TransLink is made up of several operating companies running public transportation in Metro Vancouver, British Columbia (TransLink is the administrative body that does the planning and funding), so there is a variety of ways in which they observe the Christmas season. Even so, all of those ways revolve around helping people in need, be they children, families or the homeless.
Probably the most visible of these efforts is the one put on by the Coast Mountain Bus Company. Each year, maintenance crews suit up the “ReinBus” for travel. The ReinBus started in 1986 as a “neat idea” among some bus drivers at the depot in Surrey, south of Vancouver, to do something for those in need. They fitted one of the buses with antlers and a big red nose and used it to promote what has become Toys for Tots, collecting Christmas presents for disadvantaged children. Within two years, drivers around the bus system caught the fever, and now the ReinBus and Santa’s Community Shuttle are welcome sights around Metro Vancouver streets at Christmastime.
The buses run in service, but also make special trips to pick up Toys for Tots donations brought in by TransLink employees. Two weeks before Christmas, they go to each of the eight depots, plus the SeaBus terminal, Transit Police headquarters and the Lost Property Office. Toys — more than 55,000 since 1986 — are taken to the Lower Mainland Christmas Bureau; food and cash donations go to the Greater Vancouver Food Bank. Last year, the Community Shuttle also made a special trip to Gospel Mission on Vancouver’s Downtown East Side — the skid row area — to deliver sweaters, coats and other items for adults collected from Lost Property.
West Coast Express, the heavy-rail commuter service that runs 45 miles along the north shore of the Fraser River, last year celebrated the 15th anniversary of its own Christmas special: the Santa Train. The service doesn’t normally run on weekends, but on the first two Saturdays of December, one train runs from Mission (the easternmost station) to downtown Vancouver in the morning, returning in the afternoon. A “ticket” on this train costs a new unwrapped toy or a non-perishable food item and these are distributed to the Christmas Bureau and hamper societies serving the six municipalities along the West Coast Express route. In 2011, the Santa Train set a new record with more than 3,900 toys.
At the SkyTrain Canada Line, which is operated by private concessionaire InTransitBC, a “non-official” effort attracts much attention. BlanketBC was conceived in 2006 by InTransitBC employee Gregory Ould to collect and distribute blankets to homeless people in Vancouver. Each Christmas, the “Drive on the Line” calls on members of the public to donate blankets at stations along the Canada Line. Through its various activities, BlanketBC has distributed more than 50,000 blankets around the Lower Mainland.
A Holiday Season tradition for many years has been free transit service on New Year’s Eve. All transit services are free of charge from 5 p.m. until the close of service (approximately 4:30 a.m. in some parts of the region). With additional service provided on SkyTrain and some bus routes, literally tens of thousands of people are assured of a safe ride home after a night of partying.