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‘How can they cripple the city this way?’ Chilliwack senior asks about Fraser Valley transit strike

‘If customers who feel they’re eligible, are not receiving service, they should contact First Transit’
Sarah Pringle of Chilliwack is eager to see the transit strike end so she can get Handydart services again. (Jennifer Feinberg/ Chilliwack Progress)

HandyDART customers from Chilliwack are being left in the lurch during the Fraser Valley transit strike.

Only those going to renal dialysis, cancer or MS appointments currently qualify for “essential services” during the transit strike.

That is causing hardships for Sarah Pringle of Chilliwack who relies on HandyDART because of mobility issues from a degenerative disc condition.

“It’s just the best way for me to get around,” Pringle said.

She found out the buses had stopped running completely in Chilliwack as of March 20 when she tried to book a ride to get her doctor’s appointment. Pringle was surprised there would be no HandyDART buses running from Chilliwack.

The labour dispute is between the employer, First Transit, the contractor for BC Transit, and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) 561, representing more than 200 bus drivers and other transit workers.

The senior said she’s been forced to use up her Taxi Saver discount coupons for cab rides, but now she’s running out.

“How can they cripple the city this way?” Pringle asked “If people can’t get to where they need to go because there’s no Handydart, or no buses, what are we supposed to do?”

All she can do is wait for the strike to be over.

“I think they need to bring back essential services for doctors’ appointments,” Pringle said. “That’s how it was during COVID, and they should bring that back.”

It was originally a B.C. Labour Relations Board order dated Feb. 28 that determined that the “essential services” for Handydart customers would be limited to those going to renal, cancer or MS appointments.

The crux of the problem is that since those medical services are only available in Abbotsford, and Chilliwack Handydart buses are not allowed to leave Chilliwack, there are effectively no Handydart services being provided for Chilliwack customers.

It started with job action in February as drivers stopped collecting fares, and shifted to a full-blown strike in March with all transit was suspended, with the exception of essential services.

The main issues are increased wages and benefits for drivers.

The U.S.-based First Transit (First Canada ULC), contractor for BC Transit in Chilliwack, Abbotsford, Mission, Agassiz, Harrison and Hope, was asked why Chilliwack customers cannot access essential services.

“HandyDART services continue to be provided in conjunction with the essential services order we have in place with CUPE Local 561,” according to a First Transit spokesperson in an emailed statement. “Essential services are for clients who require HandyDART service in order to attend renal dialysis, cancer treatment, or multiple sclerosis treatment.”

Anyone who feels they should qualify but do not, is asked to call HandyDART either in Abbotsford 604-855-0080, or in Chilliwack 604-795-5121.

“If customers who feel they are eligible are not receiving service, they should contact First Transit at the numbers given. If there are situations where eligible customers are not receiving service, First Transit will follow up through the appropriate channels.”

It is not known when the buses will start rolling again in the Fraser Valley.

“We continue to hope for a resolution to CUPE Local 561’s strike action, and remain willing to resume negotiations on a settlement that will work for all stakeholders in the system,” concluded First Transit.

CUPE 561 spokesperson Liam O’Neill said it was their understanding that Chilliwack customers were supposed to get access to essential services.

Even with First Transit in the role as contractor for BC Transit, BC Transit is still ultimately responsible for the actions of its contractor, the union rep said.

“It seems BC Transit is trying to shy away from providing service in the Fraser Valley. If service isn’t being provided it’s a problem,” O’Neill said.

RELATED: Chilliwack man forced to move due to strike

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Jennifer Feinberg

About the Author: Jennifer Feinberg

I have been a Chilliwack Progress reporter for 20+ years, covering the arts, city hall, as well as Indigenous, and climate change stories.
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