The former director of planning for the City of Vancouver says driving in the Lower Mainland and the North Shore will be “shockingly hard” if the transit system shuts down for good.
The union representing 5,000 bus, SeaBus and maintenance workers have announced a three-day work stoppage starting Wednesday morning, leaving commuters scrambling to find rides to work or school.
The move is the latest in a pressure campaign against Coast Mountain Bus Company to meet the union’s demands for higher wages and working conditions. The union has not ruled out more full-scale walkouts if a deal isn’t reached by the end of next week.
Now a city planning consultant, Brent Toderian says while Metro Vancouver may be able to handle the three-day stoppage, taking away transit for longer will likely have major impacts on the roads.
“The amount of space that transit saves for people who drive is remarkable,” he said.
“If all the people who are on a bus and on a SeaBus convert to a car, all the people who normally drive are going to start to appreciate transit in this region.”
Toderian says the city and region were planned with transit in mind. That’s why highways have bus lanes and cities are setting aside more transit-only routes to help avoid traffic.
But while SkyTrain does much of the heavy lifting for the transit system, he says people “can’t underestimate the important of buses and SeaBuses.”
“We often say that buses are the unsung heroes of the transit system here, especially the frequent transit network that connects everyone to SkyTrain and goes everywhere that SkyTrain doesn’t,” he said.
Although short-term commuters will have more options for transportation alternatives, including cycling and walking, Toderian says the people hardest hit will be low-mobility residents of the outer suburbs where cycling infrastructure doesn’t match Vancouver’s.
“If everybody’s trying to drive in that context, they aren’t going to be moving very well,” he said. “I’m not sure if it’s going to be gridlock, but it’s going to be pretty close to it.”
Buses are already having a hard time getting through the region’s traffic as it is. A TransLink report released earlier this year found 80 per cent of bus routes are moving slower than they did five years ago because of increased congestion.
With fears of even more bumper-to-bumper traffic to come, Toderian says people should consider cutting their travel as much as possible.
“All the people who do have choices should make different choices,” he said. “Work from home, drop those discretionary trips.”
TransLink and other institutions, including the region’s universities, have been urging people to arrange carpools and seek out car sharing programs to make do during the three-day strike and for potential work stoppages in the future.
ICBC has said it is considering allowing people in lower rate classes to drive longer than their current thresholds if the strike continues, similar to what it did in 2001.
Both of those solutions could end up putting even more vehicles on the roads.
At an event in Whistler Saturday, Unifor national president Jerry Dias said he’s confident the public is still on the union’s side in the dispute.
“We have taken our time,” he said. “We have been demonstrating, we’ve been wearing shirts, handing out leaflets,” he said. “We didn’t push into a strike at all.
“But now, like every other set of negotiations, it has to come to a head. We did everything humanly possible to avoid this.”
Dias said the union is waiting for Coast Mountain Bus Company to signal they’re ready to make another offer. But the company has said its latest offer is the best it can deliver.
The offer includes a wage increase of $6,000 for drivers and of $10,000 for skilled trades workers over four years at the top end of their salary grids.
The company says the wage gap between what employers are offering and the union wants is about $150 million over 10 years. That’s significantly less than the $600-million gap that existed when job action began on Nov. 1.
The union continues to call for wages on par with transit workers in Toronto, along with minimum breaks and other concessions on working conditions.
Coast Mountain Bus Company asked for a fourth time this week for both sides to agree to mediation, which the union refused.