Halifax Transit to suspend service, cancel trips on some routes

Halifax Transit plans to reduce service effective Feb. 27 due to staffing shortages. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)
Halifax Transit plans to reduce service effective Feb. 27 due to staffing shortages. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)

Halifax Transit is once again planning to reduce bus service due to staffing shortages.

Starting Feb. 27, service will be temporarily suspended on three routes, schedules will be adjusted on three other routes, and 105 trips will be removed from 30 routes.

Routes 41, 178 and 179 will no longer be served. Schedules will be adjusted on routes 6, 21 and 54. A full list of changes can be found here.

Halifax Transit says no community will completely lose its service because of the changes.

The service has previously cancelled trips because it didn't have enough staff.

The municipality has been struggling to recruit and retain bus drivers. Thirty-five new drivers were hired and trained between September and December, and hiring is ongoing now, with new training courses offered every three weeks. The municipality aims to hire 80 more drivers before it resumes regular bus service.

Municipal spokesperson Maggie-Jane Spray said staff shortages are due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as retirements and long-term illness.

The changes will allow passengers to plan their trips more reliably and will also reduce driver workload, stress and overtime, Spray said.

The reduction in bus service will remain in place until late summer. The municipality says if recruitment continues at its current pace, transit service should return to its usual levels by then.

Working conditions key issue, union says

The head of the union representing bus drivers says wages and working conditions are causing recruitment and retention problems.

Shane O'Leary, the president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 508, says 130 Halifax Transit staff members left last year, and only 80 new employees were hired.

"People should be lining up for these jobs. These are jobs with pensions and benefits … why aren't people lining up?"

O'Leary said Halifax Transit bus drivers are paid the fourth-lowest hourly wage in the country compared with other transit unions. The starting wage is $21.55 an hour and the highest rate, reached after four years, is $28.60 an hour.

Shift availability for new drivers in particular is also limited, O'Leary said, and many are not able to get Monday-to-Friday shifts or take vacation in the summer months. Staff are also frequently asked to work overtime due to staff shortages.

O'Leary said about 100 new drivers are needed to help alleviate the shortages.

The collective agreement between the union and the municipality expired on Aug. 31, 2021. Negotiations are ongoing, with more dates scheduled in February.