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City expects change to Hamilton’s transit schedules due to staff absenteeism

Hamilton's city bus service will likely have to modify schedules and potentially some routes due to an increase in staff absenteeism. Lisa Polewski / 900 CHML

An official says Hamilton is monitoring staffing levels of the city’s bus service amid a recent increase in absenteeism among its transit workers.

During a pandemic update on Tuesday, emergency operations director Jason Thorne suggested “some schedule adjustments” are likely in the weeks ahead due to time off for illness or COVID-19 isolation protocols.

“The approach we’d be taking is similar to what we did back in the fall, where we’d be looking at adopting modified schedules so that we still have a predictable and reliable schedule that the public can be aware of,” Thorne said.

Read more: GO Transit to reduce train, bus service due to COVID-related staffing shortages

In late October, Hamilton Street Railway (HSR) warned riders they would be modifying high-frequency routes, prioritizing morning and afternoon schedules, and monitoring troubled passages amid driver shortages in connection with a vaccination deadline for staffers.

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At the time, HSR director of transit Maureen Cosyn Heath estimated 10 per cent of the estimated 750 in the workforce (about 70 to 90 drivers) might not be able to work.

The latest issue comes amid concerns over the more infectious Omicron variant, which could hamper several city services with staffing absences.

 

The HSR is recommending customers download the HSRnow app on their devices for up-to-date information amid the possible disruptions.

Thorne says the HSR has been able to maintain regular schedules in recent weeks due to low ridership.

“For the most part, we are still seeing a fairly reduced ridership level across all of our routes,” said Thorne.

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“So we haven’t seen any significant crowding issues or capacity issues on any of the buses.”

The HSR told Global News a return to online school, work from home trends and public health measures are the key reasons ridership is low.

Read more: Walk-in third doses now available at Hamilton’s Barton clinic for those over 50

As of Wednesday, approximately 92 per cent of employees (about 700) have received two shots at the city level.

Of the estimated seven per cent that have not disclosed their status, five per cent have reported receiving their first dose.

Just over 55 employees are on an un-paid leave due to non-compliance with the city’s mandatory COVID-19 vaccine verification policy.

Meanwhile, GO Transit has revealed similar staffing issues caused by the variant, which prompted cancellations of service over the holidays.

The provincial agency is suggesting front-line teams are averaging between 20 to 30 per cent fewer staff.

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Additional service reductions are planned in the coming days affecting seven train corridors and bus routes.

On Wednesday, five routes were cancelled, including the 6:39 a.m. service to Union Station from Niagara Falls.

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