York transit authority makes nice with embattled riders

Even though York Region’s “aggravating” three-month transit strike ended last week, riders hoping to climb back on the YRT/Viva bus will have to wait until February 4, but once they do, they’ll be riding for free.

It will take maintenance workers from the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU Local 1587) until February 4 to reassemble their fleet of buses, said Rick Leary, the general manager of York Region Transit.

“The contractors, (Miller Transit and Viola) are bringing in the maintenance people (and) putting refresher programs together for the drivers,” Leary said, and most of the fleet should be back on York region’s 120 bus routes by February 4.

But, in a bid to attract back York region’s disgruntled riders, YRT/Viva will be offering two months of free rides; Leary believes the gesture will be enough to ease the public’s anger over the strike.

“It was a terrible inconvenience for many,” Thornhill councillor Alan Shefman told the Toronto Observer, but he thinks YRT’s offer of free rides will pay off.

“It’s an extraordinary gesture,” he said, but even without the offer, many York Region residents have little choice but to take transit.

He also said that YRT’s pledge to be up and running by February 4 is reasonable: “it’s a very large infrastructure that has been down for a long period of time.”

Reflecting on the length of the strike, Leary said too much time was wasted in the early days.

“Very unfortunate that both sides didn’t continue to just sit at the (bargaining) table,” Leary said.

Shefman suggested there were various strategies at play over the course of the strike, and not all were in the best interests of York Region commuters.

An average of 30,000 people move to the area every year, Leary said, and YRT has seen ridership increase about 12 per cent over the last year.

“It’s important to understand the growing demand and use of transit in York Region,” Shefman added.

Plans for VivaNext, an expansion of the system, will see the development of “the Rapid Way” along highway 7 which will provide a rapid transit link from one end of Markham to the other end of Vaughan.

Meanwhile, councillor Shefman said he hopes that both sides of the dispute have learned that strikes can be long, with no real winners.