Starting Monday, bus drivers in Greater Victoria will refuse all overtime work, which could strand some morning and evening passengers.
The job action will affect bus service during peak commuter hours and comes in in response to a breakdown of contract negotiations between B.C. Transit and CAW local 333 on Thursday night.
“It puts students in a tough position,” said Lucia Orser, director of external relations for the University of Victoria Students’ Society. “We can only assume that continued job action is really going to affect students’ ability to get to campus.”
Students and other transit users on busy routes are already being passed over in the morning due to buses hitting maximum capacity limits. Monday’s work-to-rule action will only make the problem worse, Orser said.
“It could mean missed classes,” she said. “But at the same time we support (the drivers’) rights for ongoing job action.”
The contract dispute centres around a proposal to replace the current fleet of community shuttle buses with a new fleet of five slightly larger shuttle buses made in China.
Community shuttles are used on smaller routes, such as through James Bay and on the West Shore. Community shuttle drivers require less training and are paid $5 less an hour. Conventional buses require a class 2 licence, while smaller community shuttles require a class 4 licence.
The union has two main concerns surrounding the proposed new shuttle, called the Vicinity.
First, the proposed new fleet can hold up to 39 passengers (including 16 standing passengers) compared to the current shuttle which can hold 23 passengers. The union is worried drivers with less training and pay will be required to take on larger routes.
“No one other than a full-time conventional operator with a Class 2 license has ever operated a bus in the Victoria system with a capacity of more than 24 passengers,” said union president Ben Williams.
He said B.C. Transit insisted on the unrestricted right to use the community shuttle buses for the Victoria fleet.
B.C. Transit spokesperson Meribeth Burton said union fears are unfounded, and that the number of community shuttles won’t increase and they won’t be used on larger, busier routes.
The union said it’s also concerned about the sourcing and safety of the shuttles. It alleges B.C. Transit selected the shuttles by direct award contract to a company with no experience building transit vehicles. It has called on the Auditor General of B.C. to conduct an independent review of the decision not to issue a request for proposals for new buses.
Burton said B.C. Transit has been testing the shuttles for two years. “We think it offers better comfort and safety for our customers and drivers,” she said.
The Greater Victoria Transit Commission has not yet approved the purchase of these new shuttles for Greater Victoria. B.C. Transit has purchased the shuttles for several jurisdictions in other communities of B.C.