Coronavirus: 430 Calgary Transit employees laid off as ridership drops during pandemic

Click to play video: 'City of Calgary lays off over 400 transit employees during COVID-19 pandemic' City of Calgary lays off over 400 transit employees during COVID-19 pandemic
The City of Calgary has announced it will lay off over 400 transit workers as ridership drops due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Tomasia Dasilva reports. – May 7, 2020

Calgary Transit has laid off 430 employees due to the dramatic drop in ridership over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to city manager Dave Duckworth, ridership is down nearly 90 per cent.

“It’s really important to know that we need to balance the demand for our services and at the same time be fiscally responsible, and we sometimes have to make these difficult decisions,” Duckworth said, adding that it was a sad day.

READ MORE: Calgary Transit to lay off hundreds as COVID-19 pandemic leads to drop in ridership

Duckworth said the city has had to lay off nearly 15 per cent of its workforce since the pandemic started nearly two months ago.

“We hope to get to a … pre-COVID[-19] state where we can bring those valued employees back to the City of Calgary,” he said.
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“We will be ready to ramp up services. As you know, the province has announced May 14… [as one of the dates for the] relaunch [of] the province and as we move to relaunch, we will monitor the demands of our service and ramp back up the services that we need to.”
Click to play video: 'Kenney says Alberta will take a look at local data for relaunch' Kenney says Alberta will take a look at local data for relaunch
Kenney says Alberta will take a look at local data for relaunch – May 7, 2020

Transit manager Doug Morgan said the decision was not made lightly.

“We had a really hard look at our entire system: how many people were riding the buses and trains, and [we] really wanted to be thoughtful and surgical when it came to those reductions,” he said.
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“We have to remember with the physical distancing standards that are now in place, the capacity of our buses and trains has actually shrunk by about 70 per cent, so the last thing we wanted to do was put customers at risk.

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“On a daily basis, there’s still about 100,000 of them riding, so we wanted to be really thoughtful about those reductions. But it doesn’t mean that we couldn’t take action.”

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 583 president Mike Mahar said the layoffs are “devastating” for the union’s members.

He said the workers have all been working as frontline, critical workers and now have no idea when they might be called back to work.

Mahar said the city refused to extend the recall period beyond the one year stipulated in the collective agreement, if the pandemic reaches far into the future.

“There’s no guarantee at this point that anybody will be recalled. There’s no guarantee that those positions will be filled,” he said.

Mahar said it’s expected ridership will eventually return, but it’s too early to stipulate when that might happen, or at what capacity riders will start to return to public transit.

“There’s no question that it’s not going to be like: March 15, you hit a switch and everything changes. It’s going to be slow, and gradual and maybe not even consistent,” he said, adding there’s a real chance a second wave of the virus could come.

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Mahar said he doesn’t think this first phase of Alberta’s relaunch will put people back on the city buses and trains in large amounts.

“I really do get the fact that you can only operate for so long at that much of a revenue loss,” he said.

About two-thirds of the reductions are drivers, with the other third being made up of mostly maintenance staff and some other employees from other areas of the transit authority.

What’s changing? 

Morgan said for the time being, 25 bus routes are being suspended altogether. He said they’re mainly routes that duplicate existing routes, like express routes, so service won’t be cut off in those areas.

There will also be reductions in frequency along routes on weekends and weekdays.

READ MORE: Calgary Transit limits seating, standing room to help riders with social distancing

Another 40 routes will be ending service earlier in the day, as ridership has dipped down during later times.

The changes go into effect on May 25 and details on the routes impacted and the changes will be posted online next week, Morgan said.

Morgan said Calgary Transit is enhancing its ridership monitoring and will increase service if they notice crowded routes or an increase in demand.

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There will be impacts

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the decision was “very difficult,” and called the women and men who keep Calgary Transit running each day “extraordinary.”

Nenshi said the city wants to hear feedback from the users that are still riding transit, whether it’s good or bad.

“There will be impacts. If you’re finding that this is difficult, or conversely if you’re finding that it’s OK, please make sure we know,” the mayor said. “If you find that we’ve forgotten something or it’s fallen through the cracks, make sure we know.”

READ MORE: 30 workers at Purolator distribution centre in Calgary test positive for COVID-19

According to Morgan, the reduction in service will save Calgary Transit about $2 million a week.

He said overall, with revenue loss and fewer commuters using the parking lots, the transit authority is losing about $12 million to $14 million a month.

Price gauging fine issued

Calgary remains under a state of local emergency, and residents are reminded to keep proper distancing when moving about the city.

According to Calgary Emergency Management Agency deputy chief Sue Henry, recreation areas are getting congested on the weekends.

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She encouraged people to stay away from areas like parks that already have full parking lots, and instead go to other, less busy parts of the city, or stay close to home.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: 3M files lawsuit against Canadian firm accused of price gouging N95 masks

Henry also said a business operator in the city was fined $1,000, after it was found they didn’t have the proper city business license, and was selling hand sanitizer and masks for much higher than what was fair.

The fine came after Service Alberta, as well as the city’s business licensing department, stepped in issuing a written warning and letter to the owner back in April, and returned a some time later to find nothing had changed.

The owner was also summonsed for contravening the previously issued orders for price gauging.

— With files from Global News’ Melissa Gilligan

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