Here's what TransLink is doing to minimize the impact of a bus service shutdown
Transit users in Metro Vancouver are still feeling the impact of an ongoing labour dispute as the union representing bus operators and maintenance workers prepares to escalate job action dramatically.
Last Wednesday, Unifor announced job action would escalate to a complete shutdown of bus and SeaBus service on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of this week. Service will resume on Saturday.
At a news conference Monday, TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond said he's "deeply disappointed" in the union's decision to shut down service, saying it will have a "devastating impact" for Metro Vancouver residents.
"We all know this is going to be a very difficult few days," he said, adding that TransLink is looking at ways to help minimize the impact.
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To start, SkyTrain service on the Expo and Millennium lines will be increased, particularly during off-peak hours when extra trains are available. More SkyTrain and transit police staff will be at stations and on trains to manage crowds.
To help those who may normally take a bus to a SkyTrain station, Desmond said TransLink has been working with municipalities to allow pick-up and drop-offs by the stations.
As well, bikes will be allowed on SkyTrain cars during peak hours, which is normally prohibited. Desmond said those taking bikes on trains are asked to use the last car if possible. TransLink is also trying to expand bike parking and valets near stations.
But it's not just transit users who could be impacted, as Desmond said TransLink estimates a bus shutdown could lead to an extra 36,000 cars on the road.
Desmond said he hopes Unifor and Coast Mountain Bus Company come to an agreement before Wednesday.
"Both sides need to return to the bargaining table without any pre-conditions," he said. "There is still time to end this."
No talks between Unifor and CMBC are scheduled at this time.
Ahead of Wednesday's shutdown, transit users are still feeling service impacts. On Monday morning, TransLink warned commuters that two SeaBus sailings were cancelled for the afternoon: the 3:10 sailing out of Lonsdale Quay and the 3:25 from Waterfront Station.
The transportation agency also said a "frequency reduction" was possible on bus routes and some transit users shared the disruptions they were facing on social media.
Job action has been ongoing on the transit system since Nov. 1, after talks broke down between Unifor and CMBC. Compensation has been a sticking point of the dispute, with Unifor wanting CMBC to consider a comparison to Toronto bus drivers, which they say comes out to a difference of about $3 an hour.
"We've tried everything we can to avoid disruption on the passengers, but like any labour dispute at the end of the day, the power that the workers have is the power ultimately to withdraw their labour," Unifor's Gavin McGarrigle said last week.
"If they come to the table with a reasonable offer, we'll sit down and we'll try and get this thing done."
The company says their wage offer of a 9.6 per cent increase for drivers and a 12 per cent increase for tradespeople is already in excess of other public sector settlements.
SkyTrain service is also facing uncertainty in the region as unionized workers voted in favour of strike action last week. However, the two sides returned to the bargaining table over the weekend in the hopes of reaching a deal.
Vancouver hasn't had a transit strike since 2001. Andy Yan, an urban planner and director of SFU's city program says the impact could be much more painful this time around as just one in 10 workers took transit in 2001. 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," Yan said. "That illustrates the kind of pressures that could occur on the road network."
With files from CTV News Vancouver's Jen St. Denis and Alissa Thibault