By Andrew Mitchell
Greyhound buses remained in the kennel this week as drivers and other workers west of Manitoba continued to strike.
So far talks have not brought the two parties any closer to a compromise, with the Amalgamated Transit Union asking for increased wages, better working conditions, and job security. The union complains that the company has become “too Americanized” since it was acquired by Laidlaw International in 1997, and that working conditions have deteriorated in the past decade.
The union’s contract with the company expired on Dec. 31, 2006. After talks failed to resolve issues, workers walked off the job on Thursday, May 17.
So far the impacts to Whistler have been minimal, and many workers and employers have arranged car pools for employees that would normally commute by Greyhound.
“So far we haven’t heard anything from our members… but luckily this is a slower season for us in terms of employment and visitors to the resort. But it would probably be a lot more serious if the strike occurred in the winter season,” said Louise Lundy, Whistler Chamber of Commerce president. “At least we have local transit buses in Whistler and to Pemberton, so we’re still in good shape locally.”
In terms of visitor numbers, only a small percentage of backpackers and tourists take the bus to Whistler, according to Breton Murphy of Tourism Whistler. About 95 per cent of visitors travel to Whistler in personal vehicles, while the remaining five per cent take a variety of forms of transportation including Greyhound.
Tourism Whistler will be watching the situation closely, Murphy said, but he expects that Sea to Sky residents who take the bus to work and to appointments in the city are most affected by the strike.
To help visitors, Tourism Whistler has posted a list of alternatives on its website, including the Perimeter Bus, the Whistler Mountaineer tourist train, Whistler Air, Charter Air, and taxi and limousine services.
According to Darryl Novak of the Jack Bell Foundation’s Ride-Share program, their website has seen a lot of new traffic over the past week.
“We average from about 30 to 70 people registering for ride shares each week, and we’re up to 70 over the past three days,” said Novak. “There are quite a few people signing in, around 20 yesterday (Monday), when we would typically have something like five to 10 people joining, so it’s quite a few more.
“What we find whenever there’s a transit strike is that people find their own alternatives for the first few days, but after about a week they start looking at alternatives like ride-share.”
Emma DalSanto, traffic demand management coordinator for the Resort Municipality of Whistler, said Sea to Sky residents have several options, including the Jack Bell Foundation and alternative transportation providers. As well, the Pemberton Commuter bus is a year-round service with three trips per day from the Pemberton area to Whistler.
“The best option for a lot of people is the Jack Bell Foundation’s casual ride-share program, where people who have a ride or need a ride can post it online. They also have a more formal rideshare program with fleet vehicles that you have to commit to on a monthly basis,” she said. “There are a couple of vehicles coming up from Squamish to Whistler, and some seats are available on those, and other services are done by employer — I know Whistler-Blackcomb is signed up.”
Some residents have taken matters into their own hands and are hitchhiking. According to RCMP Constable Ann-Marie Gallop, the department has not noticed any significant increase in the number of hitchhikers on the side of the road, but on Tuesday more than half a dozen were seen at Whistler Creek and on the highway south of Function Junction.
“We haven’t noticed any more hitchhikers, but hitchhiking is a fineable offence under the Motor Vehicle Act… and there is a $109 fine for soliciting rides on the roadway,” she said. “The law is there for several reasons, but mainly because it’s dangerous for hitchhikers and the motorists passing them, and can create dangerous situations when it gets dark. Stopping your car on the side of the highway can also create a danger.”
At press time the two sides in the Greyhound strike were not in negotiations. It’s unknown what specific concessions the union is hoping for or what Greyhound has offered at this point.
Getting to Whistler
Jack Bell Foundation — www.ride-share.com or 1-888-380-RIDE (7433)
Perimeter Bus — www.perimeterbus.com or 1-877-317-7788
Whistler Mountaineer — www.whistlermountaineer.com or 1-888-687-RAIL (7245)
Planes, taxis and limo services — www.tourismwhistler.com