Edmonton Transit disruptions to begin Monday as 15 drivers refuse vaccine or rapid testing

The City of Edmonton gave an update Thursday on its COVID-19 employee vaccination policy. Officials say there will be some disruptions to transit service but otherwise it's business as usual.

Changes are a temporary measure, says ETS branch manager

Edmontonians can expect a three-per-cent reduction in bus service across the city because some operators won't get vaccinated against COVID-19 or take part in a rapid testing program. (Cort Sloan/CBC)

Edmontonians who ride city buses will see some service disruptions beginning Monday because of 15 bus drivers who have refused to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or take part in rapid testing.

"We have about 15 operators who have declined both the vaccination policy as well as the rapid testing, so we'll be looking at an unpaid leave of absence for those operators," Edmonton Transit Service branch manager Carrie Hotton-MacDonald said Thursday.

The reduction in available staffing will result in a three per cent reduction in bus service throughout Edmonton.

"As a result of our operator vaccination rates, we are temporarily adjusting bus service frequency until our workforce levels are back to normal," Hotton-MacDonald said.

The City of Edmonton has set an Oct. 31 deadline for employees to provide proof they have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.

In an update Thursday, the city said 92 per cent of employees are partially or fully vaccinated.

Transit changes temporary, city says

The changes to bus service are temporary. They take effect Nov. 1.

There will be no disruptions to LRT or DATS service, and ETS will try to minimize impacts to school-special services.

Hotton-MacDonald said ETS will soon begin training replacement workers but in the meantime, efforts are being made to distribute service frequency changes equitably across the city.

"I'm optimistic, really hopeful, definitely by the end of the year, I would love to see full service back and hopefully even sooner than that as people continue to comply with the policy," she said.

She said 51 operators have decided to take part in the rapid-testing program.

No changes to fire, police service

Edmonton Fire Rescue Services said 90 per cent of its employees are fully vaccinated and that there will be no impact on the services it provides.

"Of the remaining 10 per cent, three per cent have received their first dose and seven per cent are unvaccinated," said Chief Joe Zatylny.

"We have been in direct contact with unvaccinated staff, and the majority of them have already agreed to participate in the rapid testing program."

Zatylny said EFRS is making adjustments to ensure there are no impacts to response times.

Police Chief Dale McFee said 96.2 per cent of Edmonton Police Service employees are fully vaccinated or will be by the end of November.

Fewer than four per cent of police service employees — 104 civilians and officers — have opted to be tested regularly at their own expense.

Two EPS employees have taken leave without pay and one officer has been suspended without pay for refusing to reveal his vaccine status. 

"We've researched this certainly from a legal perspective," McFee said. "We feel we're in a very good position. We also feel our position is very defendable."

The president of the Edmonton Police Association has not returned repeated requests for comment.

Cyndil Taylor, the city's branch manager for workplace safety and employee health, said the vaccine policy has been a success overall.

"This policy has made a real difference on the health and safety of our employees, the Edmontonians who visit our facilities and ultimately on the health care system," she said.

With files from Janice Johnston


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