Monday, 15 June 2009

Riding the dog

Greyhound Canada is the largest provider of intercity bus transportation in Canada, serving nearly 1,100 locations. It has become an icon of bus travel, providing safe, enjoyable and affordable travel to 6.5 million passengers each year. The Greyhound running dog is one of the most-recognized brands in the world.
According to Transport Canada, buses provide passengers with remarkably safe travel compared with other road vehicles and other modes of transportation. Greyhound Canada's own safety rate has been calculated as 10 times better than the trucking industry standard.
For a company so proud of its high standards, why then are they so sensitive about their customers taking photographs of their buses? So sensitive indeed that their conditions of travel state: Photography, video or audio recording of Greyhound personnel, equipment or procedures is strictly prohibited.
To find out why, Island Blog sent a mystery traveller across Canada - from Toronto to Vancouver - 3 days and nights riding that world famous dog.

All went to plan through Ontario (28 hours), Manitoba (11 hours), Saskatchewan (10 hours) and into Alberta. Two buses, several drivers and all went smoothly. Until, at 6am on day 3, and the dog shuddered to an unscheduled halt. Calgary was still more than an hour away and the dog was going nowhere. Greyhound's customers were not happy. Hungry and tired, they wandered aimlessly at the roadside admiring that icon of safe, enjoyable bus travel.

It was apparent that all was not well with this dog. Where there should have been six wheels on the road the dog was almost down to five. Wheel number 6 had shed most of its wheelnuts and has hanging on by a whisker.

Such incidents have happened to buses throughout the world - and in most cases they are as a result of wheel studs not being properly tightened when a wheel has been refitted. A lucky escape for our mystery traveller then - that the driver was alert to the problem before the wheel parted company altogether - which it surely would have done within the next mile or so.

Maybe Greyhound is rightly sensitive about photographs being taken by its customers? Maybe they will not always portray the image the company would like?

Friday, 12 June 2009

There's something about a cop......

Every once in a while, there's a story that captures the public's imagination. They say that every picture tells a story - and today's Vancouver Sun tells the tale of this fair maid who was taken into safe custody by the Vancouver Transit Police for impersonating a passenger in a car occupying the Highway 1 HOV Lane** in Burnaby, Vancouver.

** Note for the benefit of my sister ...... HOV Lane = High Occupancy Vehicle Lane (2+ people)

Of course the story was a serious one - and the young girl's chauffeur was fined $109 for travelling in the HOV lane with a mannequin. What captured my attention was the range of comments the story attracted! Here are just a few...

"There are a group of us from Abbotsford and Chilliwack that use mannequins which
were purchased at a Vancouver Auction 2 years ago, there are ways to make the
Manniquin look alive and so far, this is the only person to be caught, of course
we don't drive Expencive cars, just everyday cars! If you are looking for a
manniquin to get home faster, check out ebay, tons of deals on there! They are
less than $109.00! "

"Finally Const. Shipley has a date he can take home and introduce to his mom."

"Great!! Now what is he going to do on those long rainy Abbey evenings? "

"Cute couple. The other guy looks jealous."

"The cops have once again broken the law. They have zero right to seize the mannequin. The only law that was broken was the HOV 2 occupant law. Once again the cops look like idiots making things up as they go along."

"Now the cops are Home wrecking - this may be a long term relationship that they are destroying "

"She's cute. What's her phone number?"

"Wow, I must say I'm surprised by everyone's comments. I'm glad the guy got caught, serves him right! And yes, I agree the fine should have been bigger. HOV lanes are there for a reason, to encourage carpooling. And yes, HOV lane restrictions are in effect 24/7 365 days of the year"

Needless to say, HOV lanes have yet to arrive on Gabriola - and when they do, you can bet that the mannequins will be better dressed that this!

Saturday, 6 June 2009

A matter of perspective?

From the port of Calais in France, on a good day you can see the white cliffs of Dover - some 20 miles away on the English coastline. The cliffs rise to about 100 metres above sea level and they appear as a thin strip of white rockface just above the horizon.

