BC Transit reduces service in Kitimat due to staffing shortages caused by LNG recruitment
'There's certain things that they offer that we just can't compete with'
BC Transit announced Wednesday it would be temporarily reducing transit in Kitimat, B.C., due to staffing shortages caused by drivers being recruited to work at the LNG plant in Kitimat.
Pacific Western Transit (PWT), the transit operator that serves Kitimat and other northern communities, needs at least 10 drivers in the city to operate at full capacity.
Now, with only seven drivers left in Kitimat, the company says it had to choose between shutting down service entirely or having a "random" transit schedule.
"We felt it was better to be somewhat proactive about it," PET director of operations Steve Antil told CBC's Andrew Kurjata.
Kitimat mayor Phil Germuth said the announcement is a disappointment.
"It definitely has a huge impact," he said.
Until now, drivers from Terrace have been working in the district as substitutes and drivers have been working overtime to ensure transit continues. But ongoing issues finding and retaining staff means that just won't work anymore.
Drivers being recruited by LNG Canada
Antil links the staffing shortages primarily to professional drivers being recruited to work at the LNG plant in Kitimat.
"It's a very intense recruitment for drivers," Antil said.
"There's certain things that they offer that we just can't compete with," he said, noting that LNG is offering accommodation and food to employees, along with a pay increase.
"We can't do what they're doing with the pay scale at this stage."
It's not just retention of staff that's causing problems for PET — rising housing prices and housing scarcity in the town is making it difficult for the transit operator to recruit new drivers from outside of Kitimat.
"We will recruit and train one [driver] and then another one will leave to go to work at the project, driving there," Antil said.
The solution, according to Antil, would be to increase wages for drivers to make it more appealing for them to continue working for PWT, but a decision like that would have to be approved both by BC Transit and local government.
"They have their budgetary concerns of course," Antil said. "They have to weigh all of their concerns when they're making a decision like that."
But Germuth doesn't necessarily agree. He said that if it came down to it, the contract for transit in the municipality might be opened up for bidding in hopes of finding another transit provider.
"This is something that BC Transit and Pacific Western Transit, they've got to figure this out," he said.
With files from Andrew Kurjata