Metro Vancouver commuters are now bracing for another system-wide transit shutdown — only this time, it could be SkyTrains that are not running.
The union representing 900 SkyTrain attendants and maintenance workers has announced a three-day work stoppage, with the Expo and Millennium lines set to go quiet from 5 a.m. Tuesday until 5 a.m. Friday.
The announcement marks a dramatic first stage of job action following a 72-hour strike notice issued last Friday, after four days of scheduled mediation got no closer to a new contract deal following months of bargaining.
The union and their employer, BC Rapid Transit Company (BCRTC), are continuing to talk through the weekend and mediation will continue. But if a deal isn’t reached by Monday night, the union says the shutdown will go ahead.
TransLink is already warning commuters to plan alternate transportation, while universities are warning students they’ll still be required to find another way to campus for exams during the strike.
Here’s a rundown of what’s available for getting around if the strike goes ahead, and where negotiations stand.
What’s not affected?
Canada Line, bus service, SeaBus, Blue Bus, West Coast Express and HandyDART will not be impacted by job action.
TransLink says it is looking at adding additional bus service to existing routes, although those details have not yet been officially announced.
The transit authority has launched an online guide on how to get around without SkyTrain, using both TransLink’s own trip planner system and Google Maps.
Alternate options to get around
While UBC and SFU would have been hit harder by the narrowly-averted bus system shutdown last month, those and other campuses are still suggesting carpooling as another way to get to class.
If students and faculty don’t know anyone with a vehicle, they can also sign up for Poparide, which offers discounts to students of all post-secondary institutions in the Lower Mainland.
Students aren’t the only ones coordinating carpool rides.
Some Metro Vancouver residents are also turning to the new social media app NextDoor, which operates web forums linked to specific geographic neighbourhoods, in order to arrange carpool rides with their neighbours.
Car-share company Evo said signups rose about 20 per cent from last year as the region braced for the bus shutdown, and that number could rise again ahead of Tuesday.
The company is urging members to carpool with its vehicles, and to book in advance if possible, and says it will be working to relocate cars along busy transit corridors.
Share Now (formerly Car2Go) says it has 1,200 vehicles in the market, and is reminding users they can book a vehicle up to 30 minutes before a trip.
Other options include Zipcar and Modo Car Co-op.
It might be cold, but cycling is still being promoted as another option for getting around.
TransLink notes many bus exchanges feature bike lockers, and that bikes can be carried at the front of buses.
People who do not own a bike can take advantage of one of Vancouver’s 2,000 Mobi by Shaw Go bikeshare bikes.
Mobi bikes are only available in Vancouver, as far west as Kitsilano, as far east as Victoria Drive, and as far south as 18th Avenue.
The Surrey RCMP says hitchhiking is not illegal per-se, but being on the roadway to solicit a ride is. Hitchhiking is also illegal on numbered highways.
Police warn that while the practice is common in parts of the province where transit is not readily available, getting into a vehicle with a stranger comes with significant risks.
“Many good-hearted Samaritans often pickup hitchhikers due to their circumstances (bad weather, unsafe locations, lack of other options),” said RCMP Cpl. Chris Manseau.
“However the RCMP does not condone or suggest that the public resort to hitchhiking as a method of transportation.”
The RCMP adds that the fine for hitchiking where prohibited is $109.
Where are negotiations now?
CUPE 7000, which has been without a contract since the end of August, held a strike vote on Nov. 21, where members gave the leadership a 96.8 per cent strike mandate.
The union then issued a 72-hour strike notice on Friday.
SkyTrain workers say they are fighting for better wages, sick time and staffing levels, along with trying to do away with forced overtime.
While appearing to recognize the workers’ concerns, both TransLink and the BCRTC are criticizing the union for treating the SkyTrain system’s 150,000 daily passengers “as a bargaining tool.”
“There is white hot rage directed at the union over this decision, and I think the reality is they’ve decided to push the nuclear button,” TransLink spokesperson Ben Murphy said Sunday.
“This is going to cause a huge, huge impact for those passengers.”
While Murphy said some contingencies like extra bus service are being looked at, he said TransLink has “very limited options” for how to reduce impacts.
“It’s going to be messy if this goes ahead,” he said. “People need to start planning now for alternatives, because it’s going to be very difficult to manage. It’s a lot of people that need the system to get to work and school.”
In a statement Sunday, CUPE 7000 president Tony Rebelo criticized TransLink for using “inaccurate statements and incendiary language” to describe the union’s plans.
““In my own statements to date, I have maintained a tone of respect throughout,” Rebelo said. “So it is unfortunate that TransLink has chosen to go down this road.
“Such comments about our members do nothing to further bargaining and, on the contrary, have slowed down the process for both parties.”
Rebelo said no new media statements will be given until further notice, but said it is still committed to getting an agreement that can end the job action.
The announcement of a full shutdown pales in comparison to how bus and SeaBus workers slowly ramped up their own job action throughout November, starting with an overtime ban for maintenance workers before bus drivers also began refusing overtime.
It wasn’t until Unifor announced its own three-day work stoppage that a deal was finally struck — just hours before that shutdown was set to begin.
Mediation is set to continue until Dec. 19 in an effort to reach a deal for SkyTrain workers.
—With files from Simon Little