Surrey transit after dark reveals ‘Boulevard of broken dreams’…( and they wonder why more people don’t take transit)

Come my friends, let me tell you a tale of harrowing adventure, for I have seen the dark side and survived to see the light…

Last night, I took the #321 bus from Surrey Central Station down King George Boulevard on my way home from a meeting with friends in Kitsilano.

It isn’t pretty, my friends.. if you’ve a weak stomach, turn away now – this is your only warning.

It’s been a while since I took transit after dark in Surrey- quite frankly after 9pm bus service drops dramatically in many areas and is non-existent in others- but that’s another story in itself.

Getting off the skytrain at Surrey Central after getting on in Vancouver, it seemed like I had been transported into another realm… the lighting at the station, quite frankly, sucks. Waiting in the lengthy lineup in near darkness, the interior bus lights seemed a welcoming beacon.

Please God, I thought, please let there be room for all of us to get on…and we do,back to back, like sardines in a can. I’m standing there, holding the bar over head, trying to protect my purse, thinking I should have just grabbed a cab when suddenly I lurched forward into the ‘working girl’ beside me, thanks to the crack head behind me who decided pushing everyone in the aisle forward to get to the back is a good idea. “Yo bitches, get yo eff-ing asses moving. I got a eff-ing date back there.”

Seriously? Are you kidding me? This guys got a date? On the back of the bus? I turn around, and nearly bite my tongue off trying not to laugh. First of all, he reeks like an old shoe and Axe. The guys wearing a truckers cap sideways that looks like a 5 year old girl attacked with her Be-Dazzler, strings of fake gold and diamond bling, saggy-ass pants that he’s holding up with one hand.. and he has a date?

I’m tired, I’ve had enough already. I give him a sarcastic smile. “Yo homie, wassup? Touch me again and I’ll show you some ‘bitch’,understand?”

Clearly puzzled by my use of the word homie, he backs off. “Chill sister, it’s all good, see,I just need to see my baby back there.”I look back and see a teenage girl – barely legal I’m sure – dressed like a stripper and I wonder how the hell her parents let her out like that.

He pushes by me, and it’s only then I notice that the side of my dress feels wet. Looking down, I can smell cheap rum and sigh. The working girl beside me shrugs and says sorry, she can’t hold her drink well. As she scrunches up her eyes and nose trying to focus on my face, I’m wondering how long she’s going to remain upright.

Having packed on enough people that we’re not only all touching – I can feel things pressed against me I shouldn’t be able to – the bus leaves the station. We make it to the first stop and unbelievably another person gets on the bus. Everyone shuffles a bit, but there really is nowhere to go. Standing there holding onto the pole in front of me, swaying back and forth in unison with the other passengers as the bus turns around a corner, it suddenly occurs to me this might be what pole dancing feels like! I’m tired and the thought actually makes me laugh out loud, and people start looking at me like I’m nuts.

Trying to pass the time, I look around at the passengers, most of whom are clearly struggling in life. More than a few crack-heads, covered in sores, some clearly oozing and freshly scratched, a couple of prostitutes, a herd of stoned teenage boys reeking of pot trying to look like they aren’t stoned out of their minds, and between them all, here and there, people like me just trying to make it home on public transit.

There are two students, earplugs in listening to music, heads down- you can tell they’ve done this a few times, and a Muslim woman in her hijab who also keeps her head down,not looking at anyone. Like myself, she clutched her purse tightly with one arm while holding the pole with the other. She looks up, we smile at each other in sympathy.

Sitting below me, an early thirties hipster is talking on the phone to someone… “Yeah, I’m just headed down King George now, shit, it hasn’t changed since I was a kid, kind of reminds me of some parts of Detroit man, weird to be home again” …   No kidding. King George after dark is like another world and so is this bus.

I look outside,and sigh when I see we are just past Surrey Memorial.. it’s going to be along trip. And wow, lucky me, while one or two people get off at every stop, sometimes 2 or 3 get on. It’s a never ending stream.

By now, the conveyor movement of standing riders has moved me nearly to the back doors and right beside a man who is clearly marching to the beat of his own drum. With his T-shirt pulled up and his sizeable belly out, he’s poking his finger around in his navel. That’s all I am going to say about that. I look straight ahead into the black and white whirl of streetlights whizzing by the window…what the hell was I thinking taking the bus…and then it hits me. Like a brick wall, and I actually have to swallow to keep my dinner down.

