The director of Hamilton’s transit system has faced questioning over a 19 per cent rate of absenteeism among Hamilton Street Railway (HSR) drivers which is resulting in cancelled buses across the system.
Ward 5 Coun. Chad Collins says he’s hearing stories about “low morale” from employees who are telling him “it’s not a positive environment that they are working in.”
Ward 8 Counc. Terry Whitehead suggests that the spike appears to be “more organized than it is just a blip on the radar,” however transit director Debbie Dalle-Vedove insists that “the data does not support that at this time.”
Dalle-Vedove also confirms the absenteeism rate among bus drivers appears unique to Hamilton.
She’s reached out to colleagues in other municipalities and tells city councillors that “no one else is even close to 19 per cent.”
General manager of public works, Dan McKinnon, has said that the “extraordinary level” of driver absenteeism resulted in over 1,000 missed hours of HSR service in October.
Dalle-Vedove says the short-term mitigation plan involves gaining “excess hours permission” from the Ministry of Labour, which allows drivers to work up to 68 hours per week.
She adds that the HSR will also use so-called “wind downers,” retired employees who can come back and work up to 32 hours each week, but she stresses those measures are “not sustainable” in the long term.
Dundas Coun. Arlene Vanderbeek agrees, saying that she would have “public safety” concerns if drivers worked that many hours on a regular basis.
The HSR has hired 37 new drivers this year, including eight who started on Monday.
Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger says the bottom line is that the HSR is a “necessity” for many people who rely on it to get to school and work, and he adds that we’re “leaving far too many people on the street.”