Editorial: Transit users caught in the crossfire

By Chris Tait

Summer: a time of good weather, greater temperatures and lesser clothing, activity both social and physical, and students staring out office windows in envy despite the relative affluence it seems to bring. The rising temperatures and lengthening days, however, bring shortened tempers, reflected recently as strike talks bloomed in Alberta over the past month.

From their foundations in the industrial revolution, most unions have had something to hold ransom to guarantee their pleas will be heard. One recent case, however, finds itself in a pretty peculiar bargaining position.

On Fri., Jun. 1, the Amalgamated Transit Union had originally planned a single-day strike to coincide with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference hosted in Calgary this past weekend. The plan was designed to be a bit of mud in the eye of city officials as they conferred with their national peers. Realizing perhaps that a mini-strike would make them appear petty, the union instead opted to look generally ineffective by calling the action off at the last minute.

The peculiar position protrudes from the ATU’s lack of direct power over either influential individuals or a majority of the masses.

It’s an old tune, but with Alberta’s insurance rates amongst the highest in the country, you can be assured it’s not the public-representative end of the demographic spectrum who are riding the bus. It’s doubtful any city officials have spent much time on our transit system. They, instead, join the hundreds of thousands of Calgarians–nearly 80 per cent of the booming population–who make their daily commute in a car. Despite Calgary being among the top five Canadian municipalities in transit ridership, this leaves the ATU with neither the numbers nor spokespeople required to affect major change.

And therein lies the rub: the transit union is fundamentally flawed. While it would certainly be detrimental not to have transit in operation, buses and trains aren’t the city’s life-blood. With the horizontal development resulting from an anti-urban prairie mentality that’s fairly unique to this urban centre, the reality is there’s not much the ATU can do.

The union has little to look forward to as a result of a strike. If striking without popular sway isn’t deterrent enough, striking at a time when alternative transportation–cycling, skateboarding, walking and the like–is at its peak should be. To make matters worse, the last transit strike caused 49 days of headache and misery for the city’s seniors, students and financially strapped, while saving the city itself 49 days worth of wages to put towards the settlement.

With the city compounding problems by again delaying the already overdue C-Train platform extensions as protest to the provincial government, the customers are stranded in a kind of no man’s land; they’re caught between two seemingly immovable sides and, in the end, taking all the crossfire.

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