British Columbia

Unifor warns TransLink service cuts will lead to 'transit ghost town'

The union representing many workers employed by the TransLink subsidiary, Coast Mountain Bus Company, is warning that service cuts and the layoffs of hundreds of workers will hollow out the public transit system, hindering attempts to restart Metro Vancouver's economy.

Union representing transit workers wants 1,200 layoff notices rescinded

A TransLink employee at a bus depot in Vancouver on April 20, the day hundreds of workers received layoff notices from the company. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The union representing many workers employed by the TransLink subsidiary, Coast Mountain Bus Company, warns that service cuts and hundreds of layoffs will hollow out the public transit system, hindering attempts to restart Metro Vancouver's economy.

On Wednesday, Premier John Horgan announced details of what British Columbians can expect in the next phase of reopening some businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic — a phase that's set to begin in mid May.

But according to Unifor, that plan isn't complete if it doesn't include restoring public transit which has seen service cuts and a massive drop in ridership during the pandemic.

"We are going to see a transit ghost town in Metro Vancouver. We're talking over 66 routes that are either going to be reduced or eliminated, [trip] frequencies that will be, frankly, unheard of," said Gavin McGarrigle, Unifor's western regional director. "We've never seen layoffs in the transit system anywhere close to this magnitude."

According to the union, 1,200 workers received layoff notices April 20, and are set to be out of work May 18.

McGarrigle is calling on TransLink to rescind those layoff notices, saying the transit system is a vital part of making sure essential workers can get to and from their jobs.

A woman rides a bus in Vancouver on April 30. TransLink reports ridership across the system has dropped by 83 per cent since mid March. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

TransLink reported it's losing about $75 million each month. On March 19, the company announced it would stop collecting fares and start boarding buses only through the rear doors to reduce the spread of COVID-19. It plans to resume collecting fares June 1.

McGarrigle acknowledged the financial challenges facing the company, but said there had been no discussion of either reducing workers' shifts or pay to avoid the significant layoffs.

"We're willing to sit down and talk about how we can make sure that we improve the safety, how we can work with them to gradually move toward a system where fares can be collected safely for everybody. We're happy to talk to all of these things," he said.

TransLink declined an interview request to discuss service plans over the coming weeks or to respond to Unifor's call to rescind layoffs.

Spokesperson Ben Murphy sent a short emailed statement saying the company is in discussions with the provincial government to ensure the transit system can support plans to gradually return to normal.

"We'll also continue to put forward the case for an emergency funding package from the federal government," said Murphy.


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rafferty Baker is a video journalist with CBC News, based in Vancouver. You can find his stories on CBC Radio, television, and online at cbc.ca/bc.

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