July 23, 2014 4:33 pm

Vancouver mayor on Skytrain chaos: ‘We can’t have it happen again’

WATCH: Commuters frustrated by more delays on Skytrain system. But as Tanya Beja reports, it only compounded frustrations and increases calls for a review.

Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson says he would like to see mayors in the region have more say in the way the public transit system is run after Skytrain was shut down for hours during a busy commute Tuesday afternoon.

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Thousands of commuters were stranded for hours on the Expo and Millennium lines after an electrician working on the new Evergreen Line tripped the main breaker feeding the critical systems at SkyTrain’s operations centre, causing a massive shutdown.

Stations had to be evacuated and closed, and many people had to be escorted from stopped trains along the tracks.

Robertson says he is disappointed with how the situation was handled and will be requesting an independent investigation into the matter at the mayors’ council meeting.

“There were certainly people at great risk walking along the elevated guideways. We can’t have it happen again,” he says. “We want to know what exactly happened there and what plans are going to be in place going forward to ensure that people are not at risk if there is a breakdown in the system like that.”

That sentiment was echoed by Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts: “If anything should happen, whether it is an earthquake or a natural disaster, there really needs to be a proper backup evacuation plan,” says Watts.

However, in the hours after the shutdown, TransLink’s Chief Operating Officer Doug Kelsey said an inquiry was not necessary, because Translink knows what caused the breakdown.

Kelsey says Translink needs to earn customers’ trust back, but couldn’t promise that a similar disruption won’t happen again.

“We have an over 95 per cent on-time performance, which is actually very good by North American standards,” says Kelsey.

But, Robertson says the public’s confidence in the system is shaken after two major shutdowns in less than a week. Another breakdown on Thursday was blamed on a computer glitch.

“It is surprising that a human error can shut down an entire system for hours,” says Robertson. “When it impacts that many people for that long, you have to wonder what contingency plans were in place and what backups did not exist to deal with the problem.”

Transit is essential to the economy of the region, and costs the city significantly, “particularly when the breakdown happens [during] a work week, [lasts for] multiple hours and is a surprise,” says Robertson.

He says he wants to see more investment in the transit system and a greater say for the region’s mayors.

“Mayors in the region have no ability to weigh in here: we don’t control the annual budget, we don’t control these situations at all. We are left to mop up with city staff and volunteers to deal with the crisis. It is not acceptable.”

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