**Note: Also appears on the Calgary Herald’s Q Blog
Reginald Tiangha, Calgary Herald
Published: Sunday, April 22, 2007
Reginald Tiangha – April 22, 2007 15:09 – I question how serious city council is on trying to curb a transit strike before it happens. You would think that they would have learned from what happened last time and tried their hardest to prevent things from getting to this point.
There were no winners when the members of ATU 583 went on strike in 2001. For seven weeks (the longest strike of its kind in Calgary’s history), Calgarians had to find alternate ways to get around. Where possible, people biked, rollerbladed or walked to get around. For the majority of people, traffic became a nightmare and the number of cars on the roads increased dramatically. Getting a taxi anywhere around town was impossible and, while lucrative for the taxi industry in Calgary, there were still complaints by some taxi companies that they were ill-equipped to deal with the demand and advocated a quick end to the strike for their own sanity.
As a post-secondary student at the time, I remember hearing about students being unable to make it to classes, being stranded at school and even missing exams. It was horrid.
Fast forward to 2007. According to Calgary Transit’s 2006 20 Year Capital Plan, public transit usage in Calgary has increased to the point that they are consistently at near-capacity during peak hours and estimate that more people are deterred from using public transit because of this.
Forty-two per cent of work travel to the downtown core is now done through public transit (compared to 36 per cent in 1995). Between 1995 and 2004, ridership increased by 46 per cent, approximately double Calgary’s population growth rate of 24 per cent.
The federal government wants to encourage public transit adoption by offering tax credits. Many new housing developments have popped up near C-Train stations which will probably entice those home owners to adopt transit for their transportation needs. With housing costs what they are today, many people are forgoing cars in order to pay for housing, and are becoming reliant on Calgary Transit for their transportation needs.
Add to the fact that many post-secondary students now use transit due to U-Pass transit fees being a mandatory tuition fee, it is painfully obvious that the demand for public transit in Calgary has increased over the years, will continue to increase, and is stronger than ever before.
Calgary Transit has an ambitious plan to expand transit infrastructure in Calgary to meet the demand. Those plans include expansions to the NW and NE C-Train lines and construction of a West line that would take the place of the current BRT line in the West and continue on all the way to Aspen Woods. In order to meet these targets, they plan on adding more train cars and busses to their fleets and hiring over 200 drivers and additional technical staff to maintain it all, which is probably why the current public transit staff feel so overworked.
With the importance of public transit and the long term plans being considered to increase service, it boggles my mind that city council continues to allow situations like these to degenerate to the point where they are now. I mean, seriously, what have they been doing all this time? I’m disappointed with the fact that it seems like the city has been dragging their heels on getting this situation resolved for so long now, especially with public transit being so important to so many people.
Furthermore, I’m not impressed that the transit union is asking for a wage hike that is higher than what many of the other city unions accepted this year (on average, a 10 per cent increase, which is the same deal that the city initially offered the transit union).
I’m not saying that transit workers don’t deserve more money. Part of the problem is that they feel overworked and thus they feel that they deserve more pay and justifiably so. No one likes working 12 hour days. However, if the city had accomplished their goal of hiring the extra 200 workers they had originally been looking for, then perhaps transit staff wouldn’t feel as overworked as they are now and may have possibly settled for less than the 15 per cent increase they desire.
Regardless, now that they have it stuck in their heads that they deserve an increase in pay higher than what most of the other unions in the city got (ex. Fire, EMS and Police), they’re not going to settle for anything less and are going to do whatever it takes in order to get it, citizens be damned.
How much more damage will it take before the city realizes that a full blown, long term transit strike can and will have a disastrous effect on this city’s economy? For many more people in Calgary, transit is now a service essential to their livelihood and a part of their daily lives.
Therefore, I believe that it’s time for city council to seriously consider declaring public transit an essential service. Considering Calgary’s population growth and that the number of people who depend on public transit solely for their transportation needs due to economic situations, encouragement by government, and environmental concerns will increase over time, public transit will eventually become a service that’s essential for many Calgarians, if it isn’t already.
I think that it’s simply gotten to the point where the city and its citizens cannot afford to cope with a full blown transit strike anymore. If city negotiators are incapable of figuring out a way to resolve or prevent these problems from occurring in the first place, then city council should take steps to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.