COLUMN: Value of transit never more apparent

Threat of shutdown highlights region’s dependence on bus service

The transit strike that wasn’t probably caused more anxiety and scrambling for alternatives than many other actual strikes combined.

From a labour perspective, it was strategically effective and brilliantly managed. Only a small number of commuters were actually affected by the strike. Yet the media coverage and outsized ripple effect on social media made it seem as if doomsday was approaching.

SeaBus service from North Vancouver to downtown Vancouver was the service most affected. While this is extremely important for people who use that service, in fact it makes up a very small proportion of daily transit trips.

Here in Surrey and other areas south of the Fraser, there was a very limited effect on commuters. A ban on overtime by bus drivers for a few days did lead to cancellation of some bus service, but most people who use transit to get to and from work were not affected.

In this area, alternatives are often easier to come by as well. Most families have at least one vehicle. Being totally dependent on the transit system in an area where transit service is nowhere as comprehensive or frequent as it is in Vancouver forces people here to have other options.

The reality is that SkyTrain is by far the most effective and important part of the transit system, particularly as it gets farther and farther away from downtown Vancouver. SkyTrain was never affected by the rotating job action and indeed would still have operated had there been a total bus and SeaBus shutdown.

A huge number of transit commuters from Surrey use SkyTrain as their main means of transportation. Those who live in North Surrey are not too far from SkyTrain stations, while those in Cloverdale and South Surrey have greater distances to travel before getting on SkyTrain. Chances are congestion on roads leading to SkyTrain would have been more intense if there had been the full shutdown that was supposed to start on Wednesday, Nov. 27.

Both unionized transit operations and transit users are greatly relieved that the partial strike is over. Transit service, which has been expanding, is running normally and there is no need to scramble for last-minute alternatives.

Here’s a few observations about the whole exercise. 1. Transit is a vital public service, which has a great effect on the economy and people’s day-to-day lives. Operators deserve decent wages and proper breaks, and overtime should not be relied on to fill gaps in the service. 2. SkyTrain is essential, and the transit operating companies need to do their best to get the contract for those employees settled as soon as possible. 3. All of the alternatives are nowhere near enough to fill the gaps that transit fills so capably. This threat of a total shutdown shows that ride-sharing needs to be implemented as soon as possible, and that the SkyTrain extension to Fleetwood and Langley City can’t come soon enough.

Thanks are due to union and management negotiators who really put the pedal to the metal to ensure that a negotiated settlement was reached, literally at the last minute.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News, as well as at frankbucholtz.blogspot.ca – email frank.bucholtz@gmail.com

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