The City of Saskatoon’s lockout of transit workers has entered its second week, bringing with it mounting frustration and no sign that buses will be returning to the road anytime soon.
After 11 months of bargaining between the city and members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 615 resulted in only failed negotiations, city officials locked out approximately 330 of its bus drivers at 9 p.m. on Sept. 20. There has been no bus service since, with the exception of Access Transit.
One of the largest groups impacted by the lack of public transport is students at the University of Saskatchewan.
“We know that thousands and thousands of students use transit every day,” said U of S Students’ Union president Max FineDay. “There are students, waking up at six in the morning… to get to class on time. It’s been ridiculous the lengths students have had to go to because they aren’t being respected by city council.”
In response to the transit lockout the university has introduced alternatives in order to help minimize disruptions.
The UCommute program has allowed some students to organize rides with other individuals in their area, while increased capacity of parking lots as well as temporary parking permits have relieved some of the stress on the university infrastructure. However, some students are still struggling to attend class or go about their daily lives.
“It’s been a little frustrating,” said Jessica Popp, who is in her first year of graduate studies in biology. “It’s increased my travel time by 20 minutes each way — so about a forty minute commute both ways. I’ve had to drive part of the way and then walk the rest.”
Travel has proved to be a particularly daunting task for Popp to overcome during her first year in Saskatoon.
“Not being from here, it makes it a totally different ballgame where you grow to rely on something and then suddenly it’s not there,” she said. “It’s a little hard getting around not knowing many people and not having as many people as connections to be able to go to or to get help from.”
It is not just individuals new to Saskatoon who have faced challenges, as even those who are familiar with the city have encountered issues getting to and from school.
Eugene Irwin is a fourth year Edwards School of Business student who had a particularly shocking experience dealing with the transit issues.
“Monday morning I had to drive and I actually got hit… I got rear ended,” Irwin said. “With the amount of traffic I saw on Circle [Drive] and on College [Drive], it’s almost dangerous how many vehicles are there. I’m not even talking about convenience-wise, I’m talking about safety.”
While he waits for the full amount of what the transit lockout will cost him, Irwin reflects on how those who do not have other methods of transportation have been affected.
“I feel bad for the people that count on the transit to make a living… that try to get downtown or anywhere in Saskatoon where their job is because they can’t afford a car but they also need to work. We’re all entitled to that,” Irwin said.
As a second year arts and science student who is also trying to work part time, Nicole Pogoda is one of those individuals who has lost more than simply transportation to and from school. It has been hard for her to confidently say she could work a regular schedule.
“If I were to get a job I would have… to bus and if they were really far away, I can’t walk for two hours,” Pogoda said. “That would be impossible. So now I have to rely on people for rides.”
With students struggling to go about their daily lives, even FineDay recognizes the challenges that the university faces.
“Not everything is going to work best for students,” he said. “It’s just unrealistic that the UCommute program will work for everybody; it’s unrealistic to think that everybody is going to have a bike and a lock to be able to get to school that way; it’s unrealistic to think that people can pay for taxis every day to get to class. There’s a limited amount of options here… but the main solution here is that these bus drivers can get back to work.”
Irwin agrees with FineDay.
“The ball really is in the court of the transit union and the city to come up with an agreement. We can only do what we can do and the university can only do what it can do. We’re very limited to what power we have in the grand scheme of things,” he said.
However, some students have been able to find a silver lining during the transit lockout.
“I mean it has had its positives where it has forced me to be outside and walk and enjoy the scenery,” Popp said. “But at the same time it is frustrating when time is of the essence and you don’t have that much time to put towards other things such as longer commutes.”