Translink needs more buses: union

The Coast Mountain Bus Company recorded fewer passenger pass-ups between May 1, 2007, and July 8, 2008, compared with figures from the previous year, according to an executive of the TransLink subsidiary.

Last September, the Straight reported that the company tallied 20,219 pass-ups, or incidents where jam-packed buses failed to pick up passengers at stops, between May 1, 2006, and July 8, 2007. Stan Sierpina,Coast Mountain’s vice president of customer service, disclosed that in the most recent 14-month period, bus operators called in a total of 14,700 pass-ups. He said that the approximately 27 percent decrease in pass-ups indicates improved transit service.

“More buses on the road,” Sierpina explained to the Straight. “Are there enough? It’s never enough, but there’s certainly more buses out there.”

Sierpina acknowledged that bus operators don’t report all pass-ups because it can take minutes before their calls are answered by the company’s communications centre. However, he also said that this month Coast Mountain is putting into operation a $40-million system that will allow drivers simply to push a button and leave a message.

According to Sierpina, on any given day there are 1,000 buses on the road from the company’s fleet of 1,450 conventional and community-shuttle buses. The remainder serve as spares in case of breakdowns.

On August 21, TransLink announced that it was rolling out the “largest ever quarterly service increase”, with “80,000 hours” of additional bus service starting on September 2, the day students returned to school.

But Jim Houlahan, vice president of Canadian Auto Workers Local 111, the union representing transit drivers, isn’t impressed. Houlahan noted that 80,000 hours is an “annualized” figure, meaning it’s distributed across an entire year. The additional hours, the union leader added, are a mere two percent increase in Coast Mountain’s total service hours of 3.5 million per year. (According to Sierpina, Coast Mountain provides at least 4.5 million hours of service a year.)

“It’s a drop in the bucket,” Houlahan told the Straight. “It will do nothing to relieve overcrowding, pass-ups, late buses.”

He recalled that a five-year strategic plan for TransLink approved in 2000 called for 1,600 buses by 2006. He claimed that today Coast Mountain can put 1,100 buses on the road—500 short of the target.

“The plan…fell on the floor because the [provincial] government wouldn’t collect the vehicle levy [$75 per year] to fund the plan,” he said. “The vehicle levy was going to bring $100 million a year. So in 2001, they cancelled the bus orders that had been approved in 2000, and then we didn’t buy a new conventional bus to increase the fleet until 2006. So we didn’t buy a bus for six years, from 2001 to 2006, while at the same time we’ve got an unprecedented growth in ridership due to the U-Pass and rising fuel costs.”

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