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.
Commuters who have to travel around Metro Vancouver during a full bus and SeaBus system shutdown this week should expect huge delays, plan ahead and "be patient" with one another as the region's transportation network is fractured, TransLink's top executive says.
The transit authority said it is putting a number of alternative measures in place to help hundreds of thousands of people cope without buses on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, if unionized bus drivers across the region follow through on a pledge to strike on those days amid an ongoing labour dispute.
"We all know that this is going to be a pretty difficult few days," TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond told reporters at a press conference Monday.
"It's time, more than ever, for the people of this region to come together and help each other out."
Unifor, the union representing almost 5,000 Metro Vancouver transit employees, announced a three-day shutdown of bus service after job negotiations crumbled. The suspension will leave countless people — including hospital workers, care providers, service workers, construction staff, students, and seniors and other vulnerable residents — scrambling for another mode of transportation.
The following services will be unaffected and running Wednesday, Thursday and Friday:
- Expo and Millennium SkyTrain lines
- Canada Line
- West Coast Express
- Community shuttles
- West Vancouver transit
- Other TransLink services
HandyDART will also be running, but it will be busier with more people calling to book the service to replace suspended bus rides.
Desmond outlined a number of changes coming to the transit system, starting Wednesday, in an effort to smooth out the situation for travellers.
SkyTrain pick-up and drop-off expanded
Without buses, thousands of people who take the SkyTrain across Metro Vancouver will need another way to get between home and their nearest rapid transit station.
TransLink said the authority is working with local municipalities to designate temporary passenger pick-up and drop-off zones near SkyTrain and West Coast Express stops during the strike. TransLink will also temporarily allow pick-ups and drop-offs to happen at unused bus stops and bus loops near SkyTrain stations.
Expo and Millennium line service will increase when possible during off-peak times, when more trains are available.
SkyTrain bike capacity increased
The authority is also relaxing rules and allowing bikes on SkyTrain all day, including during peak periods, which is usually banned because of the space bikes consume. Anyone who brings a bike will be asked to board the last car on the train to minimize congestion.
"Having a bike on the train when it's crowded, it can be difficult .... be patient and respectful of each other," Desmond said.
Bike stations will also be expanded at SkyTrain stations, according to Desmond, and complimentary valets are being considered to help park commuter bikes.
Desmond said more SkyTrain personnel and Transit Police staff will be on shift during the strike.
Bike- and car-sharing boost
TransLink is working with carpooling organizations such as GobyRIDE and LiftTango to increase availability during the bus shutdown. Desmond said carshare programs like Evo and Car2Go have agreed to expand drop-off and pickup boundaries this week, so cars are more widely available.
Desmond encouraged passengers to carpool with friends, family, classmates and colleagues whenever possible. There will be designated carpooling parking spots at SkyTrain Park and Rides.
"I've been amazed to learn about the various online groups that have formed already," Desmond said, referring to a number of online community groups that have formed to connect people with others' driving to similar destinations.
The TransLink CEO ended the press conference by asking union representatives to go back to the bargaining table to avoid the "unnecessary strike."
"It's time to bargain and not issue ultimatums," Desmond said. "I urge the union not to punish the transit users of this region. There is still time to end this."
Bus drivers, SeaBus operators and mechanics launched limited strike action Nov. 1. It began with an overtime ban by mechanics, but expanded to add bus drivers when talks broke off.
Unifor said the blame lies with TransLink, as workers fight for a better contract for themselves and a less-crowded transit system for those who depend on it.
Coast Mountain called for a mediator last week as talks collapsed, but Unifor argued the company is not serious about moving forward so a third party's involvement won't help with issues including wages, benefits and working conditions.