Beyond the Headlines

Access-A-Bus, arbitration and more

Posted: Feb 21, 2012 10:23 AM ET Last Updated: Feb 21, 2012 10:23 AM ET
Of all the stories we've done on the transit strike, the one image that sticks in my mind is Shirley Haley.
 
About a week after the strike began, my colleague Michael Dick came across Haley on Spring Garden Road. Haley is in a wheelchair and, when Michael saw her, several people were trying to figure out how to get Haley into the back seat of a small cab, while others tried to stuff her wheelchair into the trunk.
 
A moment on the street that hammers home the importance of the Access-A-Bus service for our disabled community.
 
Monday, the finally got a bit of a break. Metro Transit has resumed limited service to help get clients to and from medical appointments. Surprisingly, the union is making an attempt to block the buses from leaving the depot, but once they get by the pickets they leave them alone to do their rounds.
 
Given the obvious importance of this service to the disabled you have to wonder why it took Metro Transit until Day 19 to get it going, even on a limited basis. It's not like they didn't have lots of notice that a strike was brewing.
 
Metro Transit spokesperson Lori Patterson says it's all about timing. "At the beginning of a strike you are focused on bargaining," says Patterson, "but as time goes on we realize people are going to start to suffer more and that's why we are ramping it up now."
 
Arbitration vs. Conciliation
 
The developments last week on the negotiation or non-negotiation front show just how entrenched each side is on the key issues in this strike.
 
The union, desperate to hold on to a century-old scheduling system, took the bold move of offering to go to binding arbitration. It would have been a way to get the buses on the roads quickly, without either side appearing to capitulate. But, as we all know, the city refused. Instead it wants to negotiate with the help of a provincially appointed conciliator.
 
Even though it would have ended the inconvenience for thousands of transit users, the city wasn't prepared to roll the dice and let an arbitrator impose a settlement, a settlement that could have left the current schedule intact.

It's yet another sign, the city is prepared to play hardball, no matter how long it takes.
 
Ouch!
 
It seems transit users just can't catch a break.
 
For those lucky enough to have a car to turn to, the cost of getting around keeps going up. The price of gas has increased every week since the strike began.
On February 1st, the day before the buses shutdown, regular gas in Halifax cost $130.1 a litre. Today it's $135.1.
 
Now obviously there is no world-wide oil cartel conspiracy fixing prices to take advantage of the Metro Transit strike. Or, is there?
 
Transit Lottery
 
Last week I wrote that Metro Transit and the city were saving big bucks every day the buses sit idle. That's because Metro Transit loses money on every passenger it carries. According to its annual service plan it costs them $3.23 cents per passenger. The average fare is $1.64 (factoring in bus passes, student and senior discounts etc.).
 
According to the city's own figures, it is saving $85,000 a day, a little less on weekends. That means, now that we are entering day 20, the total savings are approaching $1.5 million.
 
Just to be clear, reporting these numbers is not a pro-union statement, nor am I suggesting the city is prolonging the strike just to put a little extra money in the bank.
The numbers are just the numbers.
 
Tweeting the Strike
 
In this age of social media hundreds of Haligonians have taken to Twitter to vent their frustrations with both sides, to offer or look for rides, and to share their experiences trying to get around the city.
Many have been insightful, funny and some have been downright nasty. But this one, from 4HFX is one of my favourites:
 
"Great walk today! Thanks for the new weight loss program #MetroTransit! #TransitStrike #missthebus"
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About the Author

Brian DuBreuil is a veteran journalist with CBC News. He has won two Gemini awards for his work, and neither involved dancing or singing on a reality show.

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