Winnipeg struggling to hire new bus drivers while looking to add new routes

As Winnipeg looks to add new bus routes this year, new data is showing the beginning of 2024 has been a bumpy ride for the city when it comes to hiring retaining bus operators. Edward Djan has more

As Winnipeg looks to add new bus routes this year, new data is showing the beginning of 2024 has been a bumpy ride for the City when it comes to retaining bus operators.

The City says that as of Feb. 23, 13 new operators have been hired, but 23 have already retired or resigned.

This comes as the City looks to expand service routes to Castlebury Meadows and Waterford Green, Aurora, Prairie Pointe and Sage Creek.

Chair of the city’s Public Works committee Janice Lukes is optimistic that the routes will start to run as planned this September. If not enough operators are hired, she says plans may have to change.

“There are a lot of positive things in transit right now that are occurring, but there is a challenge in finding drivers,” said Lukes. “We can hire about 100 people, but it seems like 100 retire.”

The City’s preliminary multi-year budget does increase the transit subsidy from $102 million in 2023 to $133 million by 2027 to pay for several initiatives including the new routes.

“If we get drivers it will happen, if we can’t find enough drivers it won’t happen. We can’t move the bus if doesn’t have a driver,” said Lukes.

Amalgamated Transit Union Canada president John Di Nino says it’s a similar situation across the country. 

“Wages aren’t keeping up with the cost of living right across the country. The expectations of transit workers are greater than it has ever been, adhering to schedules, having to deal with things like assaults on our transit systems,” said Di Nino.

The City has taken steps to combat its recruitment and retention issue, including deploying its new transit safety team, agreeing on a new collective agreement and reducing the length of its hiring process.

Despite this, a previous report by the city in November of 2023 said 44 per cent of transit workers would be eligible to retire in five years.

As the City works on retaining and recruiting staff, Councillor Brian Mayes has created a motion to have councillors notified about cancellations and service disruptions to bus routes in their wards.

Mayes says the notification would allow councillors to better inform their constituents about significant service changes to routes.

“It kind of comes out of frustration from residents calling me earlier this year about frequent cancellations about the 59 bus, one of the express buses. I found out when I talked to our city staff that the bus was on a ‘do not operate’ schedule because they did not have the staff. Essentially, for an extended period of time this route did not exist,” said Mayes.

Di Nino adding, “If we can’t supply the service because we don’t have the resources, it is a crisis.” 

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