New Brunswick

Fredericton Transit users still plagued by service disruptions caused by driver shortage

Service disruptions caused by a shortage of Fredericton Transit drivers continues to plague users of the service, with one city councillor saying the issue could persist until next March.

Coun. Bruce Grandy says 2 drivers went on leave just as 2 new ones were hired

Fredericton Transit has seen numerous last minute cancellations of bus runs and reductions of service due to driver shortages. (Elizabeth Fraser/CBC News)

A months-long shortage of bus drivers continues to plague passengers with Fredericton Transit, and one city councillor says the issue could continue for months still.

The shortage of bus drivers with the City of Fredericton-run service has led to abruptly cancelled trips and reductions in evening rush hour service since September.

Sofia Mehlitz, a University of New Brunswick student, is familiar with the issues it's created for passengers.

The morning bus Mehlitz relies on to get to campus was cancelled twice in as many weeks last month.

On Nov. 15, Mehlitz said the 8:45 a.m. bus from Kings Place to the UNB campus never came, and the 20 waiting passengers had no heads-up about it.

Sofia Mehlitz, a University of New Brunswick student, said they were late for an exam in November because the 8:45 a.m. bus from Kings Place was cancelled without warning. (Submitted by Sofia Mehlitz)

Mehlitz ended up waiting 30 minutes for the next bus, which arrived at UNB 10 minutes after the exam started.

Then on Monday, Mehlitz said the same bus trip was cancelled, with Fredericton Transit posting a notice about it on its Facebook page an hour before the bus was scheduled to leave.

"It's extremely frustrating," said Mehlitz, who pays $55 per month for a pass. "I pay so much for a service that I'm not getting and it's out of my control.

"I don't have another option. I don't have a car. I don't have someone who can drive me to school or to work, or to get my groceries or to go to medical appointments, and so I rely on the bus to do everything."

Disruptions could last until next March, councillor says

As a result of the driver shortage, passengers with Fredericton Transit could see trip cancellations and reduced services continue until next March, says Coun. Bruce Grandy, chair of the city's mobility committee.

Grandy said the city hired and trained two new bus drivers in recent months in an effort to fix the shortage.

However, new absences of two existing drivers have cancelled out any progress that's been made to resolve the issue, Grandy said.

"So we're kind of at a wash right now and we're trying to make gains with the part-time drivers that we were looking at doing, but there's nothing in the short-term that's going to be solved at this point.

"We have to work our way through hiring, training, as well as dealing with those that, that are out on leave," said Grandy, adding that another two new hires are currently in training but not yet on the road.

Union, city give conflicting reasons for shortage

The union representing Fredericton Transit drivers says the shortage is partly driven by some not being in compliance with the city's COVID-19 vaccination policy.

But the city says the shortage has nothing to do with COVID-19.

Fredericton Transit first announced on Sept. 18 that it would be missing certain runs because of a shortage in operators, and that training was underway for new hires.

The transit provider since announced several more cancelled runs as recently as this week, in addition to reducing certain evening rush hour routes from running once every half-hour to once every hour.

Word of the shortage came after the City of Fredericton announced its vaccination policy for all staff would take effect on Sept. 17, and require they either show proof of vaccination or submit to twice-weekly testing.

While some bus drivers are off for reasons not related to COVID-19 or the policy, about three or four are, said Ralph McBride, a Canadian Union of Public Employees representative for Fredericton Transit drivers.

"Majority of those employees are vaccinated. There are a few that are not at this point, so they've been placed on unpaid leave of absence, which then creates a vacancy," McBride said.

CUPE representative Ralph McBride says some drivers have been off work because they don't meet COVID-19 vaccination requirements. (CBC)

City of Fredericton spokesperson Wayne Knorr, however, says the timing between the shortage and the vaccination policy was just coincidence, adding that no bus drivers are off for reasons to do with COVID-19 or the vaccination policy.

Knorr said he's not sure where McBride received his information from, adding that there are a number of issues behind the shortage of drivers which he can't discuss for privacy reasons.

Since Sept. 17, unvaccinated staff have been able to stay on the job, so long as they submit to twice-weekly testing. But that policy changes on Dec. 17 when all staff will be required to show proof that they've been fully vaccinated.

That means the last opportunity for city staff to get their second shot in time would be Dec. 3, Knorr said.

Knorr said the city is actively addressing the transit operator shortage through hiring and training new staff, as well as working with individual employees on return to work strategies.

"We appreciate the inconvenience this creates for customers who rely on Fredericton Transit, and are committed to reinstating the regular schedule as soon as possible," Knorr said in an email.

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