The 2001 stoppage forced commuters, who grew increasingly frustrated as the strike stretched on, to carpool, walk, cycle or even hitch rides to get around the region.
Now Metro Vancouver is facing the possibility of a similar strike, as bus drivers voted Thursday to walk off the job if they and their employer can't hammer out a new contract.
The two union locals involved in the strike vote — Unifor Local 111 and 2200 — have been without a contract since March 31.
Representatives said the new contract needs to address hiring more drivers, improving wages, reducing overcrowding on buses and providing longer breaks for workers.
Unifor represents 5,000 workers at the Coast Mountain Bus Company, including bus drivers, SeaBus workers and maintenance staff in Metro Vancouver.
In 2001, 3,500 workers went on strike on April 1. Workers refused to drive Coast Mountain's fleet of 1,100 buses after the two sides could not agree on a new collective agreement.
Coast Mountain initially offered an eight per cent wage increase over three years to $22.70 per hour, while the union wanted an 18 per cent increase over three years to $23.36 per hour.
The two sides also struggled to find common ground on contracting out and the use of part-time drivers.
SkyTrain service continued throughout the 2001 strike, but the bus stoppage was a hardship for many people, including seniors like Dora Preston. She told the CBC at the time that she was forced to walk dozens of blocks to attend social functions in Vancouver.
The workers have been without a contract since March 31. Negotiations between the union and the company are set to resume Tuesday, and the union must give 72 hours notice of strike intentions.
"That's a lot of walking," she told CBC News in 2001, adding she also paid her neighbours to give her rides.
Harold Stickland was 82 when the strike began. His budget took a hit after shelling out for taxis to get to medical appointments.
"I believe in miracles," he told CBC News at the time. "And there could be a miracle that the strike could be short, but we'll see."
The strike did not end quickly and, as it stretched out, frustration grew. In July 2001, people gathered at the Vancouver Art Gallery to call for an end to the strike.
Many people focused their wrath on George Puil, a Vancouver councillor who was also the chair of TransLink. A load of manure was dumped on the front lawn of his home.
Residents weren't the only people affected by the strike; many businesses around the region reported a loss of revenue.
Finally in early August, with talks stalled, then labour minister Graham Bruce announced legislation forcing workers back on the job.
He imposed a settlement of wage increases of 8.5 per cent for drivers and mechanics over three years, plus a $1,000 signing bonus.
The last significant service disruption had been 17 years earlier, when transit workers were off the job for three months in 1984 before they were legislated back to work, according to a report published in 2008 by TransLink.
TransLink's system has dramatically increased in size and use since the last strike, nearly 20 years ago.
At the time of the 2001 strike, TransLink had about 230 million trips each year. In 2018, there were 436 million trips taken on bus, SeaBus, SkyTrain and the West Coast Express.
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“The type of breaks that they get are not structured. They’re measured in terms of minutes. There’s not 45 minutes or an hour that they sit and they’re not on the road. It’s literally minutes, in some cases two, three and four minutes after driving a complete route.”
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Transit users in Vancouver tell NEWS 1130 theyll have to make other arrangements to get to work if bus workers strike
“CMBC remains committed to reaching an acceptable negotiated settlement. Both parties will continue bargaining in the coming days,” a spokesperson said. “We dont anticipate imminent disruption to service at this time.
VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Transit users around Metro Vancouver are hoping a deal is reached next week, after bus drivers, SeaBus operators, and maintenance workers overwhelmingly voted in favour of striking.
Talks between Unifor locals 111 and 2200 and their employer broke down last Thursday over a new contract, which is meant to replace the last one that expired at the end of March. Both sides are set to return to the bargaining table Tuesday.
The union voted 99 per cent in favour of a strike mandate, after a day-long vote on Thursday. Members of Unifor locals 111 and 2200 have been without a contract since Mar. 31.
Transit users wont be immediately impacted, as negotiations are set to resume next week, but some say they’re already thinking about a Plan B to get to and from work.
“It’s going to affect me, of course. I’ll have to walk to work,” one transit user said on Friday, another adding she doesn’t know how she’ll get to her job if buses are impacted by strike action.
Metro Vancouver transit users are hoping a strike can be avoided, after Coast Mountain bus drivers and SeaBus operators voted 99% in favour of a strike mandate last night. pic.twitter.com/gCSALKTpKa
Negotiations of a new collective agreement broke down Oct. 3 and union leaders have said concerns over benefits and wages have not been addressed.
Another key issue for members who voted is working conditions, like overcrowding, which the union reports have worsened due to an increase in ridership.
“I know bus drivers go through a lot of B.S. on the daily so I kind of feel like if they want something, i’m willing to be a little more patient so that they can be happier on the job,” said one women to NEWS 1130.
I feel bad for them, but they make a good living. Theyve got a good benefit package, a good health package, Greg told NEWS 1130. There’s other avenues to do something if you’re trying to fight for more benefits or something. Don’t affect the people that actually take the bus.”
The possibility of a strike is not taken lightly by the workers, Balbir Mann, Unifor Local 111 president, said on Friday. We will continue to negotiate in good faith but we are prepared to take action if it proves necessary to obtain a fair contract that will allow our members to continue to deliver award-winning service to the public.
Whether or not well see a strike depends on what happens next week, when Coast Mountain and Unifor go back to the bargaining table. With the strike mandate, the union has 90 days to walkout and it says it will give 72 hours notice if it decides to. More on @NEWS1130.
In 2016, the union similarly voted in favour of a strike, but a contract was negotiated before major disruptions to service could occur.
Any walkout would be the first in Metro Vancouver since a four-month transit strike in 2001 was ended by provincial legislation.
Meantime, TransLink says in a statement that it doesn’t “anticipate imminent disruption to service at this time.”
“Unifor Locals 111 and 2200 have informed Coast Mountain Bus Company their membership has voted in favour of strike action,” the statement reads. “CMBC remains committed to reaching an acceptable negotiated settlement. Both parties will continue bargaining in the coming days.”
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