It’s B.O. Not just any B.O., but the mother of all B.O. in the history of the world. I mean, I can’t breathe, I literally can’t breathe in without gagging every single time.I look over, and it’s the belly button man,who is standing there with his arm up, holding onto the overhead bar, oblivious to the people below and beside covering their faces with their shirts. And his other hand is still busy with his navel.

I try breathing through my mouth only, but I swear I can actually taste it and I’m forced to put my head down trying to get a whiff of my perfume to kill it, to no avail. And then I think, this is exactly what they were talking about in the famous Seinfeld episode, The Smelly Car!  It’s on me, around me, it’s moving in the air like a living, breathing being.

Then the unthinkable happens. The bus stops hard, unexpectedly, and everyone starts falling back.. no! No! I’m too young to go this way!  I look to the left and see his giant hairy armpit and I’m grabbing, flailing for anything to grab onto that might stop me from falling into the abyss… and find the back of the seat below with less than an inch between my face and certain death by B.O… I’m still shuddering now, reliving the moment.

Minutes later, we arrive at Newton exchange and I get out, get away from the bus and stop to breathe the air deeply several times. I notice several other people doing the same thing and we all kind of laugh in a not so funny way. No one needs to say a word. But I’m done, seriously done, and bolt for a cab.

Getting into the cab, I give the driver my address and he looks at me in sympathy. “You poor girl, you just got off the #321, didn’t you?”

I look at him and nod my head yes. He looks at me with a very serious expression: “That is nothing, you should see that bus after midnight on the weekend. Full of idiots. Many idiots, all drunk and doing drugs. I have many stories to tell from people getting off this bus!”

We chat for a bit – he does indeed, have a lot of stories to tell and I enjoy hearing them – and then he stops and sniffs the air suddenly, then again and again.

“Do you smell something? I smell something very, very bad in this car!” He unrolls his window a bit… and looks at me suspiciously, wrinkling his nose and making a face.

“I’m very sorry ma’am, but you smell very bad!”

Oh geez…

And they wonder why people prefer driving…

47 Comments on “Surrey transit after dark reveals ‘Boulevard of broken dreams’…( and they wonder why more people don’t take transit)

  1. Your 321 at night is similar to the 502 at night. Long, long lineup on the street in the dark, wondering if we’ll all get on….luckily my ride home is short. I feel your pain. When I was living in Vancouver on the east side many years ago, I used to have to take the #20 Victoria through the downtown east side to get to school and back. Or sometimes I would take my young daughter with me on the bus to go visit people on the west side. The evening bus ride home was quite an adventure.

    • 502… that’s the bus that goes out to Langley/Aldergrove right? Remind me not to take that one. This bus was definitely not one I could imagine a child on and thankfully no one had any, but I feel for people that have no options.

      I’m a bit surprised at the lighting at Surrey Central. I don’t know if there is a light above the stop where the 321 takes off, and it was out, or if there is a light there at all, but it was much darker than I expected.

      I’m almost contemplating taking the late late night 321 with someone big and strong just to see how bad it is- I think there is likely another story there.

  2. Admire your courage! The visual has me heading for the shower.. (Holding my nose)

  3. LOL… funny!! 🙂 I’m not sure I would take this bus, at that time, even for free again!


    Laila; Just got back from my holidays to Sacramento and Reno, I was stunned by the Sacramento Light Rail System, it was efficient, affordable seems to go where people work and live. It also blended very nicely into the Capital region with dedicated routes.
    I am wondering if perhaps now might be the time to withdraw the Fraser Region from the overall Translink operations and create our own systems in this area. Looking at the construction costs in Sacramento seems to me that we could at the municipal level create something like this.
    Just thinking out loud….

    • I’ll tell you one thing, at this point something has to give. For a city this size, our transit service is beyond ridiculous, aside from this bus route. People get passed by on this bus during the day sometimes because the buses are so full.

      I really feel for these drivers – I cannot imagine doing this route with those riders. Give them all medals!

  5. I feel for you Laila. I could actually ‘smell’ that stench as I sat in front of my screen.

    • Ah yes…. nothing like the smell of well ripened body odour… as Jerry Seinfeld said in his monologue at the end of The Smelly Car episode:

      “Why do we need B.O.? What is the function of it? Everything in nature has a reason, has a purpose, except B.O. Doesn’t make any sense – do something good, hard work, exercise, smell very bad. This is the way the human being is designed. You move, you stink. Why can’t our bodies help us? Why can’t sweat smell good?”

