Provincial boost needed for Edmonton transit: union
EDMONTON The city’s transit union is warning of overcrowding on Edmonton’s buses as COVID-19 restrictions are further relaxed and several businesses begin reopening, while reduced bus service remains in place.
Amalgamated Transit Union Local 569 president Steve Bradshaw said ridership has ramped up 86 per cent from the lowest levels during the pandemic and some buses are packed as the city operates on an enhanced Saturday schedule with limited night service. About 450 transit operators were laid off in April as a cost savings measure, with the city facing a $10-million monthly loss in transit revenues with free service.
Recreation facilities, theatres and casinos were among several services given the green light to reopen Friday under the province’s Stage 2 of relaunch, which Bradshaw said will contribute to increased ridership.
“We are already seeing overcrowding on some routes at some times of day so we need to get more buses on the road, get those people off of their layoffs and get them back behind the wheel. When ridership starts to ramp up and you don’t have enough buses out there, then you are going to have overcrowding on the buses.”
Recognizing the city’s economic challenges, Bradshaw said he is joining the city’s call to senior levels of government for financial support for the service to return to regular operations. Councillors heard Thursday the city will continue to track ridership increases and will provide a further relaunch update in early July.
“The big thing is to get the funding in place so we can operate the system properly,” Bradshaw said. “The bottom line is, the transportation service you have come to expect is available to be provided if we get the budget in place to do it.”
When fares are reinstated Monday, the city will be distributing 500,000 masks provided by the provincial government at four main transit centres and three LRT stations. Riders will be required to board at the front of the bus and also obtain a transfer from drivers if paying by cash or ticket.
The union was initially advocating for the city to make masks mandatory for riders, but Bradshaw admitted it would be difficult for drivers to ensure compliance.
“We appreciate the system’s effort to encourage the use of masks, but we’ve stopped short of expecting them to mandate it and the reason for that is it would be almost impossible to enforce,” he said. “We don’t want operators to enforce that as it sets us up for confrontations like crazy.”
Meanwhile, nine Edmonton-region municipalities have applied to the province for the establishment of a regional transit service. Once operational, the new service commission is expected to save about 600 service hours per week and $2.2 million annually.