Contract negotiations between the Amalgamated Transit Union local 1722 and FirstCanada, which operates the Kelowna regional transit system are underway. —Image: Capital News file

Kelowna transit contract negotiations underway

Both sides looking to avoid another strike following the two-week system shutdown in 2016

Contract negotiations are underway in Kelowna between the company that operates the Central Okanagan’s regional transit system and the union that represents its drivers.

Earlier this week, representatives of FirstCanada and the Amalgamated Transit Union exchanged initial proposals and negotiations started Thursday.

ATU local 1722 president Scott Lovell said negotiations are in the preliminary stage and he is “cautiously optimistic” a deal can be done. He has told the media in addition to wages, safety of drivers is also an issue he feels needs to be addressed in the negotiations.

While all Kelowna buses now have surveillance cameras on board and outside—including one trained on the driver—the union has said it also wants doors installed to protect drivers from attack.

Only one bus in the Kelowna transit fleet has a driver’s door installed and that was done last year as part of a province-wide “proof of concept” that saw modified protective driver’s doors installed on one bus in Kelowna, one in Abbotsford and three in Victoria.

RELATED: Top 10 stories of 2016: Bus strike brings Kelowna to a halt

In 2015 a pilot project testing driver protection doors lead to mixed reviews and the design was modified.

Both sides hope to avoid the result that occurred last time contract negotiations took place—a two-week strike in November 2016 that brought the transit system to a halt and left bus riders out in the cold.

That strike was only settled after behind-the-scenes mediation by officials at Kelowna city hall.

After repeatedly publicly urging the two sides to return to the negotiation table but refusing to to get involved, Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran instructed the city’s director of human resources to try and mediate a settlement between the company and the union. Following two days of talks with the help of the city’s director of human resources, a three-year deal was struck.

The Kelowna regional transit system serves the Central Okanagan from Peachland to Lake Country, including Kelowna, West Kelowna, areas of the Regional District of Central Okanagan and the Westbank First Nation lands.

The system has 28 routes and a bus rapid transit service called RapidBus that operates along Highway 97 from Westbank to the UBC Okanagan campus via downtown Kelowna.

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