  6. Sympathies but, sorry, NOT news. Public transit has been that way for decades altho I admit that some routes are getting positively dystopian nowadays. Bottom line: transit doesn’t work. Never has save for Hong Kong and Tokyo. Ours is sheer idiocy dreamed up by elites who don’t use it and managed by people who utilize transit surpervisory vehicles to get around. Rarest user? A politician of any stripe. Transit – where criminals and miscreants safely lurk amongst potential targets away from the oversight of police, a labyrinth of dark opportunities and evil. Let your guts be your guide, Laila, and stay away.

    • I definitely won’t be taking that bus at night anytime soon.. unless I need another

  7. Oops!

    It seems a lot of comments are getting tagged as spam that aren’t and I just accidentally deleted a few that were in the spam filter !!

    If your comment isn’t here, please leave a new one! Sorry!

  8. I feel your pain. The Whalley to Newton portion takes forever as people get off at EVERY F….ING STOP. It is a rarity that anyone pays, I feel like the idiot for actually paying. The Newton Exchange and Central City depots rank right up there with The Bronx in New York for being scary after dark, I am 6ft and 200 lbs and I don’t feel safe, I feel sorry for women travelling through there. Without exception even just a short period of time at either location you could hook up and purchase just about any drug known and unknown to mankind. I now take the Guildfod Bus and get off at the Fraser Highway and take that route, but of course this does not run after early evening.

    The King of White Rock

    • omg.. yes, the bus stopped at every single stop. And you are right, very few paid but I certainly wouldn’t be arguing with a drunk or a crackhead on King George if I was a driver!!

      I’m glad I didn’t have to wait there. Yes, in the dark atmosphere of the exchange, it felt dodgy even with RCMP right there.

      That bus would make a funny reality tv show… !!

  9. Fantastically vivid storytelling, Laila. You almost had me peeing in the aisle, until I realized someone had already done that.

  10. I feel sorry for you, but the mental images you painted were hilarious. The one I truly feel bad for are the bus drivers and working normal poor who are forced to endure that on a regular basis. You suffered some discomfort, but there are genuine threats and violence on these routes, too.

  11. Coast Mountain Bus Company’s security was checking tickets on Sunday, July 28 at 9 AM at the westbound stop on Broadway and Arbutus. This stop is only served by the 9 Alma and 14 UBC buses and there isn’t much service or ridership at that time and direction. The two security officers weren’t terribly busy. Judging from this post and comments, CMBC should consider re-allocating its security personnel to areas and time periods where they are really needed.

  12. Marvellously-told story, Laila! I was waiting for belly-button man to give you a Wet Willy… with the same finger he’d been navigating into his navel!

    • Oh that is just wrong Barry!! WRONG!!!

      But oddly, and sadly, a very realistic ending considering the rest of the ride…;)

  13. Laila, your command of the English language coupled with your potent writing skills are undeniable. But here is the thing, or question really, “How do you (we) get there from here”?
    There is no simple answer of course. The reality is what it is (unfortunately you had to endure). What might the suggestions be going forward? The irony is that in many ways, Surrey’ ugly underbelly is better today than it has been in the recent past. (Or is it just different?)
    It took a long time getting into the current state and will take at least as long getting out.
    To your readers, what are your ideas to reverse the status quo?

    • First, thank you for the kind words.

      Second, if you are selling condo’s and townhomes to young families and couples,you sure as hell better make sure they can get from point A to point B safely.Someone just spent a hell of a lot of money on re-doing the Newton Exchange, but the lights are still dim and the areas directly around the exchange are pitch black. Not conducive to taking transit and in many ways I was incredibly disappointed to see this is how it is. And keep in mind I was there at about 10:20 pm on a Thursday night.

      Surrey is developing at far too rapid a pace.In my opinion the city needs to slow down and/or halt development in several areas until the infrastructure is in place, otherwise we’re headed for disaster. I’m not the only one thinking that way, Cloverdale residents have created an association to lobby the city for the same idea in their neighbourhood.

      • Laila;

        Your response as always is pretty insightful and likely to cause some folks to think, which is a good thing is. I have given some thought to your third point over the years, living and currently working in Surrey with a home based business.

