(Black Press Media files)

(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

Alina Durham, mother of Shaelene Bell, lights candles on behalf of Bell’s two sons during a vigil on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO and PHOTOS: Candlelight vigil for Shaelene Bell of Chilliwack sends message of hope

Small group of family, friends gathered to shine light for 23-year-old mother missing for four weeks

The Great Bear Snowshed on the Coquihalla Highway (Highway 5) in British Columbia. Truck driver Roy McCormack testified in BC Supreme Court in Chilliwack on Feb. 25, 2021 that his brakes started smoking in about this location, and soon after he lost all braking, which led to a multi-vehicle crash further down the road on Aug. 5, 2016. (GoogleMaps)
Truck driver charged in Coquihalla crash showed ‘wanton and reckless disregard for other people’s lives’: Crown

Despite already having brake issues, Roy McCormack tackled the steepest hill on the infamous highway

Abbotsford International Airport. Black Press file photo.
Abbotsford Airport had 4th highest traffic in Canada in 2020, and its number are down

Statistics Canada report describes a ‘devastating year’ for air travel

Approximate location of the vehicle incident. (Google Maps)
Vehicle incident blocking Coquihalla traffic in both directions

Both directions of traffic stopped due to vehicle incident

(Black Press - file photo)
WEATHER: Enjoy the sun today, prepare for a week of rain

Clouds and rain to arrive by evening, Environment Canada forecasts

Dr. Bonnie Henry leaves the podium after talking about the next steps in B.C.’s COVID-19 Immunization Plan during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, January 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
COVID: 589 new cases in B.C., and 7 new deaths

No new outbreaks being reported Feb. 26

A Vancouver restaurant owner was found guilty of violating B.C.’s Human Rights Code by discriminating against customers on the basis of their race. (Pixabay)
Vancouver restaurant owner ordered to pay $4,000 to customers after racist remark

Referring to patrons as ‘you Arabs’ constitutes discrimination under B.C.’s Human Rights Code, ruling deems

Judith Uwamahoro is Black, approximately 4’7″ tall, 80 pounds and has short black hair and brown eyes. (Surrey RCMP handout)
UPDATED: Lower Mainland 9-year-old located after police make public plea

Judith Uwamahoro went missing Friday at around 4 p.m. in Surrey

Five-year-old Nancy Murphy wears a full mask and face shield as she waits in line for her kindergarten class to enter school during the COVID-19 pandemic on Tuesday, September 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Variant of concern linked to COVID-19 outbreak at three Surrey schools

Cases appear to be linked to community transmissions, but schools will remain open

Nanaimo children’s author and illustrator Lindsay Ford’s latest book is ‘Science Girl.’ (Photo courtesy Lindsay Ford)
B.C. children’s writer encourages girls to pursue the sciences in new book

Lindsay Ford is holding a virtual launch for latest book, ‘Science Girl’

BC Ferries experienced heavy traffic on Feb. 27 following cancellations the day before due to strong winds and adverse weather. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Ferries sailings fill up quickly after Friday cancellations due to high winds

Waits expected on Swartz Bay-Tsawwassen route, Horseshoe Bay-Departure Bay route

Pig races at the 145th annual Chilliwack Fair on Aug. 12, 2017. Monday, March 1, 2021 is Pig Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Feb. 28 to March 6

Pig Day, Canadian Bacon Day and Grammar Day are all coming up this week

Staff from the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, passersby, RCMP and Nanaimo Fire Rescue carried a sick 300-kilogram steller sea lion up the steep bluff at Invermere Beach in north Nanaimo in an attempt to save the animal’s life Thursday. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Rescue Centre)
300-kilogram sea lion muscled up from B.C. beach in rescue attempt

Animal dies despite efforts of Nanaimo marine mammal rescue team, emergency personnel and bystanders

Doctors and counsellors warn of an increase in panic attacks, anxiety, depression and suicide ideas between ages 10 to 14, in Campbell River. ( Black Press file photo)
Extended pandemic feeding the anxieties of B.C.’s youth

Parents not sure what to do, urged to reach out for help

Most Read