Commuters scramble for other options as bus strike starts Wednesday
VANCOUVER -- A group walk up Burnaby Mountain to the Simon Fraser University campus.
A carpooling thread on Reddit that's garnered hundreds of post in the past three days.
Maybe even camping on campus?
As a full bus service shutdown looms on the horizon, Metro Vancouver residents are getting creative when it comes to figuring out how to get from point A to point B.
Bus drivers and maintenance workers are set to walk off the job on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday after several weeks of escalating job action that included not wearing uniforms and refusing to work overtime.
But the three-day shutdown will be the first time during this labour dispute that buses and SeaBus will be entirely shut down. Coast Mountain Bus Company has continued to ask the union to agree to mediation, with a fourth request being made on Friday, but the union has so far refused that option, said Ben Murphy, a spokesperson for Translink.
“Right now it’s looking like a very bad situation is going to occur this week,” Murphy said. His message to Unifor: “It is not too late to do the right thing, it is not too late to accept Coast Mountain’s offer of mediation and end this dispute."
CTV News Vancouver has reached out to Unifor, the union representing bus drivers and maintenance workers, but has not heard back from them yet.
SkyTrain will continue to operate, however members of CUPE 7000 – the union that represents SkyTrain workers – are in bargaining talks this weekend. Last week, members voted 96.8 per cent in favour of strike action.
Meanwhile, transit users have been left scrambling for other options.
Under the hopeful heading "Come on everybody, this should be easy enough!" a Facebook event invites SFU students to try to conquer Burnaby Mountain – on foot.
“I’m really doing this to show solidarity with the bus drivers,” organizer Deniz Gyursui told CTV News. “From what I see, they do not get the wages they deserve and they get treated very unfairly. I’m doing this to raise awareness of the conditions they have to face.” Gyursui estimates it will take between 90 minutes and two hours to make the trek from Production Way-University Station to the SFU campus, factoring in any breaks people want to take.
“It’s going to be as inclusive as it can be," Gyursui said. "I’m definitely going to set a very slow pace."
A carpooling thread on Reddit has gotten nearly 300 comments since it was posted three days ago, with drivers offering rides and desperate passengers asking for help, especially when it comes to getting to SkyTrain stations from suburban locations like North Delta.
Another Reddit user even asked for options for camping at the University of British Columbia. Despite the relatively far-flung locations of both SFU and UBC, neither university plans to cancel classes because of the transit strike. If bus service is again halted during the week of Dec. 3 as university exams start, it could cause even more pain for students.
The impact on workers and businesses is also expected to be dire.
Vancouver hasn't had a transit strike since 2001, and the impact could be that much more painful this time around, said urban planner Andy Yan, the director of SFU's City Program. He pointed out that in 2001, just one in 10 workers took transit. Now, one-in-five workers rely on transit to get to work, as both population and transit use has grown.
“Eighty people in one bus moves to perhaps 40 cars on the road,” said Yan. “That illustrates the kind of pressures that could occur on the road network.”
The union's key issues are around scheduling and wages. Many bus drivers say they often don't have enough time for even basic bathroom breaks, and this is impacting their health. The union is also pushing for their members' pay to be increased, comparable to what bus drivers in Toronto and what SkyTrain maintenance workers make, a roughly $3 an hour difference.
But Murphy says the gap between what the company has proposed and what the union wants now totals $150 million, and the wage rate increase the union is asking for would be a 9.6 per cent increase for drivers and a 12 per cent increase for tradespeople – well in excess of other recent public sector labour agreements.
SkyTrain workers are represented by CUPE 7000, a separate union from bus employees. Their key issues are wages, staffing levels, overtime and a sick leave plan. Those workers have been without a contract since August.
With files from CTV News Vancouver's Maria Weisgarber, Andrew Weichel and Shannon Paterson.