On the evening of Wednesday, February 18, about 50 demonstrators blocked the busy Vancouver intersection of Broadway and Commercial chanting “night owl buses: end the curfew now” and “all day, all night, public transit is our right.” The demonstration, organized by the Bus Riders Union was called to draw attention to the curfew imposed on transit dependent people in the Lower Mainland since TransLink cut night owl bus service more than two years ago. The curfew has been a major hardship for low-wage late night workers trying to get to and from night shifts. It has also jeopardized the safety of transit dependent people, particularly women, youth, and gays and lesbians who are at greater risk of violence walking the streets late at night.
“TransLink councilors say they can't afford to spend the 1.5 million dollars it would cost to bring back night owl buses, but this is a lie,” said Bus Riders Union spokesperson Jennifer Efting. “We know it's a lie because they have 1.5 billion dollars to spend on building a Skytrain to Richmond, a Skytrain that will primarily benefit big corporations like Bombardier and the Vancouver Airport Authority. They have 1.4 million dollars to increase policing on Skytrain and buses, including $240,000 allocated to purchase guns for Skytrain police. We know this increased policing doesn't mean increased safety for transit dependent people, it means increased criminalization of poor people who ride the bus and increased harassment of people of colour in the transit system. TransLink could end the curfew tomorrow, but they don't prioritize the needs of bus riders! We are here to tell TransLink to get their priorities straight! The needs of people come first!”
Speakers from the Hospital Employees Union (HEU) and the Anti-Poverty Committee (APC) joined the Bus Riders Union in calling for reinstatement of Night Owl buses. Fred Muzin of the HEU encouraged social justice activists to be united by “a vision of a better society”.
The program for the protest included a street theatre performance of Taking on the TransLink Monster in which two bus riders racing to catch the last bus home are blocked by a beast bearing the heads of three TransLink directors including Vancouver Mayor Larry Campbell. Campbell, who ran on a platform of increased bus service and a freeze on fares, has since voted to increase fares and to allocate the vast majority of new public transit dollars to the “Olympics” Skytrain project instead of to much needed bus services, such as reinstatement of Night Owl buses.
Finally bus riders took the street, bringing 10 lanes of traffic to a standstill. BRU organizer Yang Chang explained: “In this society, where backroom deals and corporate interest shape the political agenda, the power of the people lies in our capacity to come together and to take the discussions out of the boardroom and back into our communities, onto the buses and into the streets. Transit dependent people in this region will not suffer in silence. We won’t accept a business as usual attitude when people are facing attacks on our basic rights to health care, welfare, childcare, housing, education and transit. We’re going to continue to organize and mobilize for our rights.”