Winnipeg Transit reduces service, lays off more than 250 staff

The City of Winnipeg has announced a reduction of service for its transit system and temporarily laid off 253 full and part-time drivers.

Reduced bus service to begin May 4

Winnipeg Transit will move to an 'enhanced Saturday schedule' starting May 4. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Winnipeg Transit will reduce bus service and lay off 253 full- and part-time drivers because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the city announced Wednesday.

The cuts are being made after ridership dropped 72 per cent compared to the same timeframe in 2019 and revenue went down 74 per cent, the city said.

Mayor Brian Bowman has indicated several times in past weeks the city was considering the reduction of service.

"It's really not an easy thing to see any layoffs, so we are going make sure we weather this storm by making sure the services are there [and], to the greatest extent possible, support our employees," Bowman said Wednesday.

The Amalgamated Transit Union wants the city to hold a full council meeting to debate the layoffs.

The city has made "no effort to explore volunteer layoffs, redeployment or bridged retirement," the union said in a news release.

Acting city chief administrative officer Mike Ruta said the city lacked time and resources to negotiate those kinds of options.

"Other solutions would have taken significant investments in researching out options and also discussing options with various parties throughout the process," Ruta said.

Transit will alter the weekday schedule effective May 4 to an "enhanced Saturday schedule."

The bus schedule for Saturdays and Sundays will not change.

The new schedule requires 221 fewer buses than the regular weekday schedule.

Bowman said several times that the decision to lay off city staff has not been driven by a desire to shrink government in a time of crisis for political or ideological reasons.

"We've had correspondence from the minister of municipal relations that we certainly have interpreted as trying to drive cuts. We've taken a very pragmatic approach here and the service reductions are driving the temporary layoffs to date," Bowman said.