20,000 bus pass-ups a fraction of true figure

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      Bus passengers passed up at stops last year by full buses represent "one third of one percent" of the whole, according to the vice-president of customer service at Coast Mountain Bus Company.

      In a phone interview with the Georgia Straight, Stan Sierpina said Coast Mountain, an operating subsidiary of TransLink, had a total trip count of approximately six million passengers "one way, from terminus to terminus" in 2006.

      "Also in 2006, we had 20,000 reported pass-ups by our operators," Sierpina said. "Clearly, there may be cases, and I'm sure there are, where the operators don't call the pass-up in. For the purpose of context, 20,000 pass-ups on six million trips is 0.3 percent, or one-third of one percent. That doesn't seem like a lot–and in the overall scheme of things it isn't–but if you are the one customer passed up, that is a big deal to you, so I don't want to minimize the importance we attach to any pass-up. However, to totally eliminate all pass-ups would cost a lot of money."

      When the Straight asked Sierpina if he could provide a dollar figure, he replied, "No."

      After filing a freedom-of-information request, the Straight learned that Coast Mountain had recorded 20,219 total pass-ups from May 1, 2006, to July 8, 2007. This figure is the sum total from driver communication reports at all six transit centres–Burnaby, North Vancouver, Port Coquitlam, Richmond, Surrey, and Vancouver–as well as from the community-shuttle service. During that period, the 98 B-Line fared worst, with 2,049 recorded pass-ups–about 10 percent of the total–and the 99 B-Line was fourth-worst for pass-ups, with 945.

      In a customer-service report obtained by the Straight, an irate transit rider left an after-hours phone message on June 5, 2006, lambasting the #104 bus from Annacis Island.

      "I think it F*$&%ing [sic] sucks," the message stated. "It gets full and then it leaves us residential people waiting to get on the bus for another hour. You guys should have another bus tailing it to pick us up."

      According to another customer-service report, a mother called in at 8 a.m. on October 5, 2006, complaining "that daughter waited until 8:40 for the bus". The mother said she counted 10 full buses go by and demanded "more service".

      Now, with the new school year starting and students using those lines, service is once again stretched. Jim Houlahan, vice president at Canadian Auto Workers Union Local 111, which represents transit drivers, told the Straight by phone last month that Coast Mountain's figures are way below the reality out on the road.

      "It is even more when you look at the percentage of drivers who have bothered to call it in," Houlahan said of driver communications. "I would say it [the 20,000 pass-up total] is 20 percent of what is out there, and we said at the top end of 2005 that the generous end of the scale is 50 percent of drivers calling in the pass-ups.”¦It is madness in the control tower, so that is a reflection of what's going on out on the road."

      On July 17, Coast Mountain service-delivery manager Mike McComber told the Straight not to "take a one-day snapshot" when it comes to pass-ups.

      "We check regularly to see if there is an anomaly or a higher average," he said. "Pass-ups happen in several different areas or different regions.”¦We have 900 complaints [for the May to July period], but we can match that with 900 commendations."

      There is no commendation from Bus Riders Union organizer Zailda Chan, who told the Straight she still interviews bus riders to gauge their views.

      "A lot of bus riders are not even bothering to call and complain," Chan said by phone. "But they complain to us."