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

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
WATCH: 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.

Calgary Transit is laying off hundreds of workers, most of them transit vehicle operators, as ridership across the city has dropped dramatically amid the COVID-19 crisis.

According to officials, public transit use has dropped about 80 per cent in recent months.

The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 583 said in a memo sent to members that as a result, Calgary Transit is cutting 17,000 hours of service — about one-third of its operations — per week, starting the week of May 25.

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

The union said the transit authority needs to cut operating costs by $45 million.

The cuts will come from conventional transit, community shuttles and LRT, the union said. Twenty-three runs are being cancelled entirely, late-night service is being limited on several runs and on other routes, mid-day trips are being reduced.

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The ATU memo said changes are also being made to Calgary Transit’s operations and maintenance, including a closure of the bus side of the Anderson Garage and closure of the Stoney Trail facility for operations and maintenance. Instead, operations and maintenance will be based out of the Victoria Park and Spring Gardens facilities until ridership starts to bounce back.

READ MORE: 3 Calgary Transit employees test positive for COVID-19

“It is going to result in layoffs like nothing we’ve seen before,” ATU president Mike Mahar said in the notice.

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“We are not able to provide precise numbers right now because we have a concern over how the city has interpreted some of the redeployment language, so we couldn’t determine the actual members that will be directly affected.”

Click to play video 'Calgary Transit workers face layoffs due to drop in ridership amid pandemic' Calgary Transit workers face layoffs due to drop in ridership amid pandemic
Calgary Transit workers face layoffs due to drop in ridership amid pandemic

However, Mahar wrote that he expects there would be about 450 jobs lost.

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“The layoffs will be in almost every department to some degree,” Mahar wrote. “The largest area is conventional operators with lesser numbers in [customer service] and office/maintenance.”

Mahar said transit officials don’t yet know how long the layoffs will last, adding plans for resuming the school year in the fall would be a factor in the decision-making.

The union said the city plans to start notifying affected employees on Thursday.

Employees who are laid off would either be given the appropriate notice, or paid in lieu of that notice, Mahar wrote.

READ MORE: City of Calgary facing $235M financial gap if pandemic continues through December

Speaking briefly with Global News on Wednesday afternoon, Mahar said “we still have a lot of work to do to determine how many positions are affected and in which categories they are in, operators, maintenance or office employees.”

“That’s the most sensitive part of all of this that is still unanswered.”

Union representatives were meeting with city officials throughout the day Wednesday.

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for the city said officials have “had to make the difficult decision to lay off some of our valued employees as a result of the impacts from COVID-19.”

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The statement went on to say the city would be treating employees with dignity and respect, and would make sure those directly impacted by the layoffs would be the first to hear official decisions from the city before the information was shared more broadly.

Click to play video 'Calgary health expert urges caution as Alberta begins phased relaunch' Calgary health expert urges caution as Alberta begins phased relaunch
Calgary health expert urges caution as Alberta begins phased relaunch

City councillor Sean Chu said the layoffs are something council saw coming, adding the city has been losing about $10 million to $15 million a week during the pandemic.

Chu said he’s been pushing the city to move away from “business as usual” while residents are suffering through the challenges of the pandemic.

“Calgarians are suffering and they have no jobs,” he said. “A lot of layoffs or no work… and many others are sick and they see the city’s still doing the same thing.

“It’s not going to cut it – it is hard, but is necessary.”

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