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BY SARAH BERMAN, OPENFILE

It seems appropriate to be collecting horror stories from Vancouver transit riders on Halloween weekend. Last week OpenFile conducted an informal Twitter poll asking our followers which bus route they thought was the worst in the city. The winner—or loser, given the dubious distinction—was the #20. So here I am, microphone in hand.

“On Saturday night I was going home and there was a fight on the bus,” says Kathryn Bedard of her recent ride on the #20 Victoria/Downtown bus. “A really drunk guy got on the bus at Broadway and Commercial and got in a crazy fight with another guy. [The fight] kept going as he tried to get out of the bus … and a girl tried to get involved and she got hit.”

Although Bedard’s account could easily be written off as an abnormal one-time episode, regular transit riders and OpenFile followers say certain Vancouver routes attract frequent incidents like these.

Listen to Sarah Berman’s audio report about the #20 Victoria/Downtown bus

According to the poll we put out last week, the #20 Victoria/Downtown is the most delinquent route in town. Most complaints cited intoxicated passengers, violence and habitually late arrivals.

“I once saw two separate assaults within 3 kilometres,” reads a tweet from OpenFileVan follower Erin Miller. “I then walked home.”
Karen's tweet

On Saturday, October 29—one of the busiest nights of the year—the #20 was understandably over-capacity. “We were about fifteen minutes late,” says passenger Dan Edmond. “Punctuality is not its strong point.”

Translink put out two rider alerts on the company’s Twitter feed warning #20 customers of delays between 10 and 29 minutes. Among the crowds of costumed commuters waiting at Commercial and Broadway, people said they’d been waiting between ten and forty minutes for a bus to arrive.

“The transit system in Vancouver pretty much sucks,” opined one queuing transit rider who gave her name as Madison. “They [the City] need to stop investing money into security and invest money into getting more busses and getting them going more than once every half hour.”

Translink welcomes customer service complaints, but the phone lines close after 11:30 p.m.—a time when violent incidents are more likely to occur. “We’re aware that having Customer Information and Customer Relations staffed longer is desirable, and extending those openings is on our ‘wish list’ for future considerations,” says Translink public relations officer Drew Snider. “But I can’t say when that might happen.”

In the first ten months of 2011, Snider says there were 431 complaints filed on the #20 Victoria/Downtown route, and five on the N20. That ranks the #20 as the fifth most complained about bus, behind the #25 Brentwood/UBC, #22 Macdonald/Knight, 99 B-Line and the 502 Langley Centre/Surrey Centre. This ranking suggests that the results of our informal Twitter poll tell us more about where our followers live than it does about where the problems are in the bus network.

But my ride on the #20 does provide some insight into what sets the problem routes apart from the rest. Bedard says these delays and altercations are inflamed by rowdy commuters. “It’s a very drunk bus,” she says. “It’s mostly the passengers that make the problems. It’s the people getting on and off that delay it, and the passengers that cause fights.”

Despite an average of 10 customer complaints per week, Snider says the #20 bus is still a safe place to be. “The bus driver has instant communications with the control centre,” he says. “He or she can press a button marked PRTT (Priority Request to Talk) and immediately someone at the control centre will answer and help deal with the situation, including getting Transit Security or police there ASAP.”

But for regular riders, who experience the unofficial worst bus in Vancouver on the daily, Snider’s assurance doesn’t fly. “Unless the bus drivers stop putting really drunk aggressive guys on the bus … I don’t know what [Translink] could do to improve,” says Bedard.

Photo by DennisTsang (via Flickr).

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