Toronto transit shutdown stalls commuters

A labour dispute shut down the Toronto Transit Commission early Monday, sending hundreds of thousands of commuters scrambling for alternative transportation.

Hundreds of thousands of Toronto commuters rode out a long, hot day on Monday after a labour dispute shut down the city's entire transit system.

The Toronto Transit Commission labelled the shutdown "an illegal job action" after 800 maintenance workers walked off the job between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. EDT.

Subways, streetcars and buses were left idle when TTC drivers honoured the maintenance workers' picket lines, and commuters were left scrambling to find other means of transportation.

By afternoon there was still no sign the dispute would end in time for the start of the evening commute.

Other transit systems in the Greater Toronto Area remained working, however, including GO Transit trains and buses running through the downtown core.

The TTC's Wheel Transit service for handicapped passengers remained operating with limited service.

By early afternoon, Toronto implemented emergency traffic measures, altering traffic signals and minimizing road construction work.

The city urged businesses to consider flexible work hours and adjusted delivery schedules, and encouraged motorists to carpool.

The shutdown continued even after the Ontario Labour Relations Board issued a 7 a.m. cease-and-desist order to pickets outside TTC facilities.

As the day went on, a meeting continued between the TTC, the union and the Ontario Labour Relations Board.

Earlier, union president Bob Kinnear hinted the union would eventually obey the labour board order to return to work.

However, Kinnear also denied that his members walked out, saying the TTC had locked its facilities before morning-shift workers arrived.

"What the union says doesn't matter at this point," Toronto Mayor David Miller told CBC News. "We have an order declaring this an illegal strike."

"The union leadership has a responsibility and a legal duty and it is not acceptable to inconvenience millions of people," Miller added.

The mayor also told CBC News that should an agreement be reached, it would likely take two to three hours to get the entire system up and running.

The day began with doors to subway stations locked and crowds of commuters gathering at normally busy streetcar and bus stops.

The commission urged its drivers, who refused to cross picket lines set up by the maintenance workers, to report for work as soon as the picket lines came down.

"We're seeing a lot more cars on the road," CBC reporter Jamie Strashin told CBC News.

Taxi drivers were kept busy ferrying workers to downtown businesses. Many people were seen sharing rides, while others used bicycles as the city's Ride to Work Week began.

However, many workers coming off night shifts were stranded and faced expensive cab rides to homes in far-flung corners of the city.

Toronto's temperature hit 32 C on Monday, aggravated by high humidity and smog, which was expected to make walking an uncomfortable option.

The last Toronto Transit Commission strike, in 1999, was a legal walkout. It ended after two days as the provincial government prepared to legislate the drivers back to work.

In the current dispute, TTC maintenance employees are objecting to changes in work schedules.

Management wants about 100 janitors and subway-track workers who now work days to switch permanently to the night shift, saying it's easier to clean stations and maintain tracks when the TTC is not in service.

Kinnear told CBC News that the decision added to the growing frustrations of TTC employees over a variety of issues.