Union demands more buses

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      To illustrate his point that more transit buses are needed to cope with demand, Jim Houlahan pulled out two large piles of double-sided paper.

      The vice-president of the Canadian Auto Workers union Local 111—which represents bus drivers—was speaking at the November 17 TransLink board meeting at Surrey City Hall. His message was as bleak as the torrential rain outside.

      “It’s a volatile situation,” Houlahan said. “You can well imagine pulling up to a bus stop, with 30 people standing in the rain or the heat. These are elderly people, people with children, people who are physically challenged. The bus is already packed. The driver pulls in, cracks open the front door, and people pile on. We’ve had assaults arise out of that situation.”

      As he spoke, Houlahan showed the board the overtime logged for 2004 from the Burnaby and Richmond transit centres, along with a selection of driver communications (DCRs).

      Houlahan told the Georgia Straight the DCRs were devoted mostly to bus drivers passing by passengers because the buses were either full or unable to meet their advertised schedule. In all, he counted 2,400 entries for Richmond, 1,800 for Burnaby, and more than 6,000 for Vancouver in 2004.

      “We believe only 30 to 40 percent of the drivers were bothering to phone them in, so it’s not even half of the actual numbers, because when a lot of the guys want to phone in, the radio is busy.”

      On August 18, TransLink spokesperson Susan Danard told the Straight that TransLink is adding 55 expansion buses to the fleet to help with overcrowding. She said the regional authority had also identified 58 overcrowded routes needing special attention. Houlahan and other CAW members say the bus fleet is still woefully short, with about 950 buses on the road during rush hour, when 1,600 are needed to keep up.

      “I’m here to tell you we need help now and we need help quickly,” Houlahan said at the meeting. “It’s infringing on safety. I’m glad you’re recognizing the overcrowding problem, but I’m trying to tell you that the plan to add 50 new buses this year and 50 next September won’t even begin to make a dent in the problem.”

      Vancouver transit driver Randy Gorman got to see bus-rider frustration firsthand when he was driving the #10 Granville downtown in the afternoon rush hour earlier this month. He told the Straight his bus was already full as he pulled onto Granville Street and headed south. He said one man forced his hand through the rubber seal in the folding doors as the 10-year veteran stopped to let off one passenger through the rear doors at West Pender Street.

      “Lots of guys have had worse,” Gorman told the Straight. “And I was full already and had to pass up all the way to Broadway, when I was still full. And that’s not even the 98 [B-line service]. Imagine when they phase out the 98 when the Canada line comes in. What then?”

      TransLink media spokesperson Ken Hardie told the Straight he is confident TransLink can boost the fleet to 1,400 by the end of 2007.

      “We know that we’re still dealing with pass-ups on established routes,” Hardie said. “How we deal with that will depend a lot on how our finances are looking beyond 2007.”

      Hardie said that TransLink is waiting for the provincial government’s TransLink governance review, which he said has affected the authority’s ability to draw up its three-year plan for 2008–2010.

      “We’d normally need to get moving on that now, and we are marking time a bit,” Hardie said.