TTC plans to reduce service next month due to staff shortage caused by vaccine mandate
TORONTO -- Facing a "reduction in available workforce" due to its mandatory vaccination policy, the Toronto Transit Commission says it will be paring down services next month, particularly on its bus network.
The TTC unveiled more details Wednesday about the service changes coming in November and December, which it said take into consideration employees who will be unavailable for work due to their vaccination status.
The agency announced earlier this month that it would place employees who are not fully vaccinated or who won't disclose their vaccination status on unpaid leave with the possibility of termination if they do not comply with the policy by the end of the year.
The plan will prioritize the TTC's busiest bus routes, including Wilson, Jane, Eglinton, Finch and Lawrence East, at the busiest times of the day.
"Big, major arterial roads like that, at the busiest times of day, will be untouched. They will have the same level of service they have today," TTC spokesperson Stuart Green told CP24 Wednesday afternoon.
"No routes are being cut. All routes will continue to get service. But there may need to be some changes based on what we know today."
The TTC said under the plan, other bus routes will see varying levels of temporary service changes that are similar to those made in the summer and December.
The agency added that the impact on wait times will be "minimal" and "all changes will result in ridership levels that are within TTC service standards." The TTC said its ridership is at 50 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.
The agency is planning to invite retirees to return temporarily and increase the hiring of new operators over the coming months to meet service demand.
The TTC said it is also temporarily postponing capital construction projects and cancelling weekend and night closures to allow shuttle drivers to be re-deployed to regular service. The agency added that it is also moving qualified bus operators who usually move vehicles between divisions to cover regular service.
"I believe we have come up with a plan that is flexible and responsive. And if our staff numbers are better than expected as we get closer to the end of the day on Nov. 20, we can start replacing service reductions that may have been necessary," TTC CEO Rick Leary said in a statement.
"I stand firmly behind our vaccination policy. It is the right thing to do to protect the health and safety of our employees, their families and the communities we serve."
The temporary schedules were posted Wednesday, and vaccinated employees would be able to sign up for the next scheduled service periods on Nov. 3, the TTC said. Earlier this month, the agency postponed routine scheduling of operators on transit shifts to allow for more time to determine the vaccination status of all employees.
As of Wednesday, the TTC said, 88 per cent of its 15,090 employees have shared their vaccine status, including 86 per cent of unionized workers, "with the vast majority already fully vaccinated."
"Our vaccination numbers are going up. We continue to work with our employee groups. We have vaccination clinics in our workplaces. We want to get those numbers way up," Green said.
"So about a week before November 21, we'll have the schedules posted so people can see what the predictable service is going to be at a minimum, but we may be able to put more service out if we get more people vaccinated."
The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113, which represents 12,000 TTC transit workers, released a statement Wednesday criticizing the agency's plan, saying that it is an "avoidable mistake and a result of the TTC's own mismanagement."
"Instead of working with the union, the TTC opted to bulldoze their mandatory disclosure policy through, causing a potential staff shortage," said union president Carlos Santos.
The union previously advised its members to withhold their vaccination status following the initial announcement of the TTC's mandatory vaccine policy. After the agency filed an application with the Ontario Labour Relations Board, the union reversed its stance.
"Instead of cutting service, the TTC should look at sensible alternatives that help protect workers and riders, such as regular testing for the small number of members who wish not to receive the vaccine," Santos said.
"These sorts of measures have already been successfully executed in the cities of Brampton, Mississauga and Hamilton and can be safely adopted in Toronto as well."
- with files from CP24 staff