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A bus driver disembarks a GO Transit bus at the new Union Station Bus Terminal in Toronto on Nov. 2, 2021.Evan Buhler/The Canadian Press

Dozens of GO Transit bus routes were cancelled Monday as one of its unions went out on strike, leaving thousands of Greater Toronto Area passengers scrambling for other options.

The strike by ATU Local 1587, which represents 2,200 bus operators, station attendants and plant workers, did not affect GO train service, but stopped all bus routes. The train to the airport, the Union-Pearson Express, also continued to run.

Metrolinx, the provincial agency that oversees GO Transit, urged would-be passengers to plan ahead, look for trains that serve routes similar to the cancelled buses and bring a loaded fare card, instead of expecting to pay at the station.

Specific numbers of passengers affected were not available. But buses carry about 15 per cent of the total GO ridership, which remains at roughly half the prepandemic level. Given that, recent daily bus ridership was likely between 15,000 and 20,000.

A prolonged strike would exacerbate the financial situation at GO. Like other transit providers, GO has struggled to rebuild ridership crushed by the pandemic, a slump that has slashed revenue.

In a statement, Metrolinx said it was disappointed the union chose not to continue negotiating.

“Having already proposed over 67 enhancements to the collective agreement that would improve working conditions for our ATU employees, we entered the negotiations this weekend optimistic that a deal could be reached,” read the statement, forwarded by spokeswoman Anne Marie Aikins.

“We remain open to discussing ways forward with ATU at the bargaining table, so we can come to an agreement.”

But a spokeswoman for the local said the company knew it was unhappy with the commitment around contracting out.

“Over the years GO Transit has been chiselling away at our bargaining unit,” said union spokeswoman Sarah Maceda-Maciel.

The local’s contract expired at the start of June. Workers walked off the job just after midnight Monday. They had planned to strike last week, but delayed it to hold a vote on the latest company offer. More than 80 per cent backed a strike.

They went on strike as another labour action was roiling Ontario. Education workers represented by CUPE walked off the job last Friday in protest of a provincial law that removed their right to strike and imposed a contract.

The controversial government action prompted widespread protest, including from unrelated unions. On Monday, Premier Doug Ford pledged to revoke the law if the workers would return to schools. The workers then agreed to go back to work Tuesday.

Ms. Maceda-Maciel said the two job actions are rooted in similar issues.

“CUPE, like ATU, is facing an employer that is trying to strong-arm and bully workers that deserve a lot more,” she said. “Metrolinx is given its mandate by the government, the very government that tried to take away CUPE’s bargaining rights and its strike rights. So these issues are absolutely intertwined; they’re about protecting our public sector and good jobs in the public sector.”

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