There is a ray of hope in the 28-day transit strike in Campbell River and the Comox Valley, as the two sides have agreed to resume negotiations.
“I guess we’re going to go back to the table with the company on January 24th and 25th with a mediator and see if we can hash out some kind of deal and get everyone back to work,” said Earl Flegg, a bus driver and union negotiator with Unifor Local 114.
The union and PW Transit, the private company contracted by BC Transit to operate the bus service in the region, have not negotiated since the strike began Dec. 15.
Meanwhile, transit users are finding life without buses challenging.
“It is very difficult for me because it’s my first semester and I do not know the routes and sometimes my classes are in the early morning,” said Sukhdarshan Singh, a North Island College student who lives five kilometres away and walks an hour to and from school every day.
“We can’t take a taxi,” added fellow international student Happy Bhinder. “It’s very expensive because it would take approximately $20 to $22, so it’s very difficult for us.”
School District 71 says the strike has been difficult for its students and staff as well.
“Yes, many of our staff and our students take BC Transit buses to school and this is having a significant impact on their ability to get into schools, and we’re hearing it has had some impact on attendance on some specific days,” said SD 71 spokesperson Craig Sorochan.
More than 70 bus drivers, mechanics, cleaners and support staff in the Comox Valley and Campbell River have been on strike.
“Well, when I drive my bus I have a lot of school kids on my bus and I feel for them and I feel for the parents, but I mean, like, I said I hope it comes to an end and we can go back to doing that again,” said bus driver Terry Styan.
The union says the bus drivers are among the lowest paid in the province, $4 to $5 an hour less than the parity they’re looking for with Cowichan Valley, Whistler and the Fraser Valley.
“We’re hoping that the parties can come together to solve their collective bargaining issues as soon as possible so our communities can get back to using the bus service that they rely on,” said Sorochan.