The Montreal transit strike that met commuters halfway

Drivers with the transit workers' union were on strike in 1984, but they still had to pick up passengers at morning and evening rush hours.

Drivers still had to get passengers around at rush hour

The transit strike that kind of wasn't

38 years ago
Duration 2:29
Workers for the Montreal transit system go on strike in 1984 -- except for the hours when people really need it.

Just because Montreal transit drivers were on strike didn't mean they were staying home or picketing.

They were working.

"6:17 this morning: the first buses get set to roll from the Papineau Metro station," said reporter Bill Amos on Oct. 18, 1984.

It was the first day of a strike by bus and subway drivers who were nevertheless taking people where they needed to go — at rush hour only. 

An essential service

"As the rush hour progresses, most Montrealers don't seem to mind this new kind of transit strike," said reporter Bill Amos.

According to the Globe and Mail, Quebec's essential services act had required the union to provide a list of services it would still supply during a strike. It had complied by requiring members to work during the rush-hour periods.

It was the city's 20th transit strike in 10 years.

"The 6:15 bus was there when it was supposed to be," said a man with a pleased expression.

Under a brightening sky, riders were getting where they needed to go.

"As long as they keep driving in the morning and at night, I don't care," said a man in a trenchcoat.

Traffic on city streets was moving smoothly, and things weren't bad underground on the Metro either.

"There's no problem like this," said a woman in a Metro station. "It's crowded, but it's there on time. That's what counts."

Not quite as promised 

A man waiting for a bus said he was hearing conflicting information as rush hour carried on. (CBC News/CBC Archives)

But as the morning wore on, the camera spotted people standing on the street as a bus passed them right by.

"They said the last buses were at nine o'clock, quarter past nine," said a man on the street, looking behind him. "And now he just tells me the last bus was at 24 past eight." 

Another man speculated there might be "a very large taxicab fare" in his future if he wanted to get to work. 

And a student was distressed at having missed a class because no bus came when it expected it would. 

A driver's perspective 

A bus driver who was finishing a shift at 10 a.m. said his union was giving transit users more than they wanted to. (CBC News/CBC Archives)

"If we leave from here right now, we'll be giving service until close to 10 o'clock," said a bus driver in a leather jacket. "That would be a lot more than what we want to give."

A steady stream of buses could then be seen returning to their garages to wait for the afternoon rush hour.

"It is time for Montrealers to revert to their old transit-strike habits — for a few hours, anyway," said Amos, as a bereft bus rider stood with a thumb sticking out in hopes of hitching a ride instead. 

After the morning rush hour, some Montrealers resorted to hitchhiking to get around. (CBC News/CBC Archives)