BURNABY, B.C. — The journey from the Production Way-University Skytrain station to Simon Fraser University just outside of Vancouver takes about 15 minutes by bus. But on Wednesday, that might not be an option, as bus drivers plan to start a three-day full strike as part of escalating job action.
If it goes ahead, students and staff will have the choice to hike nearly two hours up the mountain, carpool, bike, take a taxi or — if you’re SFU business student Grayson Lee, rent your own dang bus.
Lee is footing the bill to charter a private bus and driver for the three days of the planned strike to shuttle students up and down the mountain-top campus. He told HuffPost Canada the idea came soon after he heard about the strike from classmates.
Lee says he will front the $1,000 down payment required for the bus using his personal savings and donations from other Vancouverites who have reached out, or contributed though the GoFundMe he started. He plans to collect a $3.75 fare per ride from students each way, and says that as long as the buses are half-full — 25 students for each trip — he should break even.
WATCH: North America’s ‘sorriest’ bus stop may be in Vancouver. Story continues below.
“We’re able to cover [Wednesday] for sure with the funds that we have right now,” he said. “We negotiated with the charter company to have service from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. instead of just the peak hours.”
Lee says he’s been in touch with Unifor, the union representing the striking transit workers, to find a way to donate any extra money from fares or donations to them.
“I see it as mutually benefiting both the students and the striking workers at TransLink,” he said.
Lee said he will personally collect fares on the bus, and he’s enlisted other student volunteers to help out while he’s in class.
On Monday, Coast Mountain Bus Company — the governing body of Metro Vancouver’s bus system — announced that the union had agreed to enter 11th hour talks Tuesday afternoon. If a contract agreement is reached, Wednesday’s strike will be called off.
However, Lee says he can’t cancel the bus with less than 12 hours’ notice. If an agreement is reached after 6 p.m. Tuesday, he will still have to front the down payment for the bus rental.
“I’m willing to cover the cost personally,” he said.
But if the transit strike extends beyond the planned three days, it’s unlikely he’ll be able to assume the financial risk to plan bus rentals after Friday.
Take a hike
Other students have proposed creative methods of dealing with the service shutdown. According to TransLink, over 76,000 students take public transit to SFU and the University of British Columbia every day.
Both universities have shared information on organizing carshares and carpools to the campuses.
“University operations will continue as normal,” UBC director of university affairs Matthew Ramsey told reporters last week, noting that the school has created a map highlighting pick-up and drop-off areas on campus.
At SFU, some students are organizing a group hike up Burnaby Mountain to the campus. However, they admit they may be hampered by early season snowstorms forecast for later in the week.
UBC student Jonathan Harris tested walking his 13-kilometre commute to the Point Grey campus on the western edge of Vancouver and wrote about it for the school’s student newspaper, The Ubyssey.
“If you’re going to walk a couple of hours, you might as well enjoy the view,” Harris wrote. “It feels strange to watch the city change as you walk. Vancouver feels different when it is stretched before your feet.”
The Alma Mater Society (AMS), the UBC students’ union, announced that the student centre building will be open 24 hours a day during the strike to accommodate any students who wish to sleep over on campus.
“The goal of this extension is to provide students with a place to stay if they are unable to make their commute to class or home due to the strike,” reads a statement on the AMS website.
Earlier on HuffPost: Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart meets with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to talk transit. Story continues below.
The union has been participating in escalating job action since Nov. 1, including a refusal to wear uniforms and work overtime. The union is asking for improvements to driver benefits, salaries and working conditions. Drivers argue that their pay is not competitive with similar jobs in the private sector and in other cities across Canada.
One of the biggest sticking points is scheduling and time. The union says many bus routes are not scheduled with enough breaks for drivers to eat or use the washroom.
Management and the union attempted to return to the table two weeks ago to no success.
The union has said it is prepared to negotiate until midnight Tuesday night. If no agreement is reached, the planned three-day strike will go ahead.
On Monday, TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond told reporters the strike would have a “devastating impact on the people of Metro Vancouver.”