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Port Coquitlam bus riders could be hit hard by transit strike

PoCo transit riders to feel the crunch very soon — if not by Wednesday, Nov. 5, certainly by the end of the week, says both union and company president
A rider waits for a bus in the Tri-Cities
A rider waits for a bus in the Tri-Cities

Transit riders in Port Coquitlam are expected to see some of heaviest disruption on the buses as a transit strike that includes bus drivers and technicians continues across the Lower Mainland.

The dispute between the Coast Mountain Bus Co. and Unifor, the union representing 5,000 transit workers, has made little progress since limited strike action began Nov. 1. The union wants an extra $608 million in wages, benefits and improvements to working conditions over 10 years.

So far, the limited strike actions have been restricted to not wearing uniforms and refusing overtime. During the first week of job action, the Seabus connecting downtown Vancouver with North Vancouver has seen dozens of cancelled sailings as technicians refuse to work overtime.

Now, that’s expected to spillover into a Coast Mountain Bus garage in Port Coquitlam, a facility that logged the most amount of overtime work before the strike action, said Unifor’s western regional director, Gavin McGarrigle. 

McGarrigle said the bus company requested to transfer technicians from other garages to the PoCo facility but, due to the strike conditions, the union refused anything above and beyond regular work hours.

“If it's done under the contract without overtime, we will do it,” McGarrigle told The Tri-City News. “If it means overtime, we won’t.” 

The Port Coquitlam transit centre is one of the smallest in Metro Vancouver, with only six bays to service buses, half of which are currently occupied by ongoing upgrades to articulating buses that will be used in the rapid transit line between Coquitlam Central Station and Maple Ridge that is to open in January. To make matters worse, part of the bus company’s fleet that entered into service in 2006 is undergoing an overhaul and half of those service Port Coquitlam.

“You look at all of that combined, we’ll probably be reaching our capacity over the next few days,” said Michael McDaniel, Coast Mountain's president and general manager.

Disruptions will likely begin with a bus or two down and some trips cancelled, added McDaniel. But if the OT ban continues, McDaniel said it will become increasingly difficult to keep buses on the road.

Union representative McGarrigle confirmed he expects PoCo transit riders to feel the crunch very soon — if not by Wednesday, Nov. 5, certainly by the end of the week. 

“It’s hard to predict. You don’t know what’s going to break,” he said. “We’re just trying to get notice to passengers.”