Calgary Transit overtime costs jumped nearly 20 per cent in 2021, compared with 2020, as they managed both demand for service and Omicron cases among staff.
Overtime costs rose to $12 million in 2021, up nearly two million over 2020 when overtime costs were $10.1 million. The 2021 number is higher than both 2018 ($10.8 million) and 2019 ($11.5 million) when Calgary Transit service was delivering a full range of service.
This is according to information provided by Calgary Transit.
Calgary Transit ridership plummeted when the pandemic hit, dropping to roughly 15 per cent of normal volume at one point. That forced the closure of routes, the scaling back of others, and layoffs of more than 400 people in mid-2020.
Last week, LiveWire Calgary reported the uphill battle in rehiring many operators to ramp up pandemic recovery service. Meanwhile, the transit union said shifts for the past two years have been primarily filled on overtime hours.
Calgary Transit said they have a posting currently out for new operators.
“Overtime was only one of the strategies that we used to deliver service and was increasingly important when hit with higher sick numbers due to the Omicron wave,” read an email response from a transit spokesperson.
They also said they had to deal with changes in demand and uncertainty over service during the pandemic.
Calgary Transit was projecting a revenue shortfall of $89 million for 2022. They were short $106 million in 2021 and $93 million in 2020.
Provincial and federal transit relief has covered most of the losses.
Spare board fills up
Mike Mahar, president of Amalgamated Transit Union 583, said a typical Calgary Transit “spare board” has about 20 to 40 posted pieces of overtime.
Mahar said there have been weeks and months where that number fluctuated between 60 and 140 overtime posts. Most days now it’s between 70 and 80.
“They’ve got a very large spare board, which isn’t indicative of a good place to be as far as work and work-life balance and rewards, all that kind of stuff,” Mahar said.
A lot of the overtime posts have been full shifts, Mahar said. Typically, in the past, he said the OT requests are a few hours at most.
Mahar suggested previously that Calgary Transit was mistaken in their layoff and rehiring approach. He said some of the current problems could have been avoided.
We didn’t receive a direct response from Calgary Transit when asked if they erred in laying off so many workers.
Some workers are putting in 12 hour shifts at times, Mahar said. Operators can work a “forced overtime” that’s based on seniority or a “volunteer overtime.”
Ward 10 Coun. Andre Chabot said though the number is larger, the OT cost may actually be less than what would have been spent hiring full time workers to fill shifts. Chabot said that when you hire a full-time operator there has to be a guarantee of income.
“At the end of the day, the net result is probably less costly by incurring overtime than it would if we hired full time staff to accommodate for any and all unforeseen sort of anomalies,” he said.
Chabot said it’s allowed Calgary Transit to stay nimble as they navigate a still uncertain recovery.
Ward 11 Coun. Kourtney Penner said looking back there are always things that could have been done differently.
“My thought is they made the best decision with the info they had at the time,” Penner said via text message response.
“Looking back would help us in a similar future situation (please no more pandemics) and so for now we can only look forward and work to course correct.”