(Black Press Media files)

Possible transit strike looming in Vancouver as routes overburdened

It’s the first strike notice in eight years

It moves millions of people a year and starting Friday, transit users in Metro Vancouver might have to find alternate ways to get around the city as the system faces disruptions in an ongoing labour dispute.

The union representing bus drivers and other transit staff issued strike notice this week for the first time in 18 years.

It is demanding that the Coast Mountain Bus Company, which operates the service on behalf of the TransLink transit authority, address workers’ concerns about wages, benefits and working conditions.

If no significant progress is made by Thursday at midnight, Unifor has pledged to pursue job action in a way that has a minimal impact on the public while putting maximum pressure on the company, such as work-to-rule or rolling strikes.

But if it comes to a full shutdown, experts say the labour dispute could have significant consequences for an urban area that relies heavily on transit.

“If we do have a serious disruption that lasts an extended period, it’s going to set back the progress that has happened to shift people to more sustainable urban mobility options here in Vancouver,” said Anthony Perl, professor of urban studies and political science at Simon Fraser University.

Public transit plays an increasingly important role in the regional transportation network as the population grows and the space for new roads and infrastructure doesn’t, he said.

In April, TransLink released data showing ridership reached an all-time high in 2018. The number of boardings increase more than seven per cent across the system, representing the largest ever annual increase in transit use.

Mayor Mike Little of the District of North Vancouver said he and other regional mayors have been pushing for increased transit funding. Residents heading into or through downtown Vancouver from his community rely primarily on two bridges that are routinely backed up, he said.

READ MORE: Metro Vancouver bus drivers give 72-hour strike notice

One positive outcome is that some commuters are switching to transit, but the system could use improvements, he said.

“People are becoming more comfortable with relying upon the service but it’s really, really stressed.”

Gavin McGarrigle, Unifor’s Western regional director, said Wednesday the union is asking for measures that would reduce overcrowding, increases in service and more reasonable break times for its members.

Passengers are packing onto buses “like sardines” or can’t board because they’re too crowded, while the tense environments mean drivers are more likely to be subjected to violent outbursts like one recorded on video this week of a passenger kicking at door then spitting on a driver, he said.

“We want to make sure we are doing this not only to improve conditions for our members but to improve conditions for the public as well,” McGarrigle said.

Specific details of the union’s demands are not publicly available primarily because they can shift during bargaining, but in terms of wages, the union has said it’s seeking parity with some other transit operators in places like Toronto.

The current wage for Vancouver transit operators at the top scale is $32.61 an hour. As of March 2018, the top wage for Toronto Transit Commission operators was $34.07 an hour. The TTC contract specifies a two per cent annual increase, bringing it to about $35.45, Unifor said.

McGarrigle said negotiators had reached an agreement in principle Wednesday that would require a small number of maintenance personnel to assist with trolley lines in case of any danger during a full-service shutdown.

No one from TransLink was available to comment on the negotiations.

Lawrence Frank, Bombardier professor in population at the University of British Columbia, said increasing ridership may be a result of many factors.

Vancouver has a stated commitment to sustainability, the region has a population of immigrants who come from places where transit use is normal, and segments of the population like millennials are choosing transit because it’s more cost effective than driving, he said.

Strong improvements to the system in recent years may also be part of the reason more people are choosing to ride, Frank said. New corridors, improved services and expanded hours have all been rolled out in recent years, he said.

“We have a very high-quality transit system for a North American city,” he said.

At the same time, he said the service can’t keep up with the demand and may still feel the effects of underfunding during the previous B.C. Liberal government’s tenure. It’s not uncommon to have to wait for three buses to pass before you can fit on one to the University of B.C. along one of the region’s most in-demand corridors, he said.

“We have a transit-oriented population and we don’t have the resources to serve it.”

Amy Smart, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Surrey-Langley SkyTrain extension faces potential delays due to COVID-19

Pandemic ‘adversely’ impacting TransLink’s finances; ‘much work’ required to approve next investment plan

Langley City’s Community Day will go virtual

Details are being worked out next week as to what efforts will replace the June 20 festival

Twilight Drive-In reopens with concession sales approved by Fraser Health, owner says

100 cars of people will now watch films, planning to adhere to new provincial health 50-car capacity

Fraser Health takes charge of COVID response at Langley Lodge

Fraser Health is also sending in a germ-killing machine to fight the virus

Asian giant “murder hornets” found in Brookswood

Langley is the farthest east the invasive species has been found so far

Mission prison COVID-19 outbreak ends, 9 new cases in B.C.

New positive test at Port Coquitlam care home

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

Thanks for helping the Aldergrove Star to continue its mission to provide trusted local news

Man who bound, murdered Vancouver Island teen still a risk to public: parole board

Kimberly Proctor’s killer is still ‘mismanaging emotions,’ has had ‘temper tantrums’

VIDEO: Humpback whales put on quite a show

The ‘playful’ pod lingered by a Campbell River tour operator’s boat for quite some time

Getting hitched at historic B.C. gold rush town still on table during COVID-19 pandemic

Micro-weddings, online visits, offered at Barkerville Historic Town and Park

VIDEO: Police look for suspect seen tripping elderly woman in Burnaby

The elderly woman was walking near the SkyTrain station when she was randomly tripped

Chilliwack teachers, assistants concerned with lack of PPE guidelines ahead of school reopening

As schools get ready to open, many worry measures won’t be enough to protect students from COVID-19

Revelstoke woman finds welcoming letter on her Alberta-registered truck

There have been multiple reports online of vandalism to vehicles with Alberta licence plates

Spirit bear possibly spotted in West Kootenay

A local resident spotted the white-coloured bear while on an evening trail run near Castlegar on May 27

Most Read