Kelowna bus drivers set to strike, potentially affecting students and people with special needs

·2 min read
A public transit bus parks at the Queensway Exchange in downtown Kelowna on Wednesday. Kelowna bus drivers will be in a legal strike position at 12:51 p.m. (Winston Szeto/CBC - image credit)
A public transit bus parks at the Queensway Exchange in downtown Kelowna on Wednesday. Kelowna bus drivers will be in a legal strike position at 12:51 p.m. (Winston Szeto/CBC - image credit)

People living in Kelowna, B.C., and surrounding communities are bracing for disruption to bus service, with public transit workers in a legal position to strike shortly after noon on Thursday.

That's when members of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1722 — which represents Kelowna Regional Transit operators, office staff and maintenance personnel — could begin job action, according to a notice issued by the B.C. Labour Relations Board on Monday.

The Kelowna transit system consists of 29 bus routes serving residents across most of the Okanagan, including Kelowna, West Kelowna, the Westbank First Nation, Lake Country, Vernon, Peachland and Penticton.

The regional network covers most residential areas in Kelowna and the campuses of the University of British Columbia and Okanagan College.

The union didn't specify which routes would be affected but warned in a statement there will be routes suspended and cancelled every day.

ATU Local 1722 president Al Peressini said even before the strike begins, bus drivers have already rejected requests for HandyDart transportation "because we don't have enough staff."

No agreement on wages

Union secretary Scott Lovell, who is at the bargaining table, says their contract expired in March, and the employer and the union haven't been able to reach an agreement on a compensation package.

First Canada ULC, the operator of the Kelowna Regional Transit system, declined CBC's interview request but said in a written statement that it "continues to work in good faith" with the union

Meanwhile, Lovell is asking for the public's understanding.

"We recognize that our fellow citizens will be hurt," he said. "We're asking them to rise up and talk to their city councillors, their mayors, and get them to support this situation so that we don't have to use the most extreme measures."

Managing the effect on students

Okanagan College president Neil Fassina says his school is actively working with the student union and other partners to figure out ways to help students who may be affected by the disruption in bus service.

"We're working to try to figure out how we can go about creating carpool options. [We're] encouraging people to use methods of transportation that don't rely on single occupancy vehicles, whether or not that's the scooters [or] the bikes."

Fassina is also asking students to communicate to their instructors if they have to run late due to the suspension of public transit.

Winston Szeto/CBC
Winston Szeto/CBC