A B.C. Transit plan to buy larger-capacity shuttle buses five of them destined for the capital region has derailed contract talks and could lead to job action.
Negotiations broke down over an order for 15 $253,000 Vicinity buses for use in B.C. Transits community-shuttle service around the province, said union president Ben Williams of Canadian Auto Workers Local 333.
Although the week started with both sides agreeing to get back to bargaining and job action being called off, the union now plans to begin an overtime ban on Monday, Williams said.
It will be the first substantial job action by the drivers, who have been working in street clothes instead of uniforms. Williams said the transit system functions on a fair amount of driver overtime, but wont fall apart without it.
Its not going to be something that is going to cripple and shut down the system, but there definitely is going to be inconveniences.
B.C. Transit said it will use its website, Facebook and Twitter to let the public know about disruptions or changes in service.
Williams said the union is firmly opposed to the purchase of Vicinity shuttle buses from a Chinese manufacturer.
He said current shuttle vehicles in Victoria have 24 seats and their drivers must have a Class 4 licence, while the Vicinity can carry 23 seated passengers and 16 standees.
Although they can seat up to 39 people, the new buses would still be operated by Class 4 drivers, Williams said.
He said only Class 2 drivers, who require more training, have ever operated buses in the Victoria system carrying more than 24 passengers.
The training is substantially less for a community-shuttle-bus driver with a Class 4 than for a conventional bus driver with a Class 2.
Shuttle drivers make $20.71 an hour, while conventional drivers with Class 2 licences make $26.14.
Williams said B.C. Transit had the new buses specially designed to get around the requirement for using Class 2 drivers.
He said Local 333 is also questioning the way the contract for the buses was awarded. The union is calling for B.C. auditor general John Doyle to investigate the purchase, which it said was done without issuing a request for proposals or having more than one bidder.
Transit spokeswoman Meribeth Burton said B.C. Transit is bound by strict rules as a Crown corporation and followed those rules with the bus contract. She dismissed suggestions safety would be compromised with the Vicinity, and said the bus is innovative and purpose-built, and meant to replace aging shuttle vehicles.
Burton said the model being replaced is no longer made, so we had to go to the marketplace to look for a new bus.
The current shuttles cost $186,000 apiece, but have only a five-year service life, as opposed to the Vicinitys 10 years.
She said the two-level wage structure for drivers has been in place since 2003.
B.C. Transit hopes to have the five new buses on the road in the spring, Burton said, but approval is still needed from the Greater Victoria Transit Commission. The buses have already been approved in Quesnel, Dawson Creek and Penticton.
© Copyright 2013