Accessibility, environmentalism, and safety are missing from SFU’s transit strike response

SFU’s hands-off approach ignores the limitations of Burnaby Mountain’s infrastructure

By: Gabrielle McLaren, Editor-in-Chief

For a school that embraces its multi-campus nature and celebrates environmentalism, SFU’s reaction to the transit strike is remarkably hands-off. No matter how the strike proceeds, it’s important to remember that our university’s first stance was that, “operations at SFU will continue as usual with regards to normal hours of work and class schedules.” 

Online, SFU recommends that anybody not already driving “consider alternative transportation in advance,” as if that wasn’t the first thing on everybody’s mind. The anxious energy around campus only increased as we waited to see what the strike’s first phase would look like. 

SFU has also offered to accommodate extra drivers’ parking and drop-off needs, but this really only helps those with licenses, cars, and the money to run them or use carshare services. In the SFU Carpooling Facebook group, folks seem generous about either loading up or helping each other pay for gas — which is great. But SFU could also pitch in by waiving parking fees for carpoolers or reaching out to ride-hailing and taxi companies to offer discounted rides to the mountain.  

The real kicker is SFU’s proposed alternative transportation page. Here, options are: carpooling, car sharing, ride hailing, cycling, and (my personal favourite) walking — which all come with built-in assumptions about physical or financial ability. It’s also a little ironic, given SFU’s environmentally conscious initiatives, that they support the striking bus operators so little. Where are the press releases acknowledging the importance of transit workers? 

Walking and cycling aren’t great transportation alternatives either, given the mountain’s safety record for cyclists and women. The “walking” subheader informs students that there are “no sidewalks leading to SFU” and that “trails are not on SFU property and we recommend you use caution. These trains [sic] are not lit and we do not recommend using them at night.” This obviously does not help students commuting during one of the darkest times of the year. I’m astounded by the hypocrisy of recommending a mode of transportation and simultaneously providing a disclaimer for it — presumably so my family can’t sue if I get abducted or mauled by a bear on my way up to a test I can’t miss. 

Because, after all, SFU also isn’t giving professors and TAs the obligation or resources to be accommodating to students. They recommend that If you have concerns about your ability to get to campus in the event of strike activity please discuss options with your professor/instructor or supervisor.” This assumes that professors will, out of the goodness of their hearts, make accommodations for students — without SFU providing the obligation, incentive or even the support to facilitate this. How powerful does SFU think students are? We aren’t the ones who can support professors looking to live-stream or record their lectures, invigilate exams in more accessible locations, or incentivize professors to replace in-class exams and participation with digital options.

Striking is all about honouring workers’ rights in the face of institutional failure. Just as the Coast Mountain Bus Company failed its workers and their needs, SFU is poised to fail its students. Expecting financially insecure, differently abled, and/or non-driving students and staff to function normally when crucial infrastructure is yanked out from under our feet with little to no support is unreasonable, and maybe a little callous. Even striking union members were concerned about inconveniencing or incapacitating students and low-wage workers. 

Why can’t our university be more hands-on in providing us the infrastructural support we need and acknowledging just how important transit workers are to this institution?  While I understand that it was never SFU’s job to get me to school, I did not sign up to go here, pay my tuition, and build my schedule with the expectation to walk to class.