Gatineau commuters who rely on public transit will again be looking for alternative arrangements Tuesday as bus drivers and mechanics strike for the second time in six days.
The Société de transport de l'Outaouais (STO) has been locked in a labour dispute with Local 591 of the Syndicat uni du transport, the union representing drivers and mechanics, who have been without a contract since Dec. 31, 2014.
To increase pressure on the transit agency during negotiations, the union began rotating strikes last Thursday, and promised to strike one day a week until management agreed to arbitration and the labour dispute was resolved.
On Sunday, union president Felix Gendron announced Tuesday, Mar. 21 would be this week's strike day.
STO recommends carpooling, walking
The transit agency says commuters should consider alternatives such as carpooling, carsharing, walking or telecommuting as a "Plan B" to public transit on strike days.
"This morning I had to take my car, given that there's no bus," said Benoit Labelle, one of the many STO users affected by Tuesday's strike.
"I expect nicer weather in the next few weeks. So definitely I'll take my bicycle to come in. And then we'll see afterwards."
OC Transpo is continuing to serve Gatineau during the dispute, with its Quebec-bound routes remaining unchanged.
The City of Gatineau is making 500 parking spaces available for STO users at the Robert-Guertin Centre at 125 rue Carillon in the Hull sector, near the intersection of rue Saint-Rédempteur and boulevard des Allumettières.
The STO also said the more than 2,600 parking spaces at the STO's park-and-ride lots are available free of charge on strike days.
The STO is also urging riders to check their website, sto.ca, for updates on the strike situation over the coming days.
OC Transpo accepting STO passes
STO multi cards, passes, transfers, U-Pass and day passes continue to be accepted as valid payment on the OC Transpo.
Post-secondary schools such as Université du Québec en Outaouais and the Cégep de l'Outaouais are encouraging students and faculty who need to get to the schools to check out carpooling services on the school sites.
The Cégep de l'Outaouais is also offering shuttle service between the Gabrielle-Roy and Félix-Leclerc campuses beginning at 7:15 a.m. and continuing every 30 minutes.
Meeting last week failed to resolve dispute
The two sides had met with a mediator last Wednesday with the union pushing for arbitration while STO leadership unveiled a new offer. But the two sides were unable to come to an agreement and the first of the rotating strikes was called last Thursday. Wages, vacations and scheduling are among the issues on the table.
The two sides have been at odds during the protracted contract negotiations, and this year the dispute has spilled over into the public as it has dragged on.
In January, drivers began taking a number of protest actions, including wearing jeans, refusing to work overtime or special events, and reporting any type of defect on buses, even minor ones, so buses are taken off the road.
The STO responded by sending drivers home if a working bus wasn't available for them.
The transit agency tried unsuccessfully to appeal to the Canadian Industrial Relations Board to recognize public transit as an essential service, but was denied.
'Angst and misunderstanding'
Mike Duggan, Gatineau city councillor for Lucerne Ward, told CBC News he's been on the receiving end of "a lot of fury" from his ward's residents over the labour dispute.
"It's a busy time of year. We're coming up on fiscal year-end. We've got a lot of public servants who must go to work. Not all of them can work from home or arrange carpooling," Duggan said.
Duggan said the city is considering temporarily easing the restrictions around who can use high-occupancy lanes, in an attempt to improve traffic flow — but the concern is that could also lead to more congestion.
He urged affected STO users to remain calm.
"There's a lot of angst and misunderstanding of why we can't resolve this. And we have to convey to them to be patient," he said.
"We live in a society that allows collective bargaining. It's following all the rules. This is just part of the hit you take for the team when you're in a democratic society."