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This week, Andy Tylosky takes Calgary Transit to task, saying its handling of an emergency situation on Tuesday left hundreds of commuters stranded outside just as a violent hailstorm hit.
My Tuesday commute was an epic failure and I'm still left in the dark as to what happened — and why.
First, a "police incident" forced my southbound train to stop short of Chinook Station. The driver announced there was an incident, and said he would keep us informed.
A few minutes later, the train headed back to the 39th Avenue station where it stopped.
The operator got out on foot ( there were no announcements over the PA) and told passengers to get off and move to the other side of the platform.
A few minutes later, after several hundred people vacated the train the operator got back in the empty train and headed north towards downtown.
I never saw that train again.
Over the course of the next 10 minutes or so, with an impending rain and hailstorm moving in, two full southbound trains arrived at 39th Avenue.
There was room for a few, but most of us were left waiting. There were no announcements. Calgary Transit's twitter account was silent. There were just dark clouds, and high winds.
Stranded in the storm
Then it hit. The sideways rain and hail.
The passenger shelters at 39th Avenue 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, crouched beside an older lady in tears.
Then, salvation. A bendy bus pulled up with bearing the message "out of service."
I didn't care, I was like a honey badger looking for shelter and ran to the bus, 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 suggested that if he was headed to Chinook, maybe we should somehow let the other passengers — likely blinded by the rain — know the bus had arrived?
"No," he said, "Announcements are being made."
Calgary Transit's Twitter account remained silent.
More communication needed
I dried off my phone as best I could and checked Calgary Transit's website, which said "delays were to be expected on the south line."
A few minutes later, after the torrential rain eased up a bit, we pulled away towards Chinook.
The salvation bendy bus, with capacity for about 150 passengers, had only three souls on board. I felt like I had got a lifeboat on the Titanic.
I'm not sure what happened to my fellow passengers abandoned by the perfectly good train at 39th. Perhaps that phantom train came back to pick them up.
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.
Calgary Transit has made a lot of progress in the almost three years I've lived in Calgary, but then an incident like this happens and crushes any sense of increased confidence Calgarians have gained in our transit system.
The bottom line is the communication tools that we have come to rely on fail when we need them most — the PA, the Twitter, the digital signs.
Nobody was looking at the big picture of what was actually happening or the impact it was having on hundreds of thousands of people, and then communicating with them.
Calgary Transit staff knew within seconds of the police incident at Chinook that there was going to be a big fallout, and knew a bad storm was about to hit the city, yet the Twitter account remained silent for over 30 minutes.
It was a double-whammy, but given the multiple factors involved, there was even more need for swift, clear and directed communication.
As Calgary Transit passengers, we're used to following directions like sheep, but as humans we do much better when we understand why something is happening.
Why did we all get off that train at 39th? I'd like to think there was a good reason, but without knowing I'm left to assume the operator's shift was over and he didn't have the patience to wait it through.
I don't care if everyone followed standard operating procedures — Calgary Transit's operators need to make sure they're not suffering from tunnel vision when dealing with an incident that has so many moving parts.
They need to understand we are looking to them for direction, and they need to understand the impact of their actions when they leave hundreds of people on the side of the tracks in an impending hailstorm.
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