Sunday, April 09, 2006

Gazette grills transit authority boss on lengthy escalator repairs

I was pleased to see Brenda Branswell of The Gazette grill the head of the Montreal transit authority on the slow pace of escalator replacement work at Snowdon metro station. It has been at least 15 months since the main escalators were in constant operation and about 11 months since work began to replace each.

Like road renovations, I understand that users will be inconvenienced while the work is done. What drives me mad is the slow pace of the work. Once you take an 80-step escalator out of service, you'd better work double-time to get it back into service. Until you do, you have effectively denied metro access to women with strollers, the aged and anyone else with a mobility problem.

Here's the article from the April 9, 2006 issue of The Gazette (page B2).

The executive director of the Montreal Transit Corp.'s metro network explains why repairs to the system's escalator infrastructure are taking so long. Is there light at the end of the metro tunnel?

Phase 1 of the MTC's $1.5-billion renovation program has included the installation of 32 new escalators. The work at some stations has forced transit users to hike up and down long flights of stairs for months. At the Snowdon station, commuters have had to walk down 115 stairs to reach the metro platform for about six months.

GAZETTE: How many escalators are there in the metro network?

DESROSIERS: We have 212, which include two moving sidewalks.

GAZETTE: Phase 1 of the MTC's Reno-Systemes renovation program includes the installation of new escalators in the metro.

DESROSIERS: We did 32 for $22,800,000, conforming to the budget.... Some (escalators) were done before. There are 113 to do up until 2010.

GAZETTE: Why are you replacing all the escalators?

DESROSIERS: Age, essentially. However, it's a bit like cars - there are some that are better than others. Bonaventure (station) has a Canadian Vickers escalator that dates back to 1966 and they're our best escalators. They're at Berri, too.

Perhaps he ought to extend the car analogy to repairs. If the transit authority was in charge of repairing my Toyota, it would take 12 months to fix and they would expect me to walk to work everyday on the Decarie Expressway in the mean time.

GAZETTE: Is the work being done in the forecasted timeline?

DESROSIERS: We stretched it out a bit - not because of a technical problem but a labour shortage. ... An elevator mechanic is quite a rare trade. And we also have a labour shortage in maintenance. ... It's one of the reasons some construction sites are taking longer than anticipated.

This is what drives me mad. Don't remove a working escalator unless you can replace it with great speed. For instance, at Snowdon metro work has been ongoing on two escalators (a long one and a short one) for more than six months. It's probably the same team doing (or not doing) both. They should fix only one at a time if there is a labour shortage.

GAZETTE: How much time does it take to replace one escalator?

DESROSIERS: At an average work site, it's four months. What happened at Snowdon (station) is the escalators are particularly long - there is a supply problem for a part. (The work) took about six months. At Snowdon, I have two that will be put into service: (one) April 14, the other will be put into service April 6. (As of yesterday, an MTC spokesperson said, that escalator was still not up and running.)


GAZETTE: How many people are inconvenienced by non-functioning escalators every day?

DESROSIERS: I don't have those exact numbers.... Clients will start; to see the light at the end of the tunnel. In the coming years, we will have more and more new escalators available that will work better and our problematic escalators will be replaced.

He admits he has no idea how many people are inconvenienced. Not surprising.

He also has no idea how many people are inconvenienced by those who stand on the left side of the escalator. If anyone at the transit authority had any business sense, they would survey their customers to learn how to improve the service. Or they would ride the metro themselves for two weeks to figure out themselves. But, sadly, they don't have any sense.

(I saw a documentary about the head of Burger King (or maybe McDonald's) who worked at one his restaurants for a few weeks. He did every job. He heard from employees what the real problems are and he heard complaints directly from customers. What a great idea for the MTC boss.)

GAZETTE: Can you make accommodations for disabled people or mothers with strollers when an escalator is being repaired?

DESROSIERS: It's very difficult. If I have four escalators parallel to each other, what I will try to do is keep at least one going up and one going down. The problem is that if there are only two, I'm not able to do that.

Has he ever visited the metro? Apart from Berri, I can't think of another station that has four parallel escalators.

GAZETTE: How do you think the new escalators will differ from the ones we have now in terms of performance?

DESROSIERS: With the new control room, as soon as an escalator stops we'll know where and why it has stopped. It will allow us to start it up again a lot more easily. ... For clients, the only difference there will be is when there is no traffic in the station, the escalator will slow down... to save energy.

GAZETTE: Do you anticipate that they will be more reliable?

DESROSIERS: The truth is that at the start they are less reliable. And that's normal.

Well, if it's normal, what the heck. Might as well run them in reverse too.

DESROSIERS: It's technologically advanced equipment and we must adjust it. But its operating reliability, let's say in a year or two, will be excellent. It will be far better than what we have now.

GAZETTE: If the system was built today and you were the architect, would you install elevators and escalators in all stations?

DESROSIERS: People often think of elevators as a piece of equipment that is necessary for / people in wheelchairs. That's true.

What insight.

DESROSIERS: But in my opinion, it would be used even more by the elderly, people with babies and people with knee problems.

Uh, so you admit this is a problem, but you have no solution. Great!

DESROSIERS: ... We are very proud of the metro, except on that point. If it were to be redone today, we would make it a lot more accessible.

So, the population is aging. There will be more and more older people with bad knees and arthritis using the metro in the next 20 years. But there is no plan to figure out what to do about it.

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