Metro Vancouver residents brace for planned transit strike Wednesday

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: 

Residents in Metro Vancouver are bracing for the impact of a potential bus shutdown this week — including on vulnerable people who rely on caregivers to get to them. 

The union that represents transit workers says the region will see a bus system shutdown on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday if no deal is reached with the Coast Mountain Bus Company. 

Margot Ware, director and owner of seniors caregiving agency Shylo Home HealthCare, says her clients depend on caregivers for basic needs like getting to the bathroom, taking medication and eating. 

Ware says about half of caregivers in the area rely on public transit to meet with their clients.

"If this goes into a full shutdown, I think this is going to lead to some sizeable challenges and pressures," Ware said. 

A shutdown would mean that Ware would have to prioritize some of her clients over others, she warns. And she says other agencies that offer the same services would be in a similar position. 

'Sizeable population' will be stuck

Public policy expert Andy Yan says it's tough to grasp the full impact the strike will have but he says it's going to be big.

"There's going to be a sizeable population that is going to be stuck, and I think that's going to be a big challenge for employers, for schools, for doctors."

Schools across Metro Vancouver have warned students to start making alternative plans and expect busy roads in and around campus. 

Carpool plans

Many students are scrambling to figure out just how they'll make it to campus, and some have become creative.

Natasha Wong founded a Facebook group where SFU students can organize carpools. It already has over 1,600 members.

"We all just need to get up to campus this week for exams and mandatory labs," said Wong on CBC's The Early Edition Monday. "We are all pretty panicked but trying to keep a cool composure."

Wong said so far, most people in the group who are looking for rides have been matched with a driver. 

"The only way to really get up the mountain is by bus or by car," said Wong about the school's Burnaby Mountain location.

On the university's website, it says free, additional parking is available on campus.

Parking problems

According to UBC spokesperson Matthew Ramsey, about 1,000 buses go through the university's Vancouver campus daily and the job action will impede staff, students and faculty who are heavily dependent on transit.

Ramsey said there are about 8,000 total parking spots on site.

Ramsey said parking services at the University of British Columbia's Point Grey campus is setting aside extra parking spots for high-occupancy vehicles and limiting day permits to only one parkade to free up more parking.

"The long and the short of it is we will not have enough parking spaces available to accommodate everyone if they choose to drive," he said.

Ramsey advises students to speak to their professors if they anticipate being late or absent and that faculty do the same with their department heads. He said there are options for remote learning opportunities if necessary.

Unifor workers have been refusing overtime on a rotating basis since Nov. 1 after contract talks broke off.

Wages are the sticking point in the dispute with CMBC, which operates bus and SeaBus services for TransLink, the regional transit authority.