Transport Action BC

2012, June 1

Canada Line Service Issues

Filed under: Announcement, city transit, Rapid Transit, Regional transit — Tags: , , , — Rick @ 4:46 pm

Transport Action BC has ongoing concerns with certain aspects of Canada Line (CL) performance and the seeming unwillingness of TransLink  to hold the concessionaire – InTransitBC  and Protrans BC  – publicly accountable for any shortcomings.

Significant service disruptions occurred on April 16, 2012, inconveniencing customers for most of the service day. The disruptions, centred on Olympic Village Station and affected service on the entire line. Anecdotal evidence from a TABC member indicates sporadic and crowded service. Possible cause(s) of the disruption have not been publicly released and media coverage of the incident was minimal.

Stalled train problems were also experienced at Olympic Village Station on the evenings of April 13 / 14, 2012. Again anecdotally, another TABC member heard that computer control issues requiring staff to monitor trains were, relatively, more frequent, prior to the April 16 incident.

It is unclear if these various incidents are related as there has been no public accounting.

Transport Action BC requested a detailed, open and public post-mortem on the disruptions. The Canada Line’s operating company has passed the two-year “learning curve” allowed in its contract . Performance penalties should be considered as part of TransLink’s response to the disruptions.

Furthermore, evening maintenance has affected Canada Line service many times in the past 18 months. This may be justified, but it seems excessive for a system less than three years old.

We are concerned that the perceived lack of action holding the concessionaire publicly accountable for Canada Line performance jeopardizes TransLink’s credibility and its ability to provide a reliable and attractive service. It also significantly weakens the original rationale to use a P3 model to build and operate the Canada Line.

Transport Action BC sent a letter to the TransLink Board on April 20, 2012 detailing our concerns but a response has not been received. This blog posting is an expanded version of the contents of that letter.

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2011, May 22

Canada Line P3 “Get Out of Jail Free” Card?

Filed under: Announcement, city transit, Rapid Transit, Regional transit — Tags: , , , — Rick @ 3:54 pm

Transport Action BC members raised concerns about Canada Line service incidents that seriously affected its passengers, with no publicised action taken against the line’s private sector operator (InTransit BC / Protrans BC) by TransLink.

The Canada Line is, possibly, the most vigorously debated of the provincial government’s Public-Private Partnerships (P3) projects. Under the P3 model, a private sector concessionaire may finance, design build, and /or operate a specific project and assumes some project risk, in return for a guaranteed investment return. However, the concessionaire contracts to provide a certain level of service.  Penalties should be considered by the project’s owner (in this case TransLink), if contractual obligations are not met. Essentially, the concessionaire does a detailed risk-analysis and decides how best to do the project while minimising its costs,  maximising its returns and avoiding penalty payments.

There are two incidents that concerned Transport Action BC. Both incidents resulted in significant and lengthy disruptions to Canada Line passengers.

Canada Line train at Templeton Station

The first was the morning-long shutdown of the line on 26 November 2010 due to snow and ice build-up on the line’s 3rd rail. Transport Action BC felt that the Canada Line operator should have been able to handle a snow storm that, while uncommon, can reasonably be expected in a Vancouver winter. The fact that TransLink’s SkyTrain lines successfully operated under similar conditions shows that it could be done. Our concern was that the concessionaire had underestimated weather-related risks in the design of Canada Line elevated structures and inclement weather operating procedures. Under our understanding of a P3 scenario, this should have resulted in a penalty to the concessionaire.

The second incident was a series of late-night, service reductions to Canada Line service for track maintenance in February, March and April. Customers had to deal with reduced rapid transit service, shuttle trains or use the parallel bus route (albeit with more frequent service). This level of maintenance was a concern because the line was barely 1 ½ years old. Was there some underlying design flaw that resulted from the concessionaire’s risk analysis?

Transport Action BC sent letters to the TransLink Board of Directors after each of these incidents and received responses each time.

The first response indicated that the November 2010 shutdown was part of the two-year “learning curve” for the new transit project and penalties were not justified.

In addition to the track maintenance issue, our second letter questioned the rationale for a “learning curve” on a P3 contract. We felt that the concessionaire had made design decisions based on its risk-analysis. It should be responsible for those decisions and held accountable for any significant passenger impacts.

TransLink’s response to this letter stated its contract with InTransit BC / Protrans BC included a moratorium on performance penalties for the first two years (until 2011 August 12). This was a revelation to Transport Action BC and, we suspect, most members of the public are unaware that such a loophole exists in the Canada Line contract.

There are several concerns with this. What is the reason for this contract concession? It certainly violates the spirit of the P3 mantra as presented by P3 supporters. Do other P3 contracts include similar conditions? And, most importantly, how would the customers affected by Canada Line service failures feel if they were told that, other than some bad publicity, the line’s operator was not penalised for its failings?

Inside a Canada Line train on opening day Aug 2009

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