Sea-to-Sky bus strike hits 10-week mark with talks in neutral, causing widespread frustration - CBC .

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Spencer Wickenden has a straightforward opinion on the now-10-week-old bus strike in B.C.'s Sea-to-Sky region.

"It sucks," said Wickenden, an Australian who works at a sports bar in the Whistler Village.

"I think it's a joke."

Like many low-wage workers in the pricey Sea-to-Sky area, Wickenden relied on bus service to get around, but due to the strike, that hasn't been possible. Instead it's led to inconvenience and extra costs.

Spencer Wickenden describes the 10-week-old bus strike as 'a joke.' (Shawn Foss/CBC)

"Rents are expensive out here as everyone knows," he said. "And you're making 15 bucks an hour. I mean, it's pretty rough."

About 80 bus drivers with Unifor have been on strike since Jan. 29. They are demanding better wages and benefits from their employer, Pacific Western Transportation, a contractor of B.C. Transit's operating bus service in Squamish, Whistler and Pemberton.

The drivers want eventual wage parity with drivers in Metro Vancouver, and have been on the picket lines demanding it with only HandyDart service running in the meantime.

The two sides have not negotiated in weeks, causing widespread frustration.

Only HandyDart transit vehicles, serving people with disabilities, remain on the road. The remaining B.C. Transit vehicles in the region have been parked for weeks. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

'Non-stop, non-stop, keep going'

Sydonie Spence came to Whistler from Manitoba to work in a hotel and, of course, get plenty of time on the slopes.

She also used the bus while it was running, but the extended job action has her re-thinking her future in Whistler.

Hotel worker Sydonie Spence says it's a struggle for low-wage workers to make ends meet in Whistler and the bus strike is adding to that misery. (Shawn Foss/CBC)

"In the summer it won't be as bad because I have a bike," Spence said. "But in the winter it might affect my plans on staying here. 

"I'd love to stay for another season, but if the buses aren't around, I can't afford to live here. And that's just the reality of it."

Nadia Jelenec, 16, is a high school student who works at a fast food restaurant. She said many service workers are forced to shell out for cabs — if they can find one.

"They're obviously really busy now," Jelenec said, proven by one look at a taxi stand in the Whistler Village.

Nadia Jelenec, 16, says going to work in the Whistler Village is a challenging — and expensive — proposition without bus service. (Shawn Foss/CBC)

Cabbie Joey Loren has been among a constant stream of taxis sometimes waiting just seconds for another passenger to hop in.

"Like, super busy," is how Loren described his work during the strike. 

"Non-stop, non-stop, keep going."

Taxi driver Joey Loren says the bus strike has made him a busy man as tourists and workers seek to get around the region. (Shawn Foss/CBC)

Kids 'devastated'

A man walks down Highway 99. The mayor of Whistler has said there has been an uptick of hitchhiking and people dangerously walking on the road since the strike began. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

On Thursday afternoon, parents lined up in their cars to pick up their kids from Whistler Secondary, with some saying the lines have grown quite a bit during the strike.

Lucy Pomroy of Pemberton — a half-hour drive away — was there to pick up her daughter.

"That has become a big challenge, driving back and forth to get them to socializing or activities or school," Pomroy said.

Lucy Pomroy lives in Pemberton, about a half-hour drive away from her daughter's high school. She says parents are paying more for gas and spending more time as chauffeurs during the bus strike and kids are less autonomous. (Shawn Foss/CBC)

"The kids are really sort of devastated because it takes away some independence from them to make decisions for themselves to go where they want to go."

Ryder Huxtable, 17, who was leaving school, said teenagers without a car are bugging their parents for rides, walking long distances or simply missing out on after-school activities.

"It's horrible," Huxtable said. "I want to see the buses back sooner."

Ryder Huxtable, a 17-year-old student at Whistler Secondary, said some of his classmates are missing out on after-school activities with no bus service to get them home. (Shawn Foss/CBC)

No signs of progress

The people CBC spoke to all largely expressed sympathy for the drivers in the dispute.

At a picket line in front of a locked-up B.C. Transit bus depot, driver Rolly Schultz said that tracks with what he's hearing.

Whistler bus driver Rolly Schultz said he believes the drivers have community support but he's surprised they've been striking as long as they have. (Shawn Foss/CBC)

He said drivers are not backing down but the long time without work has been stressful.

"I'm not having income," Schultz said. "I have to pay my bills with savings, my mortgage with savings. It's not an easy situation for myself and everybody else here."

Employer Pacific Western has said that it has offered fair deals to the union, and asked if the union would agree to binding arbitration. That request was not agreed to.

Workers are pictured at the picket line in Whistler Thursday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Unifor, the drivers' union, has accused the company of "stubbornness" on outstanding issues. A union spokesperson has confirmed there are no upcoming talks planned.

B.C. Transit has said little during the debate aside from assuring customers it is monitoring the situation and apologizing for inconvenience.

B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains said he is urging the parties to get back to talking and is offering mediation services through the Labour Relations Board.

Meanwhile, people like Wickenden just want buses back on the road.

"It's just carrying on too long now," he said. "They need to do something about it."