Staffing shortages amid COVID-19 prompt Calgary Transit to adjust service levels

Calgary Transit is adjusting about 10 per cent of its bus routes because of dozens of staff members who are ill or isolating due to the Omicron variant. 

The department previously made minor changes to some routes on Jan. 10, but widespread changes and cancellations went into effect Jan. 17. 

"In anticipation of an increase in operator sickness due to COVID, we made some proactive adjustments to service," said Stephen Tauro with Calgary Transit.

"Because we did make changes throughout the network, it's not in a predictable manner. So the (online) schedule tool will help customers navigate the system, especially during these temporary changes."

The adjustments are mostly impacting the bus side of operations, with some routes either cancelled or coming less frequently.

Pls confirm your route schedule before you head out starting Jan 17 at! We have temporarily reduced service on some routes as Omicron may further impact staff levels. Or, give us a call at 403-262-1000 if you need schedule or trip planning help.

— Calgary Transit (@calgarytransit) January 17, 2022

About 100 Calgary Transit employees are either currently sick with Omicron or are having to isolate due to a positive test, Tauro said. 

The transit union says at least 200 additional operators are either sick with other illnesses or are on long-term leave due to the stresses of the pandemic. 

"As of Friday, there were about 322 operators that were out sick for one reason or another, and on the community shuttle buses there was almost 100. With the LRT, there were 32 trained LRT operators (off sick)," said Mike Mahar, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 583. 

"That's almost double what would be normal absenteeism during a typical flu season, which would be the high absenteeism under general times," he said. 

Mahar said the city was already dealing with a staffing shortage coming into 2022. He believes it's because the city ended its retirement payment to long-time employees at the end of 2021.

In 2019, city council voted to end the retention incentive that saw employees with more than 25 years of service earn a vacation allotment upon retirement. It's estimated ending the practice will save the city about $4.3 million per year.

About 250 people have retired or resigned from transit due to such policy changes over the last two years, Mahar said. 

The city plans to re-evaluate the route changes on a regular basis and will make further changes when staffing levels return to normal. They're also preparing for the possibility of more people getting sick, Tauro said.