Editorial: Bus strikes hit poor, elderly

People with long memories understand what life is like without bus service.

People with long memories understand what life is like without bus service.

Slightly more than 11 years ago, Greater Victoria suffered through a two-week transit strike, where the main form of transportation for tens of thousands of people ground to a halt.

Some people made do and carpooled with friends or hopped on a bike. Many who needed to crisscross the region couldn’t get to their jobs and lost wages, or risked their personal safety by hitchhiking. Parents suddenly had to drive their teenager to school who normally took the bus.

Elderly people on fixed incomes who usually hopped a bus had to dole out for taxis for medical appointments or grocery shopping.

Some drivers and even bike riders enjoyed roadways free of big, imposing buses, and many people with cars offered strangers free lifts, but the silver linings of a transit strike are few.

Perhaps more than any other public sector contract dispute, shutting down buses throws a city’s economy into chaos and hurts the most vulnerable people.

Prior to the 2001 strike, bus drivers went on strike in 1999 for one week. Before that, transit went on strike in 1984 for three months and crippled the economy of downtown Victoria.

Today its shocking how little has changed in terms of transportation infrastructure. At least back then you could still catch the VIA dayliner.

If bus drivers strike next week, cycling and carpooling will ramp up and many people will make do. But the poor, elderly and disabled will face a grim few weeks or months.

The Canadian Auto Workers union and B.C. Transit management have demonstrated in the past they are willing to use the city’s transportation network as a negotiating tool.

Many other big unions – nurses, government employees and even teachers – have found ways to work within the province’s net-zero mandate. Both sides in the transit dispute claim they are too.

The damage done by a transit strike is well documented. Agreeing to a contract is possible and inevitable. The CAW and B.C. Transit don’t have to shut down the city to do it.