VANCOUVER -- VANCOUVER – The two sides in Metro Vancouver's ongoing transit labour dispute are heading back to the bargaining table ahead of Wednesday's planned system shutdown.

Unifor confirmed its bargaining committee is meeting with Coast Mountain Bus Company Tuesday in a last-ditch effort to avoid a full-scale shutdown of bus and SeaBus service.

Gavin McGarrigle, the union's western regional president, said they are willing to negotiate right up until midnight – but if a deal isn't reached by then, the strike will move forward as planned.

"This is not a stunt. This is real," McGarrigle warned.

"We are going back to the table hoping for a fair deal but preparing for the worst. We are going back to the table out of respect for the passengers we serve."

The two sides haven't met since bargaining talks broke down on Nov. 14. Unifor announced plans to escalate to a full-scale strike last week, but there was still no progress over the weekend despite concerns the shutdown will cause chaos for commuters.

TransLink has estimated there will be an extra 36,000 cars on the road if the shutdown, which is scheduled to continue for three full days, goes ahead on Wednesday. SkyTrain, Canada Line and West Coast Express service will not be impacted.

TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond said Monday he was "deeply disappointed" in the union's decision to escalate its job action, and urged both sides to resume talks "without any pre-conditions."

Unifor has been pushing to get wages closer to those offered in Toronto, where bus drivers make about $3 an hour more, but McGarrigle said the union is keeping its expectations realistic.

"We know that we have to compromise," he told reporters. "We don't expect to close the gap overnight. We don't expect to close it over the course of this agreement."

Coast Mountain Bus Company, which is the largest company contracted by TransLink, has offered a 9.6 per cent raise for drivers and a 12 per cent hike for tradespeople, and says meeting the union's demands would add another $150 million to its budget over 10 years.

TransLink's 2019 budget includes $2.01 billion in revenue, with an expected surplus of $189 million for the year.