        The problem seems to stem from the position that the police are not adequately staffed or resourced to handle many of the problems we face and are left to allow the gangs to deal with their internal issues amongst themselves. Unfortunately, this means that drive by shootings, murdering their opponents pretty much at will is a standard operational situation for them and nothing really gets said or done about it unless some innocent bystander gets caught in the crossfire. When the latter happens, it becomes a case of sorry they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

        This issue of gangs running amok is not solely the problem of Surrey; it exists throughout the Fraser Valley and in the interior of the province where the gangs have duly noted that law enforcement is generally too weak and ineffective to stop them.

        We have literally become a new Wild, Wild West in which the only way for this to stop is for the rest of us to collectively say to the politicos, enough is enough. More importantly, we have to make it clear that this should not be an issue of funding where the politicos understand that in their conservative drive to starve the beast of government driving down funding for safety and policing is not acceptable. How do you place a price on a life lost through a shooting?

        What I am saying is that while we need to better fund substantially our efforts to battle major crimes obviously it cannot be a carte blanche but surely our general security and well being is worth the increased funding and yes tax dollars.

        Sorry to have gone off topic on this thread but you hit a nerve on this point.

  14. You’re a brave lady Laila. I was raised in Surrey, and have been away from there for almost 30 years now. I visit now and then, but there are many places I would be scared to go, and taking transit is also high on my list of things to avoid. It’s really too bad, because Surrey used to be such a nice place to live and raise your kids.

    • There are nice areas in Surrey, but because the communities aren’t cohesively connected they are for the most part car dependent.

      Newton is very dicey, and Whalley is too, in many places. Couldn’t ever imagine seeing the politicians at city hall walking down one of the side streets outside of Holland Park and Central City…

  15. One has to “love” urban transit.
    Perhaps one of the $80,000 per year transit police could get out of Tim Hortons long enough to actually ride one of these shit shows.
    But that would take initiative and intelligence on the part of the $100,000 + per annum Metro Transit beaurocrats to actually order the Transit police to focus their resources in the places that need it .
    Or, maybe we could add another bus to the route every half hour! Gasp! What a novel concept. More buses. Who woulda thunk it?
    You’re lucky you could FIND a cab.
    I used to visit friends in downtown Vancouver and then cab home. After midnight, 90% of cabs refuse to take you east of the Vancouver boundary because they have to drive back empty or they have “jump and run passengers”.. Due to the archaic cab licensing system in this pathetic Metropolitan area. Each cab company fiercly protects its “turf” thus creating “no go” areas for people just trying to get home.
    We have plenty of money for police overtime for roadblocks to catch “drunks”, but no one will deal with the real issue of NO RELIABLE TRANSIT reflecting the publics USE of the gold plated skytrain system. A very pretty system that is designed for 9 to 5 commuters. Nothing more.

    • Believe it or not, that bus runs every 15 mins or so after 9pm. But it’s not enough to be frank.

      Cabs are always available at Newton because once you get there on the #321, you are likely to have no connection to take you anywhere in the evening. Many routes stop or go once an hour, and who is going to wait at Newton Exchange for an hour alone at night? No one. Unless you are selling something…

  16. Good one Laila! Pehaps you should send your CV to Mr. Paddon. You could be one of those employees, or rather, you could be the one employee out on the system engaging custumers first hand. That’d be a great Public Relations gig – no?

    The Skytrain, the # 321, and the Gravytrain
    In his Aug. 1 column, “Some are more equal at Translink than others”, Mike Smyth quotes TransLink VP Bob Paddon as saying, “We like our employees to be out on the system. When they’re out there they have the opportunity to see our customers, see the challenges and hear from our customers first-hand,” to defend the free ride, sorry, the passes Translink executives, board members, employees, and mayors are provided with.
    I wonder when the last time Mr. Paddon rode the infamous moonlight tour on the # 321, or any of the other more harrowing moonlight tours serviced by TransLink, to mingle with, and engage his customers in a meaningful dialogue. Mr. Paddon?
    Oh wait! My mistake. “We like OUR EMPLOYEES to be out on the system. When THEY’RE out there THEY have the opportunity to see OUR customers…”
    We pay how much for spin like that?

