A looming strike or lockout at Winnipeg Transit could turn into a headache for students, parents and teachers, education officials say.
"Transportation can be a challenge for families even when school busing is available. In the event of a strike or lockout, it would be a nightmare situation for families to be in. We wouldn’t be able to flip a switch and have an alternative in place," said Chris Broughton, chairman of the Winnipeg School Division, which has some 33,000 K-12 students and more than 5,400 employees.
University of Manitoba officials have estimated a strike or lockout could result in an additional 10,000 vehicles on city streets — just from the south Winnipeg campus alone.
Jakob Sanderson, president of the U of M Students’ Union, said 17,000 students take the bus daily, in addition to faculty and staff.
"We’re trying to mitigate (the fallout from a transit strike/lockout) in any way possible, knowing there isn’t going to be a perfect solution," Sanderson said.
On Thursday, city hall said the two sides are so far apart that it’s not worthwhile for negotiating teams to return to the bargaining table.
Transit union members rejected the city’s most recent contract proposal last week; the city dismissed the union’s counter-offer days later.
The collective agreement expired on Jan. 12, and the two sides are in a legal strike and lockout position.
City officials have said they believe the transit union is covertly planning a strike beginning in September and have advised riders to make alternative arrangements. The union denies it is planning a strike.
City hall hasn’t ruled out a lockout before the end of the month, in a bid to pressure members into accepting a settlement. Winnipeg Transit states on its website that its buses carry almost 170,000
passengers each weekday — many of them are students and low-income workers without an alternative means of transportation.
"A strike or lockout would have serious impact for both riders and the city," said Derek Koop, president of Functional Transit Winnipeg. "People are going to be placed in a very tough situation."
Broughton said the Winnipeg School Division is optimistic the sides will reach a settlement, but the administration is preparing contingency plans.
"Many of our high school students rely heavily on public transportation to get to and from school, and we won’t have the resources to completely maintain normal operations should there be a strike," Broughton said. "It’s going to be a problem for all the metro Winnipeg school divisions."
At the U of M, Sanderson said contingency plans include expanding the number of bike lockers on campus, encouraging carpooling and ride-hailing for all students, faculty and staff. "We recognize that transit is a very fundamental service to how university students are able to get to campus and there is not going to be any perfect replacement," he said.
Aldo Santin is a veteran newspaper reporter who first carried a pen and notepad in 1978 and joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1986, where he has covered a variety of beats and specialty areas including education, aboriginal issues, urban and downtown development. Santin has been covering city hall since 2013.