Former police sergeant alleges TransLink doesn't want weekend bar crowd on SkyTrain late at night

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      In his 24 years as a Vancouver police officer Curtis Robinson developed an expertise in dealing with the intersection of large crowds and liquor.

      He worked 12 Symphony of Fire events, including seven as a supervisor over squads of 10 or more constables.

      He also acted in a supervisory capacity while policing many concerts and hockey and football games.

      As a sergeant, Robinson went on to help launch the Barwatch program, and was later hired to chair it a few years after he retired from the VPD.

      And in a phone interview with the Georgia Straight, Robinson claimed that TransLink decided many years ago to shut down SkyTrain service just after 1 a.m. on weekends because it "didn't want to deal with the nightclub and bar crowd".

      "It's absolute insanity that SkyTrain shuts down at 1:10 in the morning," Robinson said.

      (The final eastbound train on the Expo line actually leaves Waterfront Station at 1:16 a.m. and the last Canada Line leaves downtown at 1:15 a.m., whereas many downtown bars don't stop providing service on weekends until 3 a.m.)

      In effect, Robinson accused TransLink of deliberately making it more difficult for nightclub patrons, bar employees, and others to get out of the city core late at night on weekends when downtown establishments close.

      Robinson made these remarks after reading a commentary on urging Vancouver politicians to advocate for later SkyTrain service on weekends.

      The former sergeant spent three years with Transit Police after leaving the VPD.

      For years, TransLink claimed that it had to conduct track maintenance and inspections during those hours. Robinson, however, insisted that this was a "departure from the truth".

      "What they're saying is absolute horseshit," he declared. "They don't do track inspections [in the middle of the night]. They don't do overnight maintenance."

      (This claim was rejected in a letter to the Straight by B.C. Rapid Transit Company president Vivienne King. She called it "fundamentally misleading" and "factually wrong", insisting that 1,500 hours of overnight maintenance take place every year on the Expo Line.)

      Only this week has TransLink publicly acknowledged the possibility of extending weekend SkyTrain service if it has sufficient infrastructure and investment.

      "We've had a TransLink representative at a Barwatch meeting," Robinson said. "We put this to him and others for the last six to seven years saying 'Why is it you cannot put on a train for an extra hour and 45 minutes on Friday and Saturday nights and special-event weekends or special-event days, whether it be a soccer game or playoff game, to allow citizens to get out of the city?' Well, now all of the sudden it's feasible." 

      Furthermore, Robinson claimed that the lack of early-morning SkyTrain service is costing Vancouverites a significant amount of money in higher policing costs.

      That's because people are forced to hang around longer at night due to a shortage of taxis, creating the possibility of street mayhem.

      "Having been there for many years, we would literally be on pins and needles from 3 until 4 in the morning hoping to keep a lid on this, trying to get rid of people," he recalled. "Really, all they wanted to do was go home safely."

      Robinson said that TransLink's refusal to extend weekend SkyTrain hours leaves people with four options:

      1. Take a cab, which is virtually impossible to find after bars close.

      2. Take a night bus, which holds a limited number of patrons at a time when there are 5,000 to 6,000 people flooding into the streets.

      3. Drive home, which is a poor choice for anyone who's been drinking alcohol.

      4. Remain downtown and wait until SkyTrain service resumes later in the morning to get out of the city.

      Robinson said that the transportation bottleneck leads to fights ignited in pizza or hot-dog joints, which results in the allocation of two-person police cars. That's $40 per hour times two just to dispatch two officers.

      "If there's a serious injury, like a one-punch situation, you're looking at a major investigation and the cost runs in the thousands," he added.

      Part of the reason there's no SkyTrain service late at night, according to Robinson, is the regional transportation authority's reluctance to pay for Transit Police officers to patrol the system. 

      "It's called an extended tour of duty for two hours, which is double time," Robinson said.

      He recalled that back in 2011 when he worked with Transit Police, it started sending squad cars between SkyTrain stations late at night to ensure that nobody committed suicide at these locations.

      "So they would have several officers in two-person cars travelling throughout the system doing nothing except looking at empty SkyTrain stations to make sure everything was secure," Robinson said. "If you're asking officers to stay an extra two hours to police and babysit people coming out of Vancouver, it is a reduced cost of what you have to expect from working a full night shift."

      One of the most vocal advocates for later SkyTrain service on weekends has been the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association.

      After the Straight posted its commentary, the president and CEO, Charles Gauthier, put out the following tweet: