UPDATE: On Monday morning, TransLink announced unprecedented cuts to its workforce and services:
- TransLink to lay off nearly 1,500 employees due to coronavirus
- These are the unprecedented cuts to TransLink services starting this week
Up to thousands of bus drivers with TransLink subsidiary Coast Mountain Bus Company (CMBC) could be out of work as early as later this week due to temporary layoffs.
According to a letter by Unifor, sent to its members and obtained by Daily Hive, CMBC has informed the union of its intention to initiate discussions on layoffs of between 30% and 70% of its employees.
Unifor represents about 5,000 CMBC and SeaBus workers.
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The public transit authority has been struggling with severe revenue shortfalls due to the recent plummet in ridership, as a result of the shutdown of businesses, schools, and the mandated widespread practice of COVID-19 physical distancing and self-isolation.
The letter reiterates much of a press release sent out by Unifor last Thursday, which stated lower wage essential service workers, such as those in retail and cleaning, still depend on public transit.
To reduce operating costs, given the fall in ridership, TransLink has reduced its bus services by 15% to 20%, and cut frequencies on SkyTrain, SeaBus, and West Coast Express.
Unifor suggested any further cuts to bus services will only lead to more pass-ups, violations on physical distancing, and abuse of bus drivers.
“Cutting transit service would make life even more difficult for working COVID-19 heroes, and ultimately the people they have been dutifully serving,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President.
This follows warnings from TransLink’s Mayors’ Council and TransLink management last week that the public transit authority is now on pace to run average monthly revenue shortfalls of $75 million.
Their revenues have been cut by half, but they rely on parking, fuel, and especially fares for over 60% of the operating budget. Across the board, overall transit ridership has dropped by over 80%.
And to provide some physical distancing between bus drivers and passengers, CMBC has stopped fare collection on all buses to allow for a rear-door bus boarding policy.
The Mayors’ Council is urging the federal and provincial governments to provide emergency operational funding that will allow TransLink to weather through the crisis and continue to provide essential transit service for essential workers. Under its state of emergency, the provincial government previously declared public transit as an essential service.
About 75,000 people still rely on public transit to get around, including hospital workers.
But without emergency funding from senior governments, the public transit authority expects it will experience cashflow issues within weeks, and be forced to perform severe service cuts.
New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Cote, the chair of TransLink’s Mayors’ Council, has warned that the public transit system could become “unrecognizable” after these unprecedented cuts to service levels are made as a last resort measure to retain the viability of public transit operations in Metro Vancouver.
All of this comes just months after TransLink’s hard-fought labour disputes with both Unifor and CUPE, the other union that represents Expo Line and Millennium Line workers with TransLink subsidiary BC Rapid Transit Company.
CUPE has yet to indicate whether its SkyTrain members are affected.
Daily Hive has reached out to TransLink and CUPE for comment.