TransLink Mayors' Council chair Jonathan Cote expresses disappointment over Unifor's position on bus expansion

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      Jonathan Cote has twice been elected mayor of New Westminster with the support of the labour movement.

      But the chair of the TransLink Mayors' Council is not hesitating to criticize the union representing Coast Mountain Bus Company workers.

      "It is disappointing to hear Unifor leadership suggest that bus expansion be scaled back in order to pay for their wage demands," Cote said in a statement today. "Scaling back transit expansion in this region is completely off the table.

      "With North American–leading ridership growth, a climate emergency, and growing road congestion, now is not the time to slow down transit improvements," he continued. "Cutting the funding used to buy additional buses and hire more bus drivers will also do nothing to improve the working conditions of our valuable transit operators."

      Unifor Local 111 represents transit operators and Unifor Local 2200 represents maintenance staff.

      TransLink's wholly owned bus subsidiary has offered transit operators 9.8 percent over four years and maintenance staff 12.2 percent over four years.

      According to Coast Mountain Bus Company president and CEO Mike McDaniel, Unifor has rejected mediation to resolve the dispute. McDaniel has also claimed that Unifor's demands will cost $608 million more than the current offer.

      Unifor's chief negotiator, Gavin McGarrigle, has suggested that TransLink delay improvements to the system to deal with the workers' concerns.

      He's also mused about a bus strike lasting several months or possibly even a year.

      Meanwhile, Cote said that the mayors' council has directed more than 90 percent of the bus-service expansion in the first two phases of its 10-year vision to the most overcrowded routes.

      "Over 20 percent of these service improvements is to add run-time to improve reliability for customers and recovery time for operators," he said. "If the mayors' council were to roll back these bus service improvements in order to pay for what the union is asking, bus overcrowding would increase, which is exactly what the union leaders claim they want to see reduced."

      Cote asked both sides to return to the bargaining table as quickly as possible to reach a "fair and reasonable agreement as quickly as possible".

      After Cote issued his statement, McGarrigle tweeted that Unifor "has always fought for expanded transit" in Metro Vancouver.

      In July, TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond told the Straight that by the end of 2021 with current funding in place, two-thirds of the 10-year plan's bus-service improvements would be implemented.

      But that was before Unifor initiated job action, which includes an overtime ban for maintenance workers.

      TransLink's total boardings rose 7.1 percent in 2018—the largest annual increase in the regional transportation authority's history.

      "Last year, counter to all the trends in North America, of our various different modes of service, bus led the way in ridership increase," Desmond said at the time. "More than Canada Line. More than Expo and Millennium line, more than West Coast Express."

      Slightly less than two-thirds of TransLink's entire ridership occurs on the bus network.