Buses halted in Metro Vancouver as transit workers go on strike

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Buses will not run Monday in Metro Vancouver after more than 180 workers represented by CUPE Local 4500 walked off the job.

The job action, which began at 3 a.m. PT, comes three weeks after the workers began refusing overtime. The union represents transit supervisors, communications supervisors and a range of other roles.

Talks between the union and the Coast Mountain Bus Company (CMBC), the workers’ employer, conducted with the assistance of veteran labour mediator Vince Ready, failed to produce a new collective agreement over the weekend.

CMBC is a subsidiary of TransLink, the regional transit authority for Metro Vancouver. 

Here is what you need to know about the strike.

What services are affected?

The striking workers help ensure buses and SeaBuses work smoothly, which means both those services will not run during the strike.

TransLink says none of the routes operated by CMBC will be operational, including the 214 service between Blueridge and Phibbs Exchange in North Vancouver, during the morning and evening rush hours.

The 214 service will run at other times of the day during the strike, however.

WATCH | Commuters wait at bus stops for buses that aren’t coming:

Commuters react to Metro Vancouver bus strike

Several Metro Vancouver residents said Monday morning they didn’t realize buses weren’t running as they stood waiting at bus stops. More than 180 employees of the Coast Mountain Bus Company walked off the job for 48 hours as of early Monday.

TransLink says its other services — SkyTrain, West Coast Express, HandyDART, West Vancouver Blue Bus and the Bowen Island and Langley community shuttles — will still run during the strike.

However, CUPE Local 7000, which represents rapid transit and rail workers, sent out a bulletin Sunday warning members of potential disruptions at SkyTrain.

Tony Rebelo with CUPE Local 7000 said Sunday that members wouldn’t be crossing lines should they be set up around SkyTrain stations.

The bulletin said CUPE 4500 had made a Labour Relations Board complaint against TransLink, the B.C. Rapid Transit Company, West Coast Express, and Protrans for trying to “reduce the impact” on transit riders during the escalating strike action.

TransLink spokesperson Tina Lovgreen said in an email that the company expects all SkyTrain lines to “operate as normal” Monday.

“At this time, CUPE Local 4500 can only legally picket bus and SeaBus,” she said.

Cornel Neagu with the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 134, which represents the North Shore’s Blue Bus drivers, said members wouldn’t cross lines at hubs such as Phibbs Exchange. 

According to TransLink data, there were 19.26 million bus boardings in January 2023, which averages out to just over 620,000 every day that month, though weekdays are usually busier.

How long will the strike last?

The job action is set to last for 48 hours, which means it will end early Wednesday.

While CUPE 4500 represents only a small fraction of the more than 6,000 workers at TransLink, bus drivers have said they will not cross the picket line in the event of their fellow workers striking.

What alternatives do commuters have?

TransLink is recommending commuters carpool, cycle, walk, or use the park and ride lots at certain SkyTrain stations if they still need to connect to SkyTrain service on Monday.

Major schools like the University of British Columbia have announced they would not modify classes as a result of the strike, saying instructors will have to make arrangements for their students to learn through alternative means.

The prospect is not appealing to a commuter like Santiago Salamanca, who says he will be left without another option during the strike.

“Having a taxi is expensive,” he said. “I can’t use the taxi. I prefer to use the bus or the train. It’s better for us.”

Buses line the Vancouver Transit Centre as transit workers from the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 4500 strike in Vancouver, B.C., Monday, Jan. 22, 2024.
Parked buses line the Vancouver Transit Centre Monday as transit workers from the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 4500 are on strike. (Ethan Cairns/The Canadian Press)

Why are workers striking?

The union’s collective agreement with CMBC expired October 2022, and it says the employer has not offered wage parity with other employees in the system, and the company is not recognizing their significant workload issues.

CMBC has previously stated that the union’s wage demands are unrealistic, and the company has offered workers the same wage increase offered to thousands of its other employees.

CUPE representative Liam O’Neill had previously said workers often worked more overtime than straight hours, and that the wages sought by workers constituted less than 0.05 per cent of CMBC’s 2024 budget for wages and salaries.

A close-up of the front of a bus with the sign saying "Not in service"
A bus near Clark Street in Vancouver is pictured in January 2018. Buses and SeaBuses will be off the roads for two days due to a transit strike beginning Monday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

CMBC spokesperson Mike Killeen said Monday morning that the company offered an improved wage offer over the weekend and is committed to increased overtime pay, stronger benefits and hiring an increased number of transit supervisors.

“So the offer that we’ve got in front of them is fair, it’s reasonable in our view, and we really hope they will come back to the bargaining table. We’re available anytime,” he said.

“[The strike] is an enormous inconvenience for people and we would strongly encourage the union to come back to the table and get this sorted out.”

Numerous industry bodies have expressed concern over the impact of the strike, with the Surrey Board of Trade saying in a Sunday statement that the strike would compromise “workers, businesses, and our economy.”

CUPE Local 4500 says it will hold a media availability at 2 p.m. PT.

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