A shortage of drivers on staff at Fredericton Transit has led to the temporary reduction of its scheduled services for customers during the peak evening hours.
And while the City of Fredericton says the shortage is not connected to the COVID-19 pandemic, a representative for the union overseeing the drivers says the pandemic can be attributed to some of the drivers needing to take time off.
Meredith Gilbert, manager of transit and parking services with the City of Fredericton, said a number of drivers are currently off work due to reasons including health issues, adding she couldn't go into specifics.
She said there are also gaps in staffing due to retirements that have happened in the past year-and-a-half.
The reduction in service is specifically for all routes leaving Kings Place at 3:45 p.m., 4:45 p.m., 5:45 p.m. and 6:45 p.m. Whereas those routes would have been serviced every half hour, as of Monday, they'll only be serviced every hour.
"I wouldn't tie our current situation to the pandemic," Gilbert said.
"What we are concerned about is that because we have this unusual high rate of absences … we have other operators that are continuing to work, working really high rates of hours — in some cases in the range of 120 [hours] over a two week period and we just are concerned about looking out for their health and safety and making sure that we don't run them into the ground."
Ralph McBride, CUPE national servicing representative for Fredericton Transit drivers, said drivers are just "fatigued" after working under more challenging circumstances during the pandemic.
"I see it as over-fatigued," McBride said.
"They're just tired out. It's been stressful for them in the last 18 or 16 months, and some of them have unfortunately had to go off due to medical issues."
McBride said the need for other drivers to work overtime to backfill those already off was further exacerbating the issue, but is glad the city was able to alter the schedule to give drivers some relief.
Coun. Bruce Grandy, who's also chair of the city's mobility committee, said the city has hired three new drivers and is currently training them to fill in some of the vacancies and bring back usual service times.
"We're just hoping to get service back to the half-hour as soon as possible," Grandy said.
He also said it could be up to eight more weeks before regular service is fully resumed.