm of the Fraser river. TransLink’s The Buzzer blog states that trains require full power to get up the steep track grade and icy buildups prevent trains from reaching full power.

This brings us back to Transport Action BC’s secondary concern about the November 2010 incident – did P3 design considerations result in a structure that is subject to operational failure under certain weather conditions? At this point, this issue has not been publicly discussed.

Of immediate interest, though, has the TransLink / BC Rapid Transit Company (BCRTC) / InTransitBC / Protrans response been acceptable or reasonable? To be fair, it must be realized that the recent snow conditions are unusual and infrequent and we can be certain that front-line staff are doing their best under trying conditions. However, heavy snow falls are not unheard of and Vancouver gets 2 – 3 of them a decade.

Several issues for consideration:

  • Where are InTransitBC and Protrans in all this? To my knowledge, no representative(s) of the Canada Line’s private operator have met the press or given any kind of a public interview (apology?) regarding serious service disruptions. Does the contract (P3) with TransLink allow it to minimise its involvement in dealing with the affected public during delay situations?
  • Obviously, de-icing, sanding and other winter operations procedures were not entirely successful in keeping the trains running. An internal post-mortem will be carried out but will the results be publicised to assure the public that changes will be made to operations to mitigate snow issues in future?
  • Performance penalties should be applied to the Canada Line operator for the recent disruptions. However, will the details be made public in order to reassure the public that their interests are met and that Canada Line management is being held accountable for its operations?
  • Will the InTransitBC / Protrans be required to pay the costs of operating the bus bridges that were required to get passengers around the delays? Similarly, if fare rebates to compensate riders for their inconvenience are given, will inTransitBC / Protrans cover the costs? Again, this is an issue of accountability and transparency around how taxpayers’ money is being spent.
  • Is the organisational structure that integrates Canada Line operations within TransLink effective for dynamic situations requiring rapid decision making (such as a snow emergency)? The Canada Line contractor reports to the BC Rapid Transit Co., the TransLink subsidiary responsible for running the Expo / Millenium lines. Bus Operations, a separate silo in TransLink’s organisation structure, manages Coast Mountain Bus Company (CMBC) the provider of buses for bus bridges. Does this structure allow for effective communication between management, front line staff and the public when dealing with emergencies? For example, how far up the management chain does a Canada Line request for a bus bridge go before being passed to the Coast Mountain Bus Company? How are bus bridge set-up and operations communicated between the various transit operators and the affected customers?

(Originally posted on 11 Feb. 2017 at Transport Action BC’s blog)

Source: TABC

Dec 29

TransLink Chairman Year-end Interview

By Rick | British Columbia

Global News BC had a 15 minute, year-end interview with TransLink Chairman Kevin Desmond on 19 Dec 2017. Issues discussed included possible later SkyTrain service on Friday and Saturday nights, safety, new Canada Line stations, Canada Line capacity expansions, double decker bus pilot, fare payment changes and mobility pricing.

  1. Late night service is obviously doable but TransLink needs to maintain the system in a State of Good Repair. Extended operating times would remove 500 hours annually from the existing, overnight maintenance window. Desmond said that a wider, community discussion is needed to determine what is needed in terms of later service. He emphasized that extended hours will require trade-offs. And he did not mention the Canada Line, which would presumably require contract negotiations with the concessionaire to extend service hours.
  2. The system is safe, in spite of the much-publicized, Canada Line incident involving a Muslim woman. Additional police officers will be hired to compensate for the Evergreen Line expansion.
  3. Capstan Station construction will be 100% paid for by the private sector. A 57th/Cambie station may be considered under a similar funding model but would be much more expensive as it is underground.
  4. Canada Line capacity will be augmented by 24 new cars on order. Any Canada Line station lengthening is 10-15 years out. He stated, diplomatically, that the Canada Line was under built.
  5. He is very keen on double decker buses and hopes to order 30  double decker buses early in 2018.
  6. TransLink is investigating allowing mobile devices and credit cards for fare payment.
  7. Stated there are equity issues with Mobility Pricing that will have to be addressed

The interview can be found here.

Source: TABC

Dec 29

South Okanagan Transit Ridership Up

By Rick | British Columbia

Transit ridership is up a reported 41% on certain routes in the South Okanagan. Good news but the numbers would be starting from a fairly low level. Unfortunately, there is no source for the numbers published and there is one oddity; a 30% decline in operating costs per passenger is described as “minor” so I suspect a typo. The report can be found here.



Source: TABC

Dec 29

Contracting Transit Operations

By Rick | British Columbia

The Eno Center for Transportation in Washington DC  published a report touting the benefits of contracting out as a way to improve transit service. “A Bid for Better Transit: Improving Transit Service with Contracted Operations” looks at a number of examples of contracted operations in three European cities (London, Stockholm, Oslo) and three North American ones (New Orleans, Vancouver, Los Angeles). The discussion is not a “privatisation will solve all our problems” that, once implemented, can be left to run its course.The report contends that contracting out is a tool available to transit agencies that is more complex than straight out privatisation and requires agency commitment, negotiation and monitoring.

The authors state 3 key issues must be part of any contracting out considerations – the public interest cannot be contracted out and only government can protect the public interest; contracts must clearly align agency goals with a contractor’s profit motive; and agencies and contractors must work together to innovate and improve system operations.

The paper provides an overview of TransLink’s contracting out activities (or lack thereof) emphasizing that changes in provincial political priorities led to the current situation whereby BC Rapid Transit Company (BCRTC) and Coast Mountain Bus Company (CMBC) are wholly owned subsidiaries rather than contracted service providers. It does point out that the potential threat of contracting out may be enough to incentivise the subsidiaries to improve efficiency, increase productivity and control costs. That being said, TransLink does contract out some niche services.

However, the Canada Line P3 contract is looked at critically be the authors . They argue that the political motivations to get the line opened for the 2010 Olympics led to a P3 contract that over emphasised  construction speed at the expense of long-term operational flexibility. TransLink is left with a 35 year contract under which it must negotiate service changes with the concessionaire.

A Bid for Better Transit: Improving service with contracted operations

Source: TABC

Dec 27

In Memoriam (Amtrak Cascades Train 501 Crash)

By Rick | British Columbia

Transport Action BC wishes to express condolences for the deaths of Jim Hamre and Zack Wilhoite, as well as the other victim and the many people injured in the December 18, 2017 Amtrak Cascades Train 501 crash.

TABC was shocked to hear the news about the derailment on a day that was meant to be a celebration of the inaugural service on the new alignment. To hear about the deaths of two prominent activists with All Aboard Washington / Rail Passengers Association (NARP) is a further shock. While we did not know either Jim or Zack, we have always been impressed with the work All Aboard Washington has done to advance passenger rail in the state of Washington. AAW is a model of how a rail advocacy group should function. The steady, incremental improvements in the Amtrak Cascades service over the years is in large part due to the hard work of advocates like Jim and Zack. We owe it to them to continue the fight for better train service.

More details on Jim and Zack’s lives and work can be found at AAW and RPA (NARP).


Matthew Buchanan
President – Transport Action BC
Coquitlam, BC

Source: TABC

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