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Calgary Transit to cut thousands of service hours, layoffs likely to top 400

Calgary Transit will cut an estimated 17,000 hours from its service as coronavirus ridership struggles continue to take a bite out of the city’s bottom line.

Combined ridership on the city’s CTrain and bus systems had dropped 80 per cent since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.  While initial service reductions were made to absorb some of those reduction, prolonged lack of use is forcing the city to take further action.

Amalgamated Transit Union 583 president Mike Mahar said on Monday of this week that specifics on the 17,000-hour cut hadn’t made their way to the union yet.

He’s anticipating full closure of some routes along with service cuts to some routes on evenings and weekends. Details on impact are expected later this week. It expected up to 23 runs will be temporarily eliminated.

“Suffice to say it’d be some of the smaller feeder routes that don’t carry very many people very often, that type of thing, I would think,” Mahar told LiveWire Calgary.

Mahar doesn’t think any of the route changes will be permanent.

“That would be an awful thing to happen,” he said.

Calgary city councillor said transit reductions would be temporary

In a follow up on Wednesday, Mahar couldn’t confirm a reported number of 450 people, because the final number could be up or down and didn’t want to cause anyone undue stress.

“Obviously, we’re devastated by what’s happening, and right now we’re literally just focusing on dealing with this now,” he said.

“We just want to make sure they’re capturing the right people that have to go.”

Mahar expected that the city would have final numbers and do staff notifications Thursday.

Councillor Jeff Davison, chair of the city’s transportation and transit committee, said they’re dealing with an unprecedented situation – particularly with transit.

“We’re temporarily removing some of these routes and affecting transit – and I guess the key there is temporarily,” Davison said.

The Ward 6 councillor said the city recognizes that many citizens rely on transit and they’re trying to make the service reductions in the best way possible.

Reallocating Calgary Transit routes

Some routes have seen steep declines and others have seen increases, depending on where those routes are in Calgary.  

Mahar said they have a run cut (also called a run sign up) that allocates drivers to certain routes. He said they did one in January, but then did a new one after they made adjustment due to COVID-19.

He said they moved buses from some under-used routes to ones that needed more capacity. They also freed up some people to be floater buses so the city could respond to areas that showed fluctuations in need.

“And now with this news, of a service cut, they’re actually cutting the service,” Mahar said.

“So, we’ve asked them to be very, very careful, because if you’re cutting too deep, regardless of how bad the budget is, if you’re cutting too deep, you’re not going to be able to provide the service.”

Mahar said there are driver concerns in these situations not only for their own safety, but for the health and safety of riders. They’re having to drive by some stops, leaving people just to ensure proper distancing.

But, leaving riders, Mahar said, also creates a problem at the stops.

“There’s overloads and people are standing. They get angry, they get angry at each other, they get angry at the operators and it just creates a very, very bad environment,” he said.

Real-time decisionmaking on Calgary Transit

Coun. Davison said inevitably there will be a negative impact for some Calgarians and their ridership experience. Given the declines in ridership and therefore revenue, Davison said service adjustments had to be made.

“I can tell you the process right now is very fluid,” he said.

“As restrictions will be loosened, as people will go back to work… we’re trying to play a real-time game of adjusting to an appropriate level of service.”

In an April 30 update, Calgary Transit general manager Doug Morgan said they would be developing a deeper level of cost savings for the city.

He said at the time that revenue shortfall projections “in the most optimistic” reopening scenarios, would top $89 million.