Transit union president calls Saskatoon service reductions ‘unprecedented’

Saskatoon’s transit union is signalling a growing concern with the public transit system.

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 615 president Darcy Pederson said on any given day, there can be anywhere from a few route service cancellations to dozens of them.

That has been going on for the last few months, something he said he has never seen or experienced before.

“I believe that it’s due to lack of preventative maintenance on the buses and getting the parts in for the buses that need to be fixed,” he said.

During Saskatoon’s last council meeting Feb. 28, councillors Bev Dubois and Darren Hill asked transit manager Jim McDonald and transportation and construction GM Terry Schmidt why there had been so many route service cancellations.

“We’ve got angry citizens and quite frankly helpless citizens who cannot go on with their everyday lives to get them to work, to daycare et cetera because they can’t count on their means of transit, which is Saskatoon Transit,” said Dubois.

McDonald said cold weather, a growing shortage of necessary parts and an aging fleet were some of the problems they’d been encountering.

“Our staff are investigating every available option for parts that are available on the market,” McDonald said. “What we would have been able to get out of the parts systems a year ago have been depleted.”

That’s not what Pederson said he has experienced.

“I actually reached out to properties across Canada last week to find out if we’re having a parts supply shortage,” he said. “I can tell you I’ve talked to Edmonton, Vancouver, Calgary, Regina, Lethbridge, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, Hamilton (and cities in) Nova Scotia. None of them, not one of them, is seeing a parts supply shortage.

“Edmonton actually suggested that, ‘Hey, we have such a big supply of parts here, we’re even willing to share with Saskatoon.’ I don’t know where (McDonald’s comment) is coming from.”

Another issue cited by McDonald suggested Saskatoon had a “unique” bus system.

“I would definitely have to disagree with that statement,” said Pederson. “Our fleet are almost identical or as similar to almost every fleet that every property in Canada is using.”

Pederson admitted there were some delays hiring mechanics, but there is now a full complement of them. He said transit drivers are showing up to work only to find there’s no bus for them to drive, leaving them to literally sit around and wait.

“They go on standby and they wait in the operators’ lounge until they find a bus …,” he said. “Quite often from December until last week we’ve had a lot of operators that aren’t getting buses and basically they come to work — they’re ready to work — but there’s no vehicle for them to drive.”

Operators are now expressing their frustration, he said, along with members of the public.

“We have never seen this unprecedented amount of buses breaking down or being short and cancelling this amount of runs,” he added.

“Our first contact from riders was a bit negative. The message coming to use was ‘lazy city workers not getting the job done.’ But it’s very important that the riding public know that our people are coming to work. They want to provide the service. We aren’t able to do that.”

Late last week, the City of Saskatoon issued a statement indicating that, on average, Saskatoon Transit has been short five to 10 buses per week.

McDonald said a recovery plan was in place after the cold weather, but it would take a few days to get through a backlog of repairs.

In the meantime, the City of Saskatoon said riders may need to continue to take alternate routes.

Transit union president calls Saskatoon service reductions ‘unprecedented’ | 650 CKOM