Transit strike: Here’s the latest on SkyTrain negotiations

SkyTrain workers are set to walk off the job Tuesday unless the union representing workers and the employer come to an agreement Monday.

As of 2:00 a.m., negotiations between both parties continue behind closed doors.

TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond said he is hopeful a deal could be reached, but urged SkyTrain users to make alternative arrangements.

Without a deal, the Expo and Millennium lines will be shut down starting 5 a.m. Tuesday until 5 a.m. Friday.

“The negotiations may last well into the night, much like they did with the bus bargaining a week and a half ago,” said Desmond at a news conference at TransLink headquarters Monday afternoon.

A shutdown will be “extremely disruptive,” and TransLink has limited options to offer riders.

“To be very clear, there is no way to replace a system that reliably moves 150,000 people per day each weekday, he said. “Many people will be left with no other options to get around the region.”

Due to labour considerations and operational constraints, Coast Mountain Bus Company is unable to beef up its bus service or implement bus bridges, he said.

TransLink is also unable to add more trains to the West Coast Express, a commuter rail line which shuttles passengers between Mission and Vancouver.

Based on models, TransLink estimates about 15,000 more vehicles will be on the road Tuesday morning should the SkyTrain be grounded. The added congestion will put more pressure on operating services, including buses, the Canada Line and West Coast Express.

Desmond declined to provide details on whether both sides are close or far apart in the bargaining session.

“They’re going to stay at the table as long as they can to get a deal,” he said. “Clearly, we’re not there yet.”

Watch here for the latest on SkyTrain service and the negotiations.

Here’s what’s happening:

• CUPE 7000, which represents 900 SkyTrain workers, and B.C. Rapid Transit Company, which employs the workers, have spent more than 40 days bargaining for a new collective agreement. Their most recent agreement expired on Aug. 31.

• The two sides also went through four days of mediation last week but no progress was made.

• CUPE 7000 issued 72-hour strike notice on Friday, which means its members are prepared to walk off the job following the end of the notice period.

• A three-day full withdrawal of SkyTrain services is scheduled to begin Tuesday at 5 a.m. unless a deal is reached. Service would resume on Friday at 5 a.m.

• Negotiations are currently underway. There is no set deadline for an end to the talks.

What you should know:

• Only the Expo and Millennium Lines are affected. The Canada Line is not affected by the job action as those workers are represented by a different union. Also operating as normal are: West Coast Express, Coast Mountain buses, West Vancouver Blue Bus, HandyDART and SeaBus.

• TransLink will not have additional buses on its regular routes and cannot put buses on SkyTrain routes or have bus bridges between SkyTrain stations as it would violate labour laws.

• SkyTrain workers opted for a full withdrawal of services because an overtime ban would reduce staffing levels significantly and would not allow for the system to be operated safely.

• A uniform ban also would not work because passengers wouldn’t recognize staff if they were to step in during emergencies on platforms and trains.

• Unifor, which represents transit operators, was able to reach a deal with Coast Mountain Bus Company in the final minutes before deadline, so things can often change very quickly in negotiations.

• Headed to the Vancouver Canucks vs. Toronto Maple Leafs game at Rogers Arena on Tuesday evening? Give yourself extra time to get there if the strike goes ahead as planned, as Stadium-Chinatown SkyTrain station would not be in operation during the strike.

• TransLink urged customers to make other arrangements, including using a park-and-ride service to connect to buses; travelling outside rush hour; working from home; using a carpooling service; walking or cycling to work; or using a free bike valet service at Vancouver Public Library from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

What people are saying:

Premier John Horgan said he was encouraged that talks were continuing in the SkyTrain labour dispute.

“I’m hoping they’ll find a resolution before the day is out,” he said.

Asked if the province would intervene, he said, “Any agreement is best found at the bargaining table.”

Michael McDaniel, president of Coast Mountain Bus Company, released a statement Monday:

“CMBC customers should be aware that given our operational constraints and labour considerations, we are not able to increase bus service in response to the planned strike by BCRTC employees on SkyTrain this week. Bus service will be operating as it would on any regular weekday.”

“The planned job action will affect Expo and Millennium Lines only. Customers should plan for higher passenger volumes than usual.”

A shutdown of the Expo and Millennium lines would affect the estimated 150,000 riders who take SkyTrain daily in Vancouver, Surrey, Burnaby, New Westminster, Coquitlam and Port Moody.

Charles Gauthier, CEO of the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association, said any shutdown would be disruptive to downtown-area businesses, especially as the holiday season approaches.

“There’ll definitely be an impact on retail, and people with discretionary income may make the choice not to drive downtown if they typically get here using SkyTrain,” said Gauthier. “It’s a concern anytime, but especially at this time of year when it’s peak shopping season and retailers make or break it for the year.”

Anita Huberman, CEO of the Surrey Board of Trade, called for an end to the job action, which she says is detrimental to Surrey’s economy:

“Without adequate transportation modes getting our workforce to their jobs, economic productivity is diminished,” she said, adding Surrey has seen a large increase in transit ridership as its population continues to grow.

Jordan Cripps, development and communications officer of the Disability Foundation, said any SkyTrain shutdown would hit persons of disability hard. Cripps, who has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair, relies on SkyTrain to get from New Westminster to Gastown in Vancouver.

“That won’t be an option tomorrow should there be a strike,” he said. While he has other options, such as driving or taking a convoluted bus route with multiple transfers, he said other people with disabilities may not have any alternative means to get around.

Read our latest coverage on the SkyTrain negotiations:

SkyTrain workers take strike vote, bus drivers look to escalate job action

SkyTrain workers return to bargaining table with strike mandate

SkyTrain workers issue 72-hour strike notice

‘Time to get a deal done:’ Full SkyTrain shutdown planned for Tuesday morning

Metro Vancouver commuters gear up for potential SkyTrain shutdown

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