New Brunswick

Union questions consultant's Saint John Transit review during pandemic

The union representing transit workers in Saint John is questioning how a consultant's planned audit of the city's bus system can be completed during a pandemic.

'They're not going to be able to get good data,' says Amalgamated Transit Union representative

The City of Saint John wants to implement up to $1 million in annual cuts to the transit system by the end of this year. (CBC)
The union representing transit workers in Saint John is questioning how a consultant's planned audit of the city's bus system can be completed during a pandemic.

"They're not going to be able to get good data," said Grant Logan, business agent for the Amalgamated Transit Union local. "They need a fully operational service in order to do any sort of an audit."

With businesses closed and large numbers of people working from home, Saint John Transit has been operating a reduced service, with a maximum of nine passengers permitted on each bus.

"There's nobody going to the malls and nobody shopping and nobody going to work," said Logan.

The $100,000 Stantec "transit redesign" was approved by city council on Jan. 27.

The city has approved between $750,000 and $1 million in cuts to the transit system as part of its measures to reduce costs across all departments.

The company is charged with evaluating the performance of the system via "an operational audit of Saint John Transit's service offerings and operations" and returning with a report in July or August.

The consultants began on-the-ground work the week of March 9, riding on buses and consulting directly with transit users. The province's first presumptive case of COVID-19 was announced March 11.

By the following week, companies began to allow employees to work from home.

Stantec engineer Brian Putre addresses an open house on Saint John Transit on March 12. (Connell Smith, CBC)

Even so, Stantec engineer Brian Putre believes the audit can still do its job and be delivered on time using data collected by Saint John Transit on its own in 2019, which will provide a full-year's picture.

"It would have been nice to have done a few more on-board observations, but the reality of the current situation prevented that," said Putre.

"So it will be important to contextualize the recommendations that come out of this study in a world with COVID 19. But the actual process of what we need to do and the analysis and looking at optimizing efficiency and effectiveness and things of that nature still stays the same."

2nd public open house required

A public open house on the review was held on March 12 at Peel Plaza and about 45 people attended.

Under the terms of the contract for the operational review, a second public forum is to be held mid-July to gather feedback on some of the findings.

Putre said in light of the pandemic that public engagement may now have to be handled differently  possibly online.

Coun. Donna Reardon is city council's representative on the City Transit Commission and also part of a steering committee overseeing the Stantec review.

"I'm confident, yes, that it can work still," said Reardon. "There's a lot of stuff that they can look at, it's not just about the routes. It's about best practices, about trying to build a system and what's the best way to go about tearing that system apart and rebuilding it."

The union is surprised the August deadline for completion of the review is not being pushed back.

Logan said a proper audit of the transit system would consider data trends from a five- or even 10-year period —information that currently does not exist.

About the Author

Connell Smith is a reporter with CBC in Saint John. He can be reached at 632-7726 Connell.smith@cbc.ca

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