For the second straight week, Kelowna’s mayor has publicly called both sides in the ongoing Kelowna Regional Transit strike to return to the bargaining table.
Mayor Colin Basran said the union representing striking bus drivers and the company contracted to operate the transit system, First Canada, must “kick-start” negotiations and get a deal done.
“This is just so crucial,” said Basran Monday during council’s weekly meeting.
He also said he while he has called Transportation Minister Todd Stone to try and set up a meeting to discuss the strike and what the province can do to get both sides back to the table, he has not heard back.
The company, First Canada and the union, the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1722both say they are willing to return to negotiations but it is up to the other to call it first.
Meanwhile, thousands of bus riders in the Central Okanagan are being left in the cold for a second week as buses remain idle.
Three of those people, all of whom rely on the transit system for transportation, showed up at city hall Monday during council’s regular meeting and sat silently in the front row holding signs that said “Enough is enough! Restore public transit now” and “Don’t ignore the ‘public’ in public transit.”
Kornelia Lewis, Sarah Mainland and her mom, Joyce Mainland, all said they were there to let council now the strike is directly affecting people and needs to end now. They want city council to get directly involved.
“That’s why we elect (the mayor and councillors),” said Joyce Mainland, whose daughter is blind and requires transit to get to and from school.
She said he daughter should have been in school Monday but could not get there.
Lewis is also visually impaired and also relies on transit.
Basran maintained all the city can do is publicly urge both sides to return to negotiations and reach out to B.C. Transit and the province.
In a public statement issued Friday afternoon, he laid out in lengthy detail how the transit system is organized and why the city can only call on both sides to return to negotiations.
He said council completely understands the public’s frustration, but noted while the city and other Central Okanagan municipal governments contribute to cost of operating the transit system, it is B.C. Transit that contracts out the day-to-day running of the system. (See accompanying story.)
“More local autonomy and control over how and where the provincial funds are spent is something the municipal partners continue to advocate for,” said Basran. “But setting up a regionally owned and operated transit service is not something the municipal partners are considering at this time, as it would require significant tax increases.”
Outside city hall, a small group of striking bus drivers set up a public information table prior to the afternoon council meeting Monday.
Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1722 financial secretary Shane Curveon said what’s at the heart to the strike is the company’s refusal to pay drivers who drive smaller buses the same amount it pays drivers who drive larger buses. That despite a requirement all drivers have the same qualifications.
With only smaller “commuter” buses being added to the local fleet, Curveon said that means, in essence, a pay cut is coming for as many as 70 drivers if the current system remains in place.
He said he would like to see the regional transit system operated through a local transit authority so the municipal partners have more say in how the system is run.