Sitting in B.C. Transit’s Communications Centre, Carla Taylor has a bird’s-eye view of all the bus drivers and buses operating in Greater Victoria.
Armed with her head set and six computer screens showing emergency services and which drivers are assigned to buses, Taylor gets to work monitoring the transit system throughout the region.
Within minutes, Taylor receives a call from a bus driver and her fingers fly across the keyboard as she types the information from the driver into the system. In this particular incident, the driver had to swap out his vehicle for another one, resulting in a delay in service. Whenever a driver is going to be late by more than 10 minutes, they must inform Taylor, a communications coordinator with B.C. Transit.
“Copy, how late are you running?” Taylor asks.
“I should be at Shelbourne and Hillside in about four minutes,” responds the driver.
“Copy that, if you still need help after rush hour, give me a shout and I’ll try and help you out,” Taylor says.
As a transit communications coordinator, all information from drivers on the road funnels to Taylor, whose job is to move the pieces, which include roughly 220 buses during rush hour, ensuring the transit system is operating smoothly.
She takes information from drivers, including buses not running properly, delays or detours due to construction, medical emergencies or motor vehicle incidents involving a bus, and if necessary, relays it to transit superviors, who then go on scene to the root of the problem.
It’s a position she describes as similar to a 911 dispatcher, but less stressful.
“We get hundreds of calls. Some of them are nothing, some of them are just a little old lady on my bus and she’s looking for (a street). We’ll look on Google Maps and say you can drop them off at this location,” Taylor said, adding most incidents are minor.
But when she receives an emergency call, regarding an assault on a bus driver or an accident involving a bus, a number of things run through her mind: Where is the operator? What direction are they travelling? Are there any injuries? Once she has that information, she is able to assess the situation and determine if an ambulance or police are necessary. Then she gets a transit supervisor into the area as quick as possible to attend to the driver and see how the delay is going to affect the transit system as a whole.
Taylor is one of three full-time transit communications coordinators who work in B.C. Transit’s Communication (T-Comm) Centre in Langford, alongside customer service representatives and logistics staff, who help monitor the roughly 326 buses and 515 bus drivers in its Greater Victoria fleet.
The T-Comm centre had more than 250,000 radio calls last year ranging from someone is asleep on the bus to a bus driver witnessing an accident. The centre also helps when adults and children go missing and alerts drivers to watch out for the missing person.
The centre was established in 2012 and is the brain child of John Palmer, Stephen Anderson and David Guthrie. It is modelled after a 911 dispatch centre to streamline all communication on the road.
Prior to the opening of the centre, drivers had to radio transit supervisors, who would have to pull over onto the side of the road, enter the data into a computer and then deal with the incident. Now, the centre is the middle-man for that communication.
“It’s a hub of information. Everything drills into one location,” said Palmer, director of safety and emergency management with B.C. Transit.
“It’s a centralized location which gives a bird’s-eye view of everything that’s going on in the Victoria regional transit system.”
While the majority of calls are minor, which include pass ups, in which buses are full and are not able to pick up more passengers, Taylor said there are a few which have caused her heart to pound and palms to sweat. During her first few days on the job, a vehicle ploughed into a bus stop, hitting a woman and breaking a gas main. The whole area was quarantined off, as the bus driver went out and helped people to safety.
“That was probably the most hectic I’ve seen so far while I’ve been working,” said Taylor, who fell into the position nearly four years ago after working in several jobs in the security industry. Despite the hectic nature, Taylor enjoys the job that keeps her on her toes.
“I like that’s it’s busy, I don’t like it when it’s dead,” she said.”