Transit strike delays Tri-City buses

So far, job action has reduced frequency on five Tri-City routes, says TransLink

Several Tri-City bus routes face significant delays Friday as job action by bus drivers and technicians forced Coast Mountain Bus Company to cancel several departures.

As of Friday, Nov. 8, job action has reduced frequency on five Tri-City routes: 

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• the 152 running between Coquitlam Central and Lougheed stations; 

• the 156, which loops through the Tri-Cities between Braid and Lougheed stations; 

• the 183, which runs between Moody Centre and Coquitlam Central stations;

• the 188, running between Port Coquitlam and Coquitlam Central stations; 

• and the 189, running between Coquitlam Central Station and the New Horizons neighbourhood.

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

So far, the strike actions have been restricted to drivers 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.

Over the last few days, the job action has led to a backup in bus maintenance facilities such as the 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 earlier this week.

The PoCo 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.

The reduction in bus frequency is only expected to worsen as maintenance backlogs keep a growing number of buses off the road. A total of 64 bus routes were affected across the Metro Vancouver Friday, including the 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 20, 25, 32, 33, 41, 43, 84, 403, 410, 430, 555 and 601. SeaBus sailings were also once again affected, with 16 cancellations reported.

No contract talks between the union and management have been held since last week when negotiations collapsed.

Coast Mountain, which manages Metro Vancouver transit on behalf of TransLink, says the union has repeatedly rejected its request to return to bargaining.

But the union says it’s waiting for reasonable concessions before it returns to the bargaining table. The union wants an extra $608 million in wages, benefits and improvements to working conditions over the next decade. It points to transit workers in places such as Toronto and technicians with SkyTrain who make more than Coast Mountain’s drivers and technicians.

“When they compare executive compensation, they have no problem [comparing salaries with management in Toronto],” said McGarrigle. “It’s just a spin game right now… As soon as they’re ready to address the issues, we’ll be back at the table within hours.” 

B.C. Premier John Horgan put the union and bus company on notice Friday, saying he would not allow the disruptions in service to continue much longer. Speaking at an event in Courtney, Horgan waded into the dispute, making it clear he would not tolerate a protracted disruptions.

"I'll remind you that the last time the official opposition was in government, there was a four-month transit strike in Vancouver and I can assure you that won't happen on my watch,” Horgan said.

McGarrigle said it's possible the overtime ban by mechanics could be extended to transit drivers, which would immediately affect as much as 15% of bus service.

He also said any escalation of job action is unlikely until after Remembrance Day.

– with files from The Canadian Press

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