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Company seeks solutions to Big Bend transit woes

Stephen Galloway and Ranjan Ramasuriya stand amidst the cars that line the streets around Alpha Technologies in South Burnaby
Stephen Galloway and Ranjan Ramasuriya stand amidst the cars that line the streets around Alpha Technologies in South Burnaby's Big Bend area. With almost 500 employees there's not enough parking and the nearest bus stop is more than one kilometre away. The company is co-hosting a transit solutions forum to try to find ways to improve transit service.
— image credit: MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER

Times are tough and jobs can be scarce, so when a lack of transit options makes it hard for a Burnaby company to hire staff, it must be bad.

Alpha Technologies, located in a neighbourhood of industrial parks in South Burnaby, is always hiring, says one of its custodians, Ranjan Ranasuriya.

"When I ask my friends if they'd like to come to my workplace, they ask me about the transit system," Ranasuriya, 61, said. "When I tell them, they say, 'no, no, no.'"

The lack of transit service has made hiring a challenge since Alpha Technologies consolidated several locations into its current headquarters on Riverfront Gate three years ago, said its chief marketing officer Dave Boroevich.

After losing some staff because of the move, it has continued to deal with turnover, with about 20 employees leaving the last few years, Boroevich said.

At issue is the complete lack of bus service east of Byrne Road to Marine Way. The closest bus stop is on Byrne at North Fraser Way, 1.2 km away. The walk to Alpha's facility is along roads with no sidewalks, alongside heavy truck traffic, and during the winter, in the dark.

While Alpha thought transit service would come eventually, "nothing's been done, and there's been no sign of progress from either the city or Translink in terms of taking an interest in doing something about this," Boroevich said.

In the meantime, more facilities have been built or are under construction, bringing what he estimates as "thousands" of people to work in the area.

"That's a lot of people to be ignoring."

While other companies have put in place shuttle bus services for their staff, "we believe strongly TransLink and the city should be serving its community better."

As a result, Alpha Technologies and Burnaby Board of Trade are co-hosting a "transit solutions forum" on Jan. 30 at 4 p.m. Area businesses are invited to send representatives to discuss their transit needs and TransLink officials will be in attendance.

Boroevich said of the 450 employees at Alpha, which manufactures power solutions for the telecom and cable sectors, about 15 cycle to work, and several carpool, but many drive single-occupancy vehicles because parking is available on the street. However, once the area gets built out, that parking will become scarcer.

But he noted that many of the jobs in the area are in the manufacturing and warehouse fields which don't pay that much, making car ownership a challenge for some, never mind the environmental concerns of people driving to work.

Ranasuriya said it takes him about 1 hour and 20 minutes to get to work from his home in North Delta, a commute that includes a bus, a SkyTrain ride, another bus, and the walk from Byrne Road, which takes him 20 to 30 minutes.

If he misses a bus, it's another 30 minutes on top of that, he said.

Similarly, Stephen Galloway, 41, who works as a shipper with the company, says it takes him about an hour to get to work from east Vancouver, a commute of two buses and the 1.2-km walk.

But they have it easy compared to the afternoon shift, which ends at 11:30 p.m., after bus service to the area ends for the day, which makes women reluctant to take on that shift, Ranasuriya noted.

For those employees, they have to arrange carpools or rides to the closest SkyTrain station to get home at night.

TransLink spokesman Drew Snider said the transportation authority will send representatives to listen to the concerns, but stressed that "it all depends on budget ... and our ability to expand transit service anywhere."

Snider suggested that its Travel Smart program, which helps companies set up alternatives such as carpools and vanpools, might be the most realistic option.

He acknowledged that the Big Bend industrial area is growing.

"That's something we have to keep an eye on but right now we're under some severe constraints and what we have to do is work within that framework to find more efficiencies and increase transit service where we can address those crowding issues," Snider said. "But it's got to be balanced off with what areas are being underutilized. That's the challenge that's in front of us right now."

For more information on the transit solutions forum, contact Cory Redekop at cory@bbot.ca or 604-412-0100.

wchow@burnabynewsleader.com

twitter.com/WandaChow

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