London bus drivers taking unpaid leave due to COVID-19 fears

FILE. Marty Thompson / 980 CFPL

CORRECTION: The article has been updated to clarify that 80 to 90 workers of the 181 workers are off due to COVID-19 fears.

Nearly 100 London Transit Commission (LTC) bus drivers have opted for unpaid leave over fears of COVID-19, according to the local transit union.

The Amalgamated Transit Union Division 741 reports that as of Tuesday, 181 drivers are off right now, which represents approximately 40 per cent of all LTC drivers.

Andre Fournier, president of ATU local 741, said of the 181 80 to 90 are off for COVID-19 fears the rest are off on short-term disability, sickness, vacation or otherwise.

“They don’t feel loved,” Fournier said.

“They are really upset, they don’t feel the commission is backing them.”

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LTC chair Phil Squire said the LTC is aware of drivers opting to take time off, adding the organization does not fault them for making that decision.

“I am really appreciative of the drivers coming to work,” Squire said. “We know these are not ideal times.”

Squire confirmed that the reduction in staff is what led to service reductions on LTC routs earlier this week.

READ MORE: London Transit Commission outlines service reductions beginning April 19 amid COVID-19 pandemic

On Tuesday, the LTC revealed the details of that new schedule, which will also see all routes operating from Monday to Friday operating on a Saturday level of service. Exceptions include industrial routes 28, 30, 36 and 37, which will run as normal “to provide service to the industrial areas.”

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In addition, routes 33, 90, 91, 92, 94, 103, 104 and 106 will no longer operate, nor will Route 17B to Riverbend or Route 20 through the Beaverbrook/Oakcrossing area. The LTC also says community bus routes 51, 52, 53, 54, 55 and 56 will no longer operate.

“They don’t want to take the virus home to their families. Some are living in different locations. Some have their children living with grandparents. It’s just a mess,” Fournier said.

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He reports that some buses are crowded to the point people are not following physical distancing, as well as drivers only having two pairs of rubber gloves to use a day.

The Union is calling for limits on how many people can be on a bus at one time, similar to what other municipalities have done with caps of 10 riders at a time.

Squire said the problem with limiting numbers is that it is almost impossible for drivers to enforce and still keep a safe distance. He added they also don’t want to leave passengers on the side of the road.

Fournier said another issue for drivers is that they are only given two pairs of disposable rubber gloves per day, which is an issue when helping more than one person with mobility issues on the bus a day.

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To protect drivers, the LTC has made all riders board at the back of the bus, give all drivers a bottle of hand sanitizer, and are ensuring the buses are cleaned every day.

Exceptions for boarding at the back of the bus are made for riders with mobility issues.

Both the LTC the Union say they have been looking into sourcing different types of masks and face shields.

READ MORE: London Transit Commission bus driver tests positive for coronavirus

On April 7, the LTC confirmed that one of their drivers had tested positive for COVID-19.

Both Squire the Union are urging people to ride the bus for essential travel only and urging those riding it for fun to stop.

“Please stay home essential workers are using those buses to get to hospitals to work,” said Fournier.

— With files from Jacquelyn, Lebel Global News