How Halifax Transit’s staff shortage has become a huge problem.

Like many other sectors facing workforce shortages, Halifax Transit is feeling the pressure of an overburdened system.

The municipality has started twice this month. Canceling some tours Try and ease the pain.

Currently, 31 trips are affected, and the municipality says the cancellations will remain in place “until further notice”.

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The staff shortage is so bad, Mayor Mike Savage said, that the municipality had to alter plans for the Canoe Sprint and Paracanoe World Championships in early August.

“We hoped that transit could play a big role in moving athletes,” Savage said. “But the simple fact is we don’t have enough transit operators to do that.”

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Savage added that other transit organizations in the country are facing similar shortages, as are many other sectors, such as the bar and restaurant industry.

“It’s a problem across the board. Our operators work very hard on behalf of the people and we respect their work. But it’s a challenge right now. I know from talking to the executive director of Halifax Transit, They are very focused on it.

In an email exchange last week, Halifax Regional Municipality spokesman Ryan Nearing said that while staff shortages remain, transit service will proactively cancel select trips and provide advance notice to customers.

An interview with Halifax Transit Management was not made available.

When asked how long the cancellations could last, or if the problem could worsen over the summer, Nearing said they were “actively recruiting bus operators in an effort to resume full service as quickly as possible.” are doing.”

Drivers are leaving ‘on the spot’

For the union representing Halifax Transit bus drivers and ferry operators, that’s little consolation.

“Transit is very stressful and I apologize to the public if an operator or member of the ferry is not what you would expect on the day, but you don’t know what goes on behind the scenes. You really do.” They don’t,” said Shane O’Leary, president of Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 508.

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“Our operators are trying to run the system. Ferry people are trying to run the system. Trying to do as much work as they can. And you know what? It tends to burn people out.”

O’Leary spoke to OlxPraca two weeks ago, when the cancellation of the first-round trip was announced.

During the height of the pandemic, drivers getting sick was a real strain on the system. Now, sick days are still a factor, but understaffing is the biggest problem.

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O’Leary said bus drivers and ferry operators are overwhelmed and overworked. He estimated that every morning there was a shortfall of about 30 to 40 operators needed to complete the work.

Specifically, he said ferry captains, deckhands and engineers “are working double shifts almost every day to operate the system.”

Nearing said staff safety and mental health are priorities for Halifax Transit, and that bus operators are “regularly reminded” of the resources available to municipal staff.

“Halifax Transit also encourages operators to monitor themselves and their co-workers for signs of burnout and raise it with their supervisors,” he said.

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However, O’Leary said fed-up workers are simply leaving.

“I got word from the employer today that two people quit on the spot today, that’s it,” he said.

“You can’t tell someone who works nights to come in the next morning and do an extra (shift). You can’t keep telling someone who works every day that it closes at 2 a.m. to get you today. It’s going to be four more hours of work. You can’t do that to people.”

Click to play video: 'Anxiety rises among Halifax transit drivers amid pandemic'

Anxiety is growing among Halifax transit drivers amid pandemic.

Anxiety growing among Halifax transit drivers amid pandemic – May 6, 2021

Halifax Transit is trying to improve recruitment.

O’Leary said the key to solving the problem is recruiting more new employees.

The municipality agrees. Nering said they are adjusting their recruiting strategy, and future efforts will include advertising and in-person events.

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“Many external factors, such as labor market challenges, are contributing to current staff shortages,” Nearing said.

“The municipality’s goal in adapting past recruitment efforts is to provide a deeper understanding of the role and benefits associated with working for Halifax Transit.”

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As evidence of how difficult the situation is, O’Leary said the number of applicants who have just completed training courses is not enough to fill vacancies.

They can’t even fill the pool. They have to draw 16 people in the pool. The last class … they had 12. Two did not come. One dropped out as soon as the class started … seven graduated from the six-week class,” he said.

The starting wage for an operator is about $21 an hour, and it takes about five years to reach the top wage rate, he said.

When I started with Transit, it was a career. It is no longer a career. People are just walking in, getting their Class 2 license and deciding, ‘That’s not what I want. I am coming for the lowest wage. I have to do worst because of seniority. I’m working nights and weekends and I’m looking forward to better holidays,” he said.

“But you can’t start at these wage rates and expect people to stick around.”

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The solution, he said, is more incentives to attract new hires. This will include signing bonuses and higher wages.

These are the things they will want to discuss in the next collective agreement negotiations. His contract expired in September last year.

Savage said the municipality is “committed” to being a good employer.

“We’ve had discussions with Metro Transit, Halifax Transit operators. We go through the normal channels that will come to council, as always,” Savage said.

“This year, for the first time, Halifax was named one of the top employers in Atlantic Canada. Not many governments make that mark. So we’re trying to make sure our employees It is known that we treat them with respect, that we pay them a fair wage and that their work is valued.

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Savage went on to say that a reliable transit system is “very important” to Halifax, especially as areas outside the city center continue to grow.

He said there are councilors who are “aggressively making the case” for expanding transit service in those areas.

“We have to take this really seriously. The first thing, though, is that we have to have good, reliable transit downtown so people know they can get around, that they can get a transfer. , that they are not going to sit, wait,” he said.

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“We need to get people out of cars, onto buses, onto bikes, rollerblading, walking, all kinds of things. It’s good for the economy. It’s good for our health. It’s good for our roads. And it’s good for our environment. So very important.”

Halifax has made a major effort to promote green transportation, including a now-stopped pilot project to build a busy street bus only within the city.

In June 2020, the council also gave approval. HalifACTplans to achieve a net-zero economy by 2050, which the municipality says is “one of the most ambitious climate actions in Canada.”

So O’Leary wonders why Halifax isn’t putting more emphasis on improving transit.

“Every successful city in the world has a successful transit system. Our system is not successful yet.

“Our system is failing the citizens of Halifax and it’s not the operator’s fault. The operators don’t set the times, they don’t set the routes, they don’t set the schedules. It’s all done behind the scenes,” O’Leary said. said

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