Bike shops busy as commuters seek alternative rides before bus-system shutdown

UPDATE — Nov. 27, 2019: A tentative deal has been reached between the union representing thousands of transit workers and Coast Mountain Bus Company, narrowly averting a complete suspension of bus service in Metro Vancouver. Unifor said strike action is over and bus service is returning to normal levels.

EARLIER STORY: 

If the Metro Vancouver bus system shutdown expected to start on Wednesday is anything like the last one, Julie Bischoff is prepared.

The manager of Denman Bike Shop could barely keep up in 2001, when buses screeched to a halt for 123 days.

"People that would never normally ride a bike would take whatever bike we had at the time," Bischoff said.

"We couldn't build them fast enough because people were getting really frustrated with the inability to get around."

On Monday, a day the shop on Main Street is usually closed, staff were busy oiling chains, pumping tires and testing brakes for customers who are putting away their bus passes.

Metro Vancouver is bracing for another potential bus system shutdown on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

Unifor, the union representing thousands of transit workers across Metro Vancouver, says it will be back at the bargaining table on Tuesday — a last-ditch attempt to avoid the system shutdown it says will happen if the weeks-long labour dispute isn't resolved. 

According to the Coast Mountain Bus Company, which operates bus services for TransLink, 350,000 people take the bus every day in Metro Vancouver. 

Bischoff said she has seen an increase in customers looking for bike tune-ups and accessories like lights and gloves for chilly rides.

It's a trend Adam Douglas at Ride On Bike Shop has noticed as well. The store is offering a discount on bikes and accessories this week in anticipation of the transit strike.

"A lot of people are getting them just in case," the bike mechanic said. "They have to get to work and [have] no other way of getting there."

Ben Nelms/CBC

Car shares, carpools

Commuting by bike is one of several alternative plans in place for commuters across the Lower Mainland.

Evo Car Share has had a 30 per cent increase in new members in the past five days since the potential transit shutdown was announced, spokeswoman Sara Holland said.

The company plans to increase staffing in its call centre, create "pop up" home zones for parking and move cars closer to SkyTrain stations. Rapid transit service including SkyTrain and Canada Line will be running normally on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

On Reddit, a thread of users organizing carpooling trips has dozens of replies. 

Simon Fraser University student Sanam Prasad plans to carpool with one of her professors on Wednesday.

The fourth-year history student uses a cane and normally relies on the bus. Taxis would be out of her price range, so catching a ride with a professor and two other students was her best option to get up Burnaby Mountain, she said.

"I can't really walk up the mountain when I use a cane, you know?" she said.

"I really wouldn't have any other way to get there otherwise."

At the University of British Columbia, the Alma Mater Society will be requesting approval from the university's board of directors to keep the students' union building open 24 hours a day.

The extended hours would start at midnight Wednesday and run through to 7 a.m. Saturday, and are being put in place for students worried about the lack of bus service, AMS president Chris Hakim said.

"Students were making it very clear to us that they were concerned about getting to campus especially during the last week of classes where midterms and tests are still made available," Hakim added.