Free transit in Kelowna starts today as labour dispute continues | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Kelowna News

Free transit in Kelowna starts today as labour dispute continues

Kelowna transit riders can take advantage of free service starting today.

Drivers are refusing to collect fares across the Kelowna Regional Transit system as part of their job action against First Canada.

“Our members care deeply for our riders and the community, and we are exercising restraint and doing everything we can before shutting down bus service,” Al Peressini, regional transit union president, said in a news release.

Kelowna transit workers, part of the Amalgamated Transit Union local 1722, voted 97 per cent in favour of strike action as they continue to negotiate with First Canada.

First Canada is contracted by B.C. Transit to operate the bus system in multiple cities across the province, including the Central Okanagan region. The union's most recent contract expired in March.

READ MORE: Kelowna bus driver training program not working out as expected

“Management refuses to fix our system, fund it, and make it fair, so we are asking the riding public to refuse to pay fares until those priorities improve," Peressini said.

Drivers won't be enforcing payment and is asking riders not to buy new passes until the union comes to a new agreement with First.

B.C. Transit contracts nearly all of its operations across the province. It owns the buses and coordinates parts of each region's operations with municipal governments, like routes.

However, First Canada is responsible for hiring, scheduling and other employee relations through its contracts.

The one exception is in the Capital Region, where the Victoria Regional Transit system, which is directly operated by B.C. Transit.

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“The buck stops with B.C. Transit,” Peressini said. “The province contracted this out to First Transit, sets the terms and funding of that agreement, and in doing so incentivizes First to treat workers and riders this way.”

Kelowna transit workers last went on strike in 2016. At this time, the union appears to be taking steps short of heading to the picket lines, allowing riders to continue using the bus in the region from Lake Country to Peachland.

Along with free ridership, transit workers have stopped wearing their uniforms as part of their job action.

While union members are stepping up their job action to put pressure on First Canada, transit workers with a separate union in Vernon and Salmon Arm have also recently voted in favour of job action. 

That vote was cast roughly a week before the Kelowna region workers, but that union has yet to issue a strike notice.

First Canada has not responded to requests for comment from iNFOnews.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Levi Landry or call 250-819-3723 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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