The union representing thousands of TTC operators and maintenance personnel on welcomed the recall of 150 operators on Friday who were laid off at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, but said all workers need to be recalled if confidence is to return to the transit system.
The TTC said in a news release that it is recalling the operators to prepare for an expected bump in ridership when schools reopen in September.
The transit agency said the remaining 300 workers would be recalled as more customers return.
"We welcome the addition of 150 of our laid off members back," Carlos Santos, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 113, told CBC News.
"We are still pushing for the remainder. We want full service, we want Torontonians to get back on transit and we believe that transit should be at 100 per cent."
TTC CEO Rick Leary announced the layoffs in April in the wake of a historic ridership drop caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting shut down of schools and non-essential businesses.
According to the TTC, the move was always intended to be temporary, with all operators to be recalled when the system reached 50 per cent of pre-pandemic ridership levels.
Prior to the pandemic, the TTC was carrying 1.7 million riders on a typical weekday. At the lowest point of the lockdown, the system was moving roughly 15 to 20 per cent of pre-pandemic ridership.
The agency said the layoffs were designed to maintain transit service across the city — with increased service on the busiest bus routes — while containing costs.
As of this week, though, the TTC is seeing daily ridership in the 35-40-per-cent range, a number that has steadily increased as Toronto has entered new phases of the province's COVID-19 reopening plan.
"I want to thank Mr. Leary and all TTC employees for working with the City of Toronto to keep transit operating during the pandemic," said Mayor John Tory.
"The unprecedented ridership drop was no fault of the TTC and I'm proud to have secured hundreds of millions from the federal and provincial governments to help protect our transit system.
"The changes announced today will ensure that as schools reopen and more people return to work, the TTC can continue to deliver safe and reliable service across the city with increased service on its busiest routes," Tory added.
61 members tested positive for COVID-19, union says
The ATU Local 113 president said 61 of its members tested positive for COVID-19, and while most have recovered, there are some who are experiencing some issues.
"It's been a difficult time for all of us; it's been an unknown virus, it's been difficult for union leaders, it's been difficult for politicians, it's been difficult for customers," Santos said.
"[These are] unprecedented times and I think we just have to … keep flattening the curve and not let our guard down," he added.
"It's taken us quite some time just to get the basic protections, which are now in place. Before we weren't even allowed to wear a mask. We've had to fight for a lot of changes to the TTC."
TTC forced to make 'some tough decisions'
Leary agrees with Santos that, "These have been difficult times for everyone at the TTC."
He said the agency was forced to respond to the pandemic by making "some tough decisions" to reduce expenses and revise service delivery.
"The good news is that things are turning around and we're able to start bringing back operators and reinstating some of the service as well as adding service to the busiest routes across the network," Leary said.
According to Leary, the remaining 300 operators will be recalled as ridership increases.
But Santos said they should be recalled now.
"We want to entice customers to take transit and if they're hearing stories or seeing photos on social media of overcrowded vehicles, they're definitely not going to be taking transit, so we need to make sure that we have 100 per cent service up and running."