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‘No overtime, no taxi’: Fraser Valley transit strike impacts newcomers to Canada

Many new residents don’t have vehicles, and rely on buses to get to school and work
Hanna Drobot (left) from Urkaine and Suzan Deng from Sudan are among local immigrants being impacted by the ongoing transit strike in the Fraser Valley. (Submitted photos)

Among the people being impacted by the ongoing bus strike in the Fraser Valley are newcomers to Canada.

Suzan Deng, an immigrant from Sudan, is among them. She uses public transportation to attend English language classes four days a week at Abbotsford’s Archway Community Services and to get to work.

Since the bus strike began, every day is a juggling act. She sometimes walks half an hour both ways to make it to classes. Other times, she is able to hitch a ride or use a taxi.

Her daughter is studying to become a nurse and is struggling to afford the $100 round-trip taxi fare to Surrey five days a week. She doesn’t want to drop out of school but isn’t sure how much longer she can keep up with the extra costs.

“I try to work overtime, 12 hours, every day to get enough money to pay for the taxi,” Deng said. “No overtime, no taxi. It’s very hard. I’m always tired.”

Newcomers like the Dengs are less likely to have their driving licence and a reliable vehicle, and many of their friends and family are in the same situation.

Paula Mannington, English language training manager, estimates that up to 50 per cent of their adult learners in the Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) program rely on public transportation.

“Newcomers are going to great lengths to continue learning English, because it’s key to integration and employment opportunities,” she said. “Sometimes they’re putting themselves in unsafe travel situations because they don’t have many other options.”

Hanna Drobot, originally from Ukraine, doesn’t drive, and her landlord often takes her to school.

”When she can’t drive me, I miss school. The bus strike is a problem for me because I can’t buy groceries or go to the clinic,” Drobot said.

Donna Lo, manager of Archway Pathways to Integration, said the longer the strike drags on, the harder it becomes to get by.

She said some are putting off medical appointments, getting social services or applying for jobs.

RELATED: Transit employer says mediation an option to end month-long strike in Fraser Valley

“There needs to be more urgency to resolving the strike so the disruption to people’s lives can end,” Lo said.

Transportation to services and employment was already a barrier before this strike.

Ana Sandoval, an immigrant from El Salvador, was actively working towards obtaining her BC driver’s licence before the strike as public transportation schedules didn’t always match her work schedule.

She is currently walking 50 minutes to get to her English class each morning and then walking to a local restaurant where she works in the afternoons. A friendly neighbour has been giving her rides when their schedules align but it’s not often.

“Please help,” Sandoval says, “I need to have the bus running again.”

Even those with a vehicle are experiencing disruptions.

Yunmi Mary Lee said her family has only one vehicle, and her husband depends on the bus to get to work.

“When I go to the LINC class, I must take my daughter to school and then my husband to work and I must pick up in the afternoons. All these trips add a lot of time to my day. It is burdensome and we now spend a lot of money on gas. Things are getting bad,” she said.

Transit workers with CUPE local 561 have been on the picket line since March 20 after failing to reach a contract agreement with their employer, First Transit.

The strike is impacting services in Abbotsford, Mission, Chilliwack, Agassiz, Harrison Hot Springs and Hope.

RELATED: First Transit seeks court injunction against workers picketing in Abbotsford and Chilliwack

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