With bus drivers refusing overtime work

Cancellation of bus runs balloon across city

Strike or no strike, some transit riders accustomed to spotty service

As heavy rainfall covered Greater Victoria on Friday, bus riders were also hit with the worst of a transit strike.

Despite the cancellation of about 70 runs due to a ban on overtime, primarily on University of Victoria-bound routes, many riders seem to be relatively unaffected.

“They should be striking more,” remarked UVic student Justin Robertson, while on the No. 14, one of the routes which has seen the most cancellations throughout the week’s job action. “Especially with all the news about buying smaller buses. That seems pretty un-refuted.”

The smaller, community shuttle buses are at the centre of the contract dispute between B.C. Transit and Canadian Auto Workers local 333.

When the no-overtime job action began Oct. 22, B.C. Transit cancelled about 20 runs across the region. By Friday, that number had ballooned to about 70 runs.

“I don’t think that if you’re going to be at 70 runs cancelled, you’re not going to have some kind of an impact,” said Ben Williams, CAW local 333 union president. “It’s very unfortunate, but it’s directly affecting the students who we work very closely with. … It’s a very unfortunate side effect of our job action and not something we wanted it to get to.”

According to the union, 16,000 transit riders were left behind at bus stops last month, before the start of the job action.

UVic Students’ Society director of external relations Lucia Orser said the anxiety around the cancellations has had just as much impact on students as spotty service before the strike – a reality to which she says students on busier routes have grown accustomed.

“One thing we’ve been cautioning (students) about is giving themselves enough time,” Orser said. “It’s funny, at this point in the semester students are used to giving themselves that extra time, but this just exacerbates the issue.”

Tagg Kelt, Camosun College Student Society staffer said the partial strike is having an effect, though it could get worse.

Kelt works from Camosun’s Interurban campus – an area as yet unaffected by the job action, but also one where service is regarded as unsatisfactory by many, he said.

“Even before job action, they’re not meeting demand,” he said.

B.C. Transit receives about 300 customer calls on an average day. Last week, that number doubled to between 500 and 600. Yet on Friday, when more than 70 runs were cancelled, they received just three calls of complaint regarding service.

“It’s worrisome to us that people might be finding some other way of getting around,” said Meribeth Burton, spokesperson for B.C. Transit. “We hope (the job action) isn’t how it will continue (this) week.”

Williams said riders have largely shown their support for drivers and makes no promises on when the cancellations will end.

“There’s definitely a possibility the action will be increased,” he said. “I can’t say a date and time of what that may be but there’s certainly is a possibility that job action could increase beyond the overtime ban and the uniform ban.”

Up-to-date route information is available on B.C. Transit’s website at transitbc.com.

nnorth@saanichnews.com

-with files from Roszan Holmen