Dalhousie faces transit strike
University puts contingencies in place, encourages carpooling
Ryan McNutt - February 1, 2012
Updated: February 2, 1:33 p.m.
Halifax is facing its first transit strike in 14 years.
At the 11th hour, talks broke off between the Halifax Regional Municipality and the union which represents bus operators, ferry crews, fleet mechanics and others. The workers official went on strike shortly after 1:30 a.m. on Thursday, Feb. 2.
The last transit strike in Halifax took place during the summer months—when many students were away from campus—and was well before the introduction of the UPass program. Today, a transit strike could have a dramatic impact on the Dal community.
Read also: Dalhousie transit strike information
“I’m pretty reliant on Metro Transit,” says Alexina Dubois, a first-year arts student. “I don’t have a car and my mom works during the day so I really don’t know what I would do.”
“Just over 21 per cent of Dal students use public transit as their main form of transportation to campus,” says Rochelle Owen, who as director of sustainability conducts a yearly transportation demand survey. “That’s about 3,500 students who will be most affected by a strike.”
In addition, 21 per cent of employees (approximately 1,000) use public transit as their primary way of getting to campus.
Carpooling will be key
Since last week, when a transit strike first looked like a strong possibility, leaders across the university have been planning contingencies.
“We have a lot of people who will be directly affected by this,” explains Ken Burt, vice-president finance and administration. “And the indirect impacts could be just as significant – if congested traffic makes it difficult to get to campus, that will cause strain on classes, on operations and more.”
The most important thing the Dal community can do to help, says Mr. Burt, is to offer drives to those affected by the strike, or to partner with other drivers to carpool and help ease the traffic situation.
The university has made several different tools available to help connect students and employees looking to carpool. These include MyDal’s classifieds (search under “Rides”) and the HRM Smart Trip program, where you can search for drives by postal code and can connect with Dal people as well as ride seekers from other Halifax organizations. There’s also a “Dalhousie Ride Sharing” Facebook group and a Twitter hashtag—#DalRides—that people can use to find or offer drives.
To encourage carpooling, the university will be making the Hancock lot (corner of Oxford and Coburg) during peak hours — 7 a.m. until 9:30 a.m. Vehicles must have a Dal parking pass and three people or more (two plus the driver) to park there during that time. Dal Security will also be allowing drivers with a reserved pass to the Dunn lot to trade those passes between vehicles during the strike so they can join with other drivers and carpool.
And while most of Dalhousie’s reserved parking lots are at or near capacity, Dal Security says that there are still spots available at Fenwick Towers that can be purchased at a pro-rated price for the remainder of the parking year (until September). Contact Security at 494-6400 for more information.
With thousands of students affected by a transit strike, professors and lecturers are being encouraged to do everything they can to minimize the impact on the academic term. All classes, labs and tutorials will continue during the strike.
“We’re asking our faculty members and instructors to be considerate of the circumstances, and to discuss with students their contingency plans for how their courses will be affected by a transit strike,” says Carolyn Watters, vice-president academic and provost.
Some of the potential contingencies that students may see implemented in their classes include adjustments to attendance/participation policies and exploring online delivery of some classroom exercises.
Students who will be severely impacted by the strike and will have difficulty making it to classes, labs, midterms or exams should speak to their professor or lecturer as soon as possible. In the meantime, deans are developing contingency plans in the event of a longer strike.
“We have a creative, supportive academic community at Dal, and I’m confident that our faculty and our students will work together throughout the transit strike,” says Dr. Watters.
Exploring options for employees
As for employees, the university is suggesting that units explore practices for alternative work arrangements where appropriate.
“No matter what your choice of commute, getting to and from work could prove to be challenging,” says Katherine Sheehan, assistant vice-president of human resources. “So if a department or unit can support some of its staff by adjusting or compressing their hours of work, or determining that they can work from home, that can be a significant help towards keeping our campus operations running during a strike.”
While these options won’t work for every employee or department, Ms. Sheehan encourages employees and their managers to discuss what opportunities might exist to ease commuter strain during the strike.
A strike of uncertain length
It’s difficult to know how long a transit strike might last: the 1998 strike went on for a month or so. It’s possible that the university community could be dealing with transportation challenges for a good chunk of the winter term.
That’s why the university is preparing as best it can – it’s even looking at purchasing cots that could be used in residence for students and employees stranded in the event of a major winter storm.
Students affected by the strike say they’re glad the university is doing what it can, though it won’t necessarily alleviate all their worries.
“I liked the options that were presented in the email from the president [last Friday],” explains Stacey Henderson, a fourth-year marine biology student. “And for the most part, carpooling, etc., makes sense, but when you have people coming from all over Bedford, Dartmouth and Lower Sackville, that option doesn’t always work.”
“It’s impressive the university is coming up with alternatives for those who rely on Metro Transit, especially with midterms coming up” says Chloe Malinka, a fourth-year marine biology student. “But is it really the responsibility of the university?”
Mr. Burt says that the university is doing what it can, and that while the situation is far from ideal, it’s one that the Dal community will pull through by supporting one another.
“Already, I’m hearing about people offering to carpool their friends and colleagues to campus,” he says. “It’s that Dal community spirit, that drive to help our fellow students and employees, that will make all the difference.”
More on Dalhousie transit strike plans: Transit strike information