Nfld. & Labrador

Metrobus to trim routes, driver hours this winter as it deals with hefty budget cut

In a letter obtained by CBC News, Metrobus general manager Judy Powell says the transit agency is switching to a summer schedule in January until at least September 2021.

Shifting to summer schedule due to lower ridership levels amid COVID-19

Metrobus drivers won't have as many shifts due to the service reduction starting Jan. 4. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

Metrobus is cutting regular service levels and moving to a summer schedule this winter, due to an $800,000 budget cut from the City of St. John's. 

The change will eliminate some shifts for drivers. 

That information and other planned changes are laid out in a letter — obtained by CBC News —  that Metrobus general manager Judy Powell sent to employees this week. 

"This has been a difficult decision.… I know this is an unsettling time," Powell said in the letter. 

"The city is forecasting a few difficult years ahead, and all departments and organizations funding by the city have been required to find savings."

The reduced service starts Jan. 4. The summer schedule will remain in place until at least September 2021.

There is no guarantee regular service will resume then, however, with Powell stating the transit agency will re-evaluate the schedule at that time. 

Metrobus manager Judy Powell, seen here in 2018 demonstrating a touch screen kiosk, said in the letter to employees the service reductions were a 'difficult decision.' (Ted Dillon/CBC)

Since September, Powell said, ridership levels have hovered at about half of what they normally are.

Metrobus reinstated regular service this past September, but after crunching the numbers, decided to make reductions, citing people working from home and Memorial University and the College of the North Atlantic moving to online classes. 

The cuts come about six weeks after drivers and maintenance crew members voted in favour of a new deal, averting a strike. 

The union representing Metrobus employees wouldn't comment to CBC News about the contents of the letter. 

Fewer shifts for drivers

Drivers will feel the effects of the decision as there will not be as many shifts to go around from Jan. 4 to June 27, writes Powell. 

Uncertainty will persist, as drivers who don't have a shift effective Jan. 4 will get a record of employment so they can file for employment insurance, says Powell. 

"However, you will remain on the recall list and called to work on an as-needed basis," she writes. 

Powell would not do an interview with CBC News, but answered several questions via email. 

Councillors, mayor not talking 

Members of St. John's city council continue to stay mum. Spokesperson Kelly Maguire told CBC that no member of council would do an interview regarding Metrobus and its reduced bus service. 

Maguire had made the same point on Wednesday, when CBC News asked for an interview after the city issued a news release about job cuts at city hall and St. John's Sports and Entertainment. 

Those cuts include 16 full-time positions — some of which are currently vacant — within city operations. 

Canadian Union of Public Employees president Sherry Hillier told CBC Radio's On The Go those employees work in customer service, city hall's mail room, inspection services, field services, waste collection and park services.

That's in addition to the scrapping of five full-time positions, and two part-time positions "due to the uncertainty of when large-scale entertainment events such as hockey, basketball and concerts will return," according to the media release issued Wednesday. 

While Mayor Danny Breen and members of St. John's city council have warned of tough financial decisions, all interview requests from CBC related to the job cuts and the Metrobus service reductions have been declined. (Rob Antle/CBC)

By law, municipal governments are not allowed to run deficits, unlike at the provincial and federal level.

The 2021 City of St. John's draft budget will be presented at the Dec. 7 council meeting.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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