Winnipeg bus driver union calls for layoff halt as province slowly reopens amid COVID-19

A Winnipeg Transit bus.
A Winnipeg Transit bus. Shane Gibson/Global News

Winnipeg’s transit union is at odds with city hall over planned bus driver layoffs and service reductions blamed on a COVID-19-induced ridership and revenue plummet while the province plans to allow some non-essential businesses to reopen Monday.

The city announced plans to reduce service on April 22, which will see Winnipeg Transit run on an “enhanced Saturday schedule” starting this coming Monday.

The reduced service would mean transit needs 221 fewer buses on the road while the transit authority lays off 253 full-and-part time drivers.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Winnipeg Transit providing masks for all operators, inspectors

The Amalgamated Transit Union worries when more people go to work Monday while the province’s economy slowly reopens, more people will take the bus — making physical distancing difficult.

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“One bus would normally carry 40, seated load, even up to 70 when it’s standing load — how could you have social distancing in that case?” ATU 1505 president Romeo Ignacio said.

“We cannot afford to lay off the people because we need them for redeployment, we need the extra service to be able to have that social distancing in our buses.”

Click to play video 'Over 250 Winnipeg transit bus operators to be laid off' Over 250 Winnipeg transit bus operators to be laid off
Over 250 Winnipeg transit bus operators to be laid off

The average number of riders on any given bus would need to be spread over about four buses to allow for social distancing, Ignacio said.

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“It just doesn’t make sense, especially with the announcement of the province,” he said.

“It just doesn’t make sense. We need the manpower.”

Bus ridership dropped by 72 per cent, while revenue dropped 74 per cent since the beginning of the pandemic, the city has said.

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“I wouldn’t say that it’s going to jump back up to 100 per cent but considering that most everyone’s been stuck at home for six, seven weeks, I’m pretty sure everyone’s going to want to go out,” Ignacio said.

“You just don’t lose one-quarter of your workforce and still think you’ll be able to handle all of the capacity.”

The city still plans on going ahead with the service reduction despite the union’s calls for a reversal, an internal Winnipeg Transit memo dated April 30 obtained by Global News suggests.

The memo does not mention the layoffs.

READ MORE: New Winnipeg transit corridor opens despite drop in ridership, closure of University of Manitoba

The city confirmed it still plans to move to a reduced schedule Monday in an afternoon news release. However, the city notes, it will monitor the number of riders and increase the number of buses if physical distancing can’t be observed.

When asked whether the city plans to reverse or reduce the number of bus driver layoffs, Mayor Brian Bowman did not answer directly.

“The decision of temporary layoffs was made some time ago and it was driven by the reduced demand for services,” he said at a press briefing Thursday.

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