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‘I’m scared’: Vancouver man who relies on home care says he’ll be stranded by transit strike

Fears of system shutdown next week have transit users scrambling
Unionized transit workers are set to stage a full-scale, three day walk-out starting Wednesday. And as Jill Bennett reports, that's not the only headache facing Metro Vancouver commuters.

Every day, Vincent Bull relies on home caretakers.

The Vancouver man, who uses a wheelchair, spends hours with the caretakers, who help him bathe, prepare meals and even get in and out of bed with a ceiling transfer.

But with a three-day transit shutdown looming due to continued job action from Metro Vancouver’s bus and SeaBus workers, Bull is worried he’ll be left by himself — potentially from Tuesday night until next Saturday morning.

“It’s pretty close to life and death,” he said.

“[Those workers] will either be late or they won’t be able to send one at all, because the people with cars, those workers will be stretched covering people who use transit.”
Job action enters day 21 with transit service shutdown looming
Job action enters day 21 with transit service shutdown looming

Bull says with no one there to attend to him, he’ll either be stuck in his bed or his chair until help finally arrives, if it comes at all.

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“If I’m left too long, there’s chances of pressure sores, and that could lead to wounds or ulcers,” he said. “Plus the medications and the ability to breathe, that’s a big one.

“I’m scared. On a scale of one to 10, I’m an 11.”

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READ MORE: Transit Strike Day 21: Both sides dig in as system-wide shutdown looms

The union representing 5,000 bus drivers, SeaBus operators and maintenance workers in Metro Vancouver have been escalating job action since Nov. 1, when an overtime ban began.

Unifor announced on Wednesday that all workers will walk off the job on Nov. 27 and not return until the morning of Nov. 30 — meaning no buses or SeaBuses will be operating during that time.

Bull said he’s sympathetic to the workers’ demands for better wages and working conditions, but not if it impacts his own health.

“They want to do this, and yeah, I feel for them, but I feel for myself too,” he said.

Full bus shutdown for three days next week
Full bus shutdown for three days next week

Bull says he’s now stockpiling supplies to prepare for the strike, explaining that even if he can get out of bed, there are no nearby shops for him to travel to for food or drinks.

He’s also expressed his concerns with his workers, who have investigated on his behalf to see who has a vehicle.

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But Bull says the number of workers who can pick up the slack is limited, as they have to be trained to transfer him properly.

“When I was talking to my worker the other day, I was borderline panicking,” he said. “They can’t send just anybody.”

READ MORE: B.C. government won’t fast track ridesharing licences to ease potential transit strike pain

Seniors and people with disabilities have been voicing concerns ever since job action began.

Daniel Fontaine, CEO of the BC Care Providers Association, said last week that stories like Bull’s are all too common.

“Thousands of seniors and others in the Metro Vancouver area rely on home care as an essential service each and every day,” he told CKNW’s Simi Sara.

Fontaine explained that number has exploded in the 18 years since the last transit strike in 2001, which lasted four months.

Transit ridership has also greatly increased in that time, with many of those commuters travelling to seniors’ homes to provide care.

Fontaine added those care workers can’t rely on all the transportation alternatives being recommended like car sharing and carpooling, as they’ll be fighting with the general population for access.

READ MORE: SkyTrain workers’ union gives leadership overwhelming strike mandate

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“We’ve really had a push to allow seniors to live at home, so we kind of owe it to them,” he said.

“There’s going to be some very vulnerable people who are going to be impacted by this strike, and are encouraging both parties to get a deal.”

Bull is also hopeful the union and Coast Mountain Bus Company can come to the table and work out a new contract before next week’s planned strike.

“I need this now,” he said.

“Today, tomorrow, the day after. If you stop, I can’t do anything.”