    Mr. Paddon’s 2002 Salary + Expenses
    105, 791 + 18, 085 = $123,886
    Mr. Paddon’s 2011 Salary + Expenses
    244,699 + 31, 3970 = $276,089

    Surely Mr. Paddon et al. can afford to cover there own transit fares.

    • The Prime Minister of Canada isnt worth 276k per annum.
      Time to fire everyone from the top down and outsource to India……

    • You could not pay me enough to do that job… although I do think they actually need people who actually have used transit regularly to make the decisions!!!

  17. I understand that taking transit late in the evening in Surrey is scary. But that is a failure of Translink and their security. Their efforts in Surrey are not good.

    Surrey has been neglected by Translink as far as providing public transit there, despite its growing population. Passengers disturbing others by their activities and body odors is (theoretically) possible by asking the driver to deal with it. But that is a recipe for assault – and that’s why drivers are not required to enforce those kinds of situations.

    I don’t know the solution. Asking Translink to put security on most coaches going down King George Boulevard might eventually rectify it – but is terribly expensive in the short term.

  18. I absolutely can’t fault the drivers at all. They are in a rock and a hard place. I wouldn’t ever expect them to confront a drunk or drug addict, or any of the thugs.

    BO is just part of taking transit not much can be done there except tell a story.

    I don’t know the solution either.But pretending everything is fine sure isn’t working.

  19. I’ve had my share of late night bus trips. I remember being on a 320 not less than one year ago, sharing the ride with a bickering man who had his hand hidden inside his jacket pocket, as if to conceal a weapon of some sort (a gun or a knife). It wasn’t a packed bus, and I found myself moving away and to the back of the bus for fear of my own safety. One man was getting tired of his talking, and also asked me if I was okay after noticing I had moved back. Nothing happened that night, but there was clearly a possibility.

    One of the problems I’ve always had with Surrey is a lack of nightlife. In my opinion, the lack of a district like Granville Street, coupled with the town-centre model, results in the entirety of our city centre being an essential dead-zone at night, and the same applying to our transit routes. This doesn’t happen in Vancouver, where businesses are concentrated on high streets and there’s late night activity even as far south as, say, 41st Ave. Even Burnaby does better than we do here in Surrey, as I have experienced being in and around Burnaby after midnight – there’s always some level of activity if you are in the vicinity of Metrotown or Edmonds Town Centres. It’s very well lit and there are late-night establishments. Meanwhile, the only late night establishment in Surrey that I am aware of is the Bubble World in my neighbourhood.

    Thankfully, on the transit side of things, the upcoming 96 B-Line in September represents the first significant improvement to Surrey late night transit. The full 7.5 minute frequency will extend to approximately 10:30 on all nights, with 15 minute frequencies thereafter. This is a vast improvement – a doubling of frequency and capacit (more than, actually, if you consider that the 320 and 321 will still run). However, I still think the real solution is improved night activity in our city centre and throughout our city.

    There’s honestly only one reason I’m still putting up with transit in Surrey, and that’s because I happen to be in a position where my primary bus route to/from SkyTrain is the 337, a nonstop express (I think that its express nature is also why it’s statistically the fastest growing bus route in Surrey by ridership).

  20. Hi Laila, Terrific narrative engaging all the senses.I too felt the need for a shower after reading this and was afraid to strike a match let the fumes emitted by your fellow-travellers be ignited! This was straight out of Dante’s Inferno.Other posters have mentioned the need for transit police on this runone per bus, not just a hop on hop off.I would add to the mix the muckymuks of Transit management and every regional politician on the committee-starting with the mayors!

  21. Pingback: Nightlife is the key to safer Surrey streets at night | Daryl vs. the World

  22. So after all the descriptive prose and anecdotes, where are the constructive solutions?
    If only we were as good about constructive suggestions as whining.
    Long ago before they were taken over by professional lobbyists and PR firms there used to be Local Rider Associations.

  23. Truly enjoyed the story and can wholeheartedly relate as I am one of those poor suffering bus drivers. I work in Surrey and what you lived through is EXACTLY why I get up at 4 am to do the morning rush.

  24. Just imagine a whole shift. Day in and day out. Week after week. Then pile on top of that the traffic. The jaywalking pedestrians. The vehicles parked illegally in bus stops. Cars cutting you off. The services cuts. The disgruntled passengers. The assaults. Most people get off in a stop or two.
    The life of a bus driver.