Transit turmoil frustrating bus riders


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Erin Riediger’s Winnipeg Transit tracking app told her the bus she was waiting for Dec. 9 was four minutes away. When the countdown reached zero, the estimated wait time jumped back up to four minutes.

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Erin Riediger’s Winnipeg Transit tracking app told her the bus she was waiting for Dec. 9 was four minutes away. When the countdown reached zero, the estimated wait time jumped back up to four minutes.

She kept checking, and waiting in the cold. About 20 minutes past the original arrival time, the bus scheduled for the Wellington Avenue stop vanished from the list entirely.

“It didn’t say, ‘cancelled,’ it didn’t say, ‘unavailable,’ it just disappeared from the schedule,” Riediger said. “And then when I was walking to try to catch another bus, I ran into other people along the route, basically, that were waiting for the same bus, and I even said to a few of them: ‘Just so you know, it’s not coming.’”

It’s a frustrating occurrence Winnipeggers know all too well.

When Riediger shared her experience via social media, her replies were filled with people who, too, had waited for a scheduled bus that never showed up.

Riediger uses the Winnipeg Bus Live app, which she said is usually accurate. She noted while she had the ability to walk to another bus stop, not everyone has that privilege.

“For transit to be effective, you have to be able to trip plan, and you have to be able to have the reliability of transit so that you can show up to work on time,” she said. “So if you’re going to work in bad weather, you don’t have to wait. If you have mobility issues, you’re not trying to get yourself to another bus stop.”

Schedules misaligned to actual vehicles on the road can be caused if a bus has a mechanical issue and is taken out of service — there can be a lag in between the bus being removed and it showing up on the Transit schedules — or as a result of staff shortages, a City of Winnipeg spokesperson said.

Those staff shortages result in some buses never making it onto assigned routes, causing cancellations. As with a mechanical issue, sometimes there is a lag between the bus being cancelled and it showing up on riders’ schedules.

“We, like many public transportation providers across North America, are experiencing staff shortages that, combined with an increase in operator absenteeism, have resulted in us designating a small number of buses as DNOs (did not operate),” the spokesperson said in an email.

“While we never want to see DNOs, what we are experiencing currently is intermittent and is limited to the peak periods (rush hours).”

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505 president Romeo Ignacio said the reduction in transit service over the COVID-19 pandemic (which resulted in temporary layoffs, less frequent service and fewer buses on the road) made an impact that remains today.

“The schedules that the city has provided were actually based on the last two years. And you know what the last two years was, right? There was no traffic, there were no people taking the buses,” said the leader of the union representing Transit bus operators.

“And they cut the service, they cut the schedules. Not only that, they actually cut the service by six per cent, they actually cut the times. And that has an impact on whether the bus will show up on time or even show up at all.”

The issue snowballs, Ignacio said, when you consider buses often take routes known as “interlining” — when a bus does one route for its first trip, then a different route for its second trip. This means if a bus is running late after completing a route, it can often get its next route cancelled entirely to keep it on schedule.

“There’s actually a joke out there that ‘not in service’ is the most common bus (route) that the city has… It cascades.”

Before the current shortage, the city would have drivers on standby to fill in for emergencies. Now, Ignacio said around 50 driver positions out of 1,100 remain unfilled.

To have a fully-operational bus service, he said Transit would need 100 more operators. It’s a cyclical struggle — while 200 drivers have been trained in the last three years, 330 have resigned or retired, Ignacio said.

“It takes time for an operator to develop that experience, where they can come in on time all the time, but with the cuts in the service, with the cuts in the schedules, with more traffic out there than the schedules will permit, and the lack of support… Because of all that missing, we’re having a tough time retaining even the (drivers) that we have right now.”

Malak Abas

Malak Abas

Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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