British Columbia

TransLink announces nearly 1,500 layoffs, more service cuts

TransLink is laying off nearly 1,500 staff and reducing bus, SkyTrain, SeaBus and West Coast Express service in an effort to save money as it continues to lose millions in revenue every month due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cuts to begin this week, says Metro Vancouver transit authority, which is losing $75M a month due to COVID-19

TransLink says it had to lay off nearly 1,500 workers because it's losing tens of millions of dollars a month because of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

TransLink has announced nearly 1,500 layoffs and widespread cuts to most modes of public transportation in Metro Vancouver in an effort to save money, as the transit authority continues to lose tens of millions per month due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A statement on Monday said reduced service on buses, SkyTrain, SeaBus and West Coast Express will begin this week. It said the 1,492 employees losing their jobs worked "in various positions" at TransLink and its Coast Mountain Bus Company (CMBC) and B.C. Rapid Transit Company subsidiaries.

"This has been an incredibly tough decision and one we do not take lightly," TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond wrote in the statement. 

The cuts come less than a week after TransLink said it was losing $75 million every month due to the health crisis. It said ridership has dropped by more than 80 per cent since mid-March.

The authority had warned cuts were imminent without financial help from government.

The statement Monday said TransLink has been working with the province "to ensure that funding is available to allow TransLink to reverse layoffs and return to near-regular operations in time for back-to-school in September."

Senior executive salaries and board compensation has also been reduced by 10 per cent to cut costs. Service expansions, maintenance and rehabilitation work previously planned for 2020 have been deferred.

The number of layoffs represents nearly 18 per cent of TransLink's total staff.

Details of service cuts

Eighteen bus routes will be suspended as of Friday, including six NightBus routes. The statement said most of the affected routes were chosen because they have low ridership and "other transit as alternatives."

TransLink expects to cut another 47 routes in early May, with reduced frequency on most routes left over.

It said service to hospitals and other health facilities is being prioritized.

SkyTrain service on Millennium, Expo and Canada lines will be reduced by 15-20 per cent.

Lesser used routes affected

TransLink said they suspended routes "that are in low ridership areas," and the numbers appear to back up that claim.

Analysis by CBC News shows the affected routes had 11.6 million combined boardings in 2018. That sounds like a lot — but there were 296 million bus boardings on the entire system that year.

To put it another way, TransLink is suspending 28 per cent of its routes, but that only accounts for four per cent of its ridership, based on 2018 data. 

However, those cuts disproportionately affect people living in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows — seven of its 10 routes will be suspended, leaving only the 701, 743, and 745/746 buses remaining. 

Meanwhile, 24 of 28 routes centred around Burnaby and New Westminster will continue to operate, along with 20 of 25 in the Tri-Cities. 

Spokesperson Ben Murphy said Monday most people "will be able to get to where they want to go, albeit in a far less convenient way."

Warnings from unions  

Unifor, the union representing bus drivers in the region, had warned its members in a letter Sunday that CMBC had approached the union about impending layoffs. CMBC handles bus service in the region on behalf of TransLink.

Gavin McGarrigle, the union's western regional director, said a drastic cut in staff would affect the entire region as essential workers like health-care professionals, grocery store staff and janitorial workers still rely on transit.

"We think this is highly irresponsible in the middle of this pandemic," he said.

McGarrigle said scaling back the number of buses on the road is not an alternative solution as remaining buses would then be more crowded, creating difficulties with physical distancing. He added that tensions on bus routes are already high and argued governments need to find another solution to maintain service levels.

'There are some things you can't afford to gamble,' said Gavin McGarrigle of Unifor, pictured in November 2019. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

"We don't want to be a guinea pig in an experiment over budgets," McGarrigle said. "Governments right now at all levels are struggling with the cost of dealing with this pandemic, but there are some things you can't afford to gamble."

The 50,000-person Hospital Employees Union also spoke against the cuts.

"These service cuts mean added stress for health care and other essential workers in the region who depend on transit to get to work each day," said HEU secretary-business manager Jennifer Whiteside in a statement.

"I'm especially concerned for workers who are forced to commute long distances because of high housing costs and who may be working second jobs to support their families. These service cuts will be a huge source of stress for these workers."

If you have a COVID-19-related story we should pursue that affects British Columbians, please email us at impact@cbc.ca. 

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