Advice to Calgary Transit on dealing with the next major service disruption
Come hell, high water, or both…
My Tuesday afternoon commute home on Calgary Transit was an epic “Charlie Foxtrot”.
I was on the next train heading into Chinook after a “police incident” occurred just before 5 PM. The train driver stopped and announced there was an incident, and he would keep us informed.
A few minutes later, our train headed back to 39th ave station where it stopped and the operator was on foot (no announcements on the PA) telling passengers to get off and move to the other side of the platform. A few minutes later, after ~600 people vacated the train, the operator got back in the empty train and headed north towards downtown.
I assumed he was simply switching tracks, but I never saw that train again.
Over the course of the next 10 minutes or so, with an impending rain and hailstorm about to hit, two full trains headed south arrived at 39th Ave.
There was room for a few, but most of us were left waiting… no big deal, I expected to see the train we abandoned a few minutes earlier to come back and pick us all up.
There were no announcements.
Calgary Transit’s twitter account was silent.
Confused commuters chuckled to each other about the gong show. “I can’t believe I pay for this”, was a common refrain.
There was no sign of the train that abandoned us.
There were just dark clouds, and high winds….
Then, it hit. The sideways rain and hail.
The passenger shelters at 39th Ave were crowded —
Umbrellas were useless.
We were taking mother nature to the face.
I ran behind one of the passenger shelters to seek refuge from the hail bullets but it wasn't enough… I was soaking wet, and was crouched beside an older lady in tears.
Then… salvation… A bendy bus pulled up with the message “out of service”.
I didn’t care. I was like honey badger looking for shelter, and ran the 100 meters or so to the bus, when I banged on the door and jumped on.
The operator was confused — he was on the radio talking over panicked bus drivers and dispatchers and didn't seem to know how to switch the sign on the bus to something other than “out of service”.
I offered my help… if he was headed to Chinook, should we somehow let the other passengers waiting at the train platform know, who were all likely blinded by the rain and probably didn’t see the bus pull up?
“No,” he said.
“Announcements were being made,” he said.
There was no need to take me up on my offer of assisting to direct other passengers to the “salvation bus”…. they would find their way, he said.
I was soaked, and so was my beloved iPhone. Calgary Transit’s Twitter account was silent. I dried off my phone as best I could and checked Calgary Transit’s website, and there was some message posted that “delays were to be expected on the south line”…
A few minutes later, after the torrential rain gave up a bit, we pulled away headed towards Chinook. The salvation bendy bus, with capacity for about 150 passengers, left 39th Ave towards Chinook with only three souls on board. I felt like I had just got a lifeboat on the Titanic.
I'm not sure what ever happened to my fellow passengers who were abandoned by the perfectly good train at 39th… perhaps that phantom train came back to pick them up, perhaps it didn’t… I’ll never know.
If this wasn't such a regular occurrence for Calgary Transit — there have been at least four major transit disruptions this summer — I could be more forgiving.
The bottom line — the communication tools that we have come to rely on fail when we need them most — the PA, the Twitter, the digital signs — all failed us. Everyone got so tied up in “their job”, that nobody was looking at the big picture of what was actually happening or the impact it was having on hundreds of thousands of people.
Calgary Transit staff knew within seconds of the police incident occurring at Chinook that there was going to be a very big fallout, and knew a bad storm was about to hit the city, yet their Twitter account remained silent for over 30 minutes.
It was a double-whammy, but given the multiple factors involved, there was no reason for communication not to have been swift, clear and directed.
As Calgary Transit passengers, we're used to following directions like sheep, but as humans also, we do much better when we understand WHY something is happening.
WHY did we all get off that train at 39th? I assume there was a good reason, but without knowing or being told WHY, I'm left to assume the operator’s shift was over and he didn't have the patience to wait it through, so he just headed on his way back to the garage.
Calgary can work together against adversity — I have no doubt about that — but when we’re kept in the dark, or worse, when we’re abandoned in a hail storm, it drives complacency and disengagement by politicians, passengers and staff of Calgary Transit until it’s all just one big joke.
A big joke until you buy a car, at least.