By Doug Hallett
The lockout of transit workers that started Monday is causing hardship for some of the most vulnerable people in Guelph, workers for local neighbourhood groups say.
“We have a lot of pockets of low-income families that work and catch the bus to get there. They are struggling, that’s for sure” as a result of the lockout, said Caroline McCullogh, who is employed as a support worker for the Waverley Neighbourhood Group.
This month, her neighbourhood group started a free Wednesday market program in the parking lot of Waverley Drive school. Some of the low-income people who use it rely on the buses to come to the market to get fresh fruit and vegetables, McCullogh said.
It’s “another strike against” such people when they lose their normal mode of transportation and also lose this access to fresh produce, she said in an interview Wednesday.
McCullogh said she has heard of people trying to borrow bicycles to get to their jobs downtown from the Waverley neighbourhood in the northeast part of the city. Others have been trying to get rides from people they know.
“Isn’t it nice” that people are trying to help each other to solve transportation problems during the lockout of Guelph Transit workers by the city, she commented.
Robin Egressy, who works as a community development coordinator for Onward Willow Better Beginnings, Better Futures, said people getting help with transportation from neighbours and co-workers means the immediate difficulties caused by the lockout might be relatively manageable.
“But if it continues for a long period of time, that could make a difference,” she said Wednesday.
Egressy said most of the people who come to programs offered by the Onward Willow Centre at 15 Willow Rd. live close enough to walk there.
But the Shelldale Centre, with which Onward Willow is affiliated, has offerings such as a pre-natal nutrition program that draw women from across the city. Some of the moms in this program are likely to be affected by the lockout, said Egressy, who works some days at the Shelldale Centre and others at the Onward Willow Centre.
“Many people in our community don’t have vehicles because they can’t afford them,” so they rely on buses to get to work and other places, she said in an interview. She also knows of students working part-time who have had to take cabs to get to their jobs this week.
Linda Busuttil, who is employed as a community development worker for the West Willow Village Neighbourhood Group, said the lockout had an immediate effect on the summer camp run by the group at Mitchell Woods school – both on the young people who work as camp staff and on families trying to get their children there.
“They’ve been walking if they can, but it’s difficult,” she said in an interview Tuesday.
There was considerable “shock” on Monday morning at the absence of buses, Busuttil said, noting that her husband stopped his car at bus stops that morning to tell people waiting there of the lockout.
The lockout “is just another blow to our working poor families, our families who are struggling,” said Busuttil, who is also an Upper Grand District School Board trustee and a Ward 4 candidate for city council in October’s civic election.
The lockout has made it hard for people who rely on the half-price bus passes that the city offers to low-income people to get to work using these passes, she said.
The most emotionally wrenching case she encountered this week was a woman who couldn’t get to her part-time job
cleaning houses because there were no buses.
“She’s a mom who is working very hard to get herself and her family out of poverty,” said Busuttil, explaining that the woman receives Ontario Works payments but is allowed to do a certain amount of paid work on top of her welfare benefits.
While some people have been biking as an alternative to busing, the lockout means that in many cases “it’s difficult for a family with small children to get places,” she said.
The West Willow Village Neighbourhood Group, which operates from a portable behind Westwood school, is seen as a “problem-solver” in its community and has been fielding calls for help with transportation. Busuttil said she has driven people this week to the Guelph Food Bank on Crimea Street and to medical appointments.
“We are not setting up as a taxi service, but we will do whatever we can,” she said.
In an entry Tuesday on her city hall blog, Mayor Karen Farbridge said she is “extremely disappointed that the members of the Amalgamated Transit Union rejected the tentative agreement that was reached by the city and ATU bargaining teams and ratified by city council.
“I know this service disruption will cause a lot of hardship for the many people who rely on transit,” Farbridge said.