Layoffs and service cuts: Here's how TransLink is being impacted by reduced ridership during COVID-19
VANCOUVER -- Almost 1,500 workers at TransLink will receive layoff notices, and service on the system will be reduced even further, following a massive downturn in ridership as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the transit company said Monday.
Last week, TransLink revealed it has been losing about $2.5 million a day, or about $75 million a month, due to an 83 per cent decline in riders.
The company announced temporary layoff notices will be given to 1,492 employees who work throughout the system, and added they are working with the province to make funding available to reverse layoffs and return to near-regular operations by the fall.
“This is an incredibly tough day for those employees,” said TransLink spokesperson Ben Murphy. “This decision was not taken lightly. Unfortunately, it’s out of necessity."
In a news release, TransLink’s CEO Kevin Desmond said he fully expects those affected will be recalled "once TransLink returns to regular operations, which we are now planning for back to school in September, if consistent with provincial guidelines.”
TransLink also said senior executive salaries and board remuneration will be cut by 10 per cent.
More service reductions
Further service reductions will also begin this week. Expo Line capacity will drop by an additional 20 per cent during peak hours, and anywhere from 20 to 40 per cent more at other times. Millennium Line capacity will be reduced by another 15 per cent during peak hours, and another 20 to 40 per cent during other times.
Starting April 24, 18 bus routes will be suspended, and TransLink said it expected another 47 routes will be suspended in early May, with reduced service on many remaining routes.
TransLink said routes serving hospitals and other health facilities are being prioritized.
With the planned reductions, TransLink said its bus system will only be able to move around 20 per cent of the normal amount of people.
In addition, SeaBus service will end earlier starting April 22. The last sailing of the day will take place at 7:30 p.m.from the Lonsdale Quay and 7:45 p.m. from Waterfront Station.
For West Coast Express riders, starting April 22, the three trains that remain in service will have fewer cars.
Province seeks federal support: premier
TransLink has asked the provincial and federal government for about $250 million in emergency funding.
Murphy said they’ve been in discussions with the province and have got “some commitments” that the government is going to help them get service closer to normal levels by September, but there has been no funding promised by Ottawa at this point.
“We still will be talking to the federal government about funding options which might be available there,” Murphy said. “This is a really a very tough spot we’re in...it’s a tremendous amount of money, those are real losses, we’re not going to be able to recoup them, and so part of that is that we are going to be using cash reserves to be able to sustain ourselves over the coming months."
Premier John Horgan did not elaborate on what kind of funding help his government may be providing to TransLink. Instead, he said he raised the issue with the prime minster and other premiers last week.
“We can’t sustain an 83 per cent reduction in ridership, that’s just not going to work,” Horgan said. “We need a national response to our transit challenges as well.”
'Irresponsible move': union
Unifor’s western regional director Gavin McGarrigle told CTV News Vancouver it’s a sad day for riders, operators and maintenance staff. He also called the move “totally unnecessary” at a time when essential service workers still need to get to work, and when the safety of riders and staff is paramount.
“I don’t think the public has any time for their safety to be compromised because of these budget decisions that are being made,” McGarrigle said. “You’re taking a bad situation and making it way, way worse.”
An internal memo circulated to Unifor members on Sunday hinted at the drastic cuts.
Union representatives said they had a conference call with Coast Mountain Bus Company, the contract operator for TransLink, on Saturday after being formally approached by them last week to discuss the potential cuts.
"TransLink's threats to cut transit operator staffing levels, and therefore transit service, is an irresponsible move that would do more harm than good during the COVID-19 pandemic," the memo states.
"Unfortunately, the employer continues to try to move discussions along and tabled a document which resembles a road map to unlimited layoffs," it adds, noting it will not assist with the cuts.
McGarrigle said the layoffs come into effect on May 18th, and union is considering its legal options and may consider applications to the BC Labour Relations board for “workforce adjustment” discussions.
Below is a full list of impacts, as supplied by TransLink.