From my garden on Gabriola Island, most days I can see the Sunshine Coast on the BC mainland - also about 20 miles away across the Strait of Georgia. The difference here is that the mountains along the coastline make it seem so much closer - and I still find it difficult to believe that they really are 20 miles away. The difference, of course, is that the mountains in that part of BC rise to more than 1,400 metres - and therefore, despite the distance across the Strait, they are so much more prominent than the English coastline is from France.

Like the English Channel, the Strait of Georgia is crossed by numerous car ferries - with the route from Nanaimo to Tsawwassen passing close along the coastline of Gabriola, seemingly little more than a mile (but in reality probably two miles) from the shoreline near our house. A second ferry route from Nanaimo takes a more northerly route to Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver - and from our window these ferries are also visible on the horizon, giving the impression that, as they pass through our field of vision, they are already close to the BC mainland.

In truth (as confirmed by the GPS tracking on the BC Ferries website) at the time that they are visible to us, these ferries are only half way across the Strait and probably still 10 miles from the distant BC coastline - so as they disappear from view they are not, as I had imagined, entering the approaches to Horseshoe Bay but merely disappearing over the horizon.

Erroneously, I had assumed that my view of the mainland took in the mountains and their lower slopes running right down to the coast. If that was the case, then I would be expect to be able to see the many cruise ships that pass along the BC coast en route from Vancouver to Alaska at this time of year - but I don't, as they are (I assume) also below my horizon.

From my vantage point on Gabriola, I am only about 25 metres above sea level. If I can't see the coastline of mainland BC, then where does my view of the Sunshine Coast actually start - 50 metres above sea level? 100 metres? 200 metres?

Now, if only I had become a scientist......

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

If only every airline treated you like this.....

"Good morning, can I have your second name please? Ah yes, John. How are you today? I have your reservation for the 8.20 departure. Do you have any luggage today? Can we carry it to the aircraft for you? And you're returning at 17.40 - is that correct? Okay... all I need now is some photo id. That's great - here's your boarding card. Just take a seat for a few minutes, we'll be boarding shortly.... please help yourself to coffee and cookies while you wait"

There's a range of complimentary newspapers in the departure lounge too... and the cookies are really good. Boarding card in hand, I settle down with the morning news and a coffee. Meanwhile, the baggage for the 8.20 flight is placed into a trolley and taken to the aircraft for loading. Suitcases, briefcases and laptops.... specially labelled to ensure they are loaded with care.

Pretty soon, the check-in clerk calls passengers for the 8.20 flight to follow her to Gate 2, where the plane is ready for boarding. Boarding cards are collected and the captain walks ahead of us to his aircraft (nice touch) welcoming everyone aboard and making sure we're all safely seated and belted in.

"There are 5 exits on this aircraft - two at the front; two at the back and one in the roof. Life jackets are under your seats. Sit back and enjoy you're flight,we'll be downtown in about 20 minutes." The captain checks the cabin doors are closed and climbs into the cockpit next to his co-pilot. The engine bursts into life and he leans out the door to check that the aircraft is untied and ready to go.

The runway's got a few ripples on it today.... which is probably not surprising as we're in Nanaimo harbour on a Harbour Air 14 seat Turbine Single Otter floatplane and following in the wake (literally) of it's two-engined brother, the Twin Otter, favoured by West Coast Air on this route for its extra seats and higher cruising speed.

Harbour Air has grown from 2 aircraft in 1982 to more than 30 today, and prides itself on offering a professional service to its customers. The deHavilland Turbine Otter last came off the production line in the early 1960's - yet the fleet is immaculately turned out and only the view into the cockpit reveals the true age of the aircraft.

With a short burst of power we're airborne - and flying over Entrance Island lighthouse before striking out across the Strait of Georgia towards Vancouver. Very soon, we're flying around Vancouver's English Bay and over Stanley Park before dipping down into the Burrard Inlet and coasting in to a smooth landing alongside Canada Place. Greeted by the ground crew, our aircraft is safely tied up and the captain welcomes us to Vancouver.

Everything about Harbour Air's service is indeed professional - and what a way to arrive at a transportation conference - just ten minutes walk from the terminal!