Friday was another day of disruption for the 350,000 Metro Vancouver commuters who rely on buses to get around.
Transit operators were again refusing overtime, leading to trip cancellations on multiple routes, though no SeaBus sailing cancellations.
It marked the third week of an ongoing labour dispute between the region’s bus, SeaBus and maintenance workers and the Coast Mountain Bus Company (CMBC).
The two sides are hurtling towards a complete, three-day shutdown of the bus system beginning next Wednesday, and neither appears willing to move.
TransLink, CMBC’s parent company, again urged the union to return to the bargaining table Friday, saying workers had now rejected mediation four times.
But Gavin McGarrigle, western director for Unifor, the union representing the 5,000 workers, said that would be pointless until the company was willing to move its position on wage hikes.
“We can sit at a table and stare at each other, and if the company isn’t serious about addressing the issues it’s not going to be very productive,” McGarrigle told Global BC’s Focus BC.
TransLink spokesperson Ben Murphy said the union is being unreasonable, demanding that the company “capitulate to everything we want or else.”
“I don’t accept that at all,” he said.
“I mean, a mediator can get involved at any point in time and help resolve some of the issues and help the different parties see different perspectives and make some comparisons, but the union simply doesn’t want to go back to the table.”
Murphy said the company was willing to address drivers’ working condition concerns with guaranteed rest time, and was offering drivers a “generous” pay bump for transit operators from $32.61/hr to $35.75/hr at the end of four years.
Mechanics are being offered a raise from $40.09/hr to $44.98/hr at the end of four years.
But the union is digging in, insisting its pay rates be compared to Toronto transit operators, who are currently paid $34.75/hr with a two per cent annual increase. That would leave CMBC drivers about $3/hr lower than their Toronto counterparts.
“The cost of living is actually higher here, the affordability crisis, the rent is much much higher here than in Toronto,” said McGarrigle.
“What we’re doing is saying look, this is another large, metropolitan city in Canada, and we think there should be a comparison.”
The two sides may indeed be too far apart for mediation. UBC labour expert Tom Knight told Global News Thursday that both sides are “pretty committed to their positions.”
“Ultimately, there may need to be some form of arbitration,” he said.
Despite pressure from the opposition BC Liberals, the governing NDP has steadfastly refused to intervene, with Premier John Horgan insisting the best solution is one negotiated at the bargaining table.
Meanwhile, commuters are preparing for the worst, anticipating that no buses may be on the roads next Wednesday.
Global News is curating a list of travel alternatives during the strike that you can find here.
“It’s the only way I do get around,” one bus commuter, who asked not to be named, told Global News Friday.
“I’m kind of worried about next week, not for myself, because I’m getting stuff in now, but there’s people that have to have the bus every day.
“How do they get to work? How do people get in-house care?”
That’s a concern shared by others in the community like Bill Davis, who has signed up as a volunteer to drive low-income seniors at the Legion Manor in New Westminster to appointments and errands for three days next week.
“These are people that are needing a lot of medical attention and this type of thing,” he said.
“They may even have to go down to the cancer clinic down at Vancouver General Hospital or wherever. So I thought, well, who the heck is going to take them?”
Davis, who is retired, said he’s encouraging anyone who can to go to their local community centre or Legion to offer their help driving people around.
Post-secondary institutions such as UBC and SFU, meanwhile, are urging students to carpool to campus, and locals have taken to social media site Reddit to begin organizing ride-sharing.
One SFU student is taking matters into his own hands, organizing a walk from Production Way Station to the top of Burnaby Mountain next Thursday.
Deniz Gyursey estimates the four-kilometre trek will take about two hours, with time for a rest for people who get tired.
More than 300 people have indicated they will attend.
“I’m not doing this to make fun of SFU or criticize TransLink or do anything in that regard,” he said, adding that he also understands bus drivers concerns about wages and working conditions
“I also understand that the university itself does not have enough resources to accommodate the students in terms of providing a shuttle from production way to the university. It’s just not the amount of money that they have that they can spend.”