Winnipeg Transit has now restored its full summer service level but it’s not yet clear how frequent buses will run in the fall.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, a second wave of infections could force additional changes to bus schedules, said Romeo Ignacio, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505 (ATU).
"There are three scenarios that we’re looking at for the fall time," said Ignacio.
The union leader said the three options now being discussed include: relying on fewer buses with more spare drivers to operate them; continuing with service levels in place now; or shifting to another enhanced Saturday schedule for weekdays.
If the enhanced Saturday schedule option is chosen, it would likely offer more frequent service than the version that took effect in May, Ignacio said.
At that time, the city temporarily laid off 253 bus drivers and drastically cut service frequency. The decision came after the pandemic led Transit ridership to plummet by 72 per cent from the same period last year.
Ignacio said health directives from the province will help determine what level of service is offered after summer.
"It all depends on what the provincial government is going to be mandating," he said.
Winnipeg Transit returned to full summer service levels on Sunday and full weekday service resumed Tuesday. Drivers who were laid off have been invited back to work.
Transit confirmed bus drivers were recently asked to sign up for three different service schedules for the fall. A spokesperson said the options will help ensure the service can respond to ridership changes, as well as new public health advice.
"Winnipeg Transit is planning for a number of scenarios that could occur throughout the fall season with the ongoing pandemic, to ensure we are prepared to provide the appropriate level of service after the fall service change on Sept. 6, 2020," spokesperson Megan Benedictson wrote in an email. "There are a variety of factors that could impact ridership in the current climate, and Transit is taking steps to stay flexible."
Transit will monitor ridership levels to help select the best fall service option, Benedictson said.
"No decision has been made yet on which schedule will be implemented for fall," she wrote.
Both Transit and the ATU repeated a recommendation that riders wear face masks to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.
"You just can’t provide the physical distancing all the time. But if everyone’s wearing a mask, then we help prevent the transmission," said Ignacio.
Coun. Matt Allard donned a mask to board a bus outside city hall Tuesday.
When asked if Winnipeggers should be asked to wear masks while using other city services, Allard (St. Boniface) said the city will follow provincial public health advice.
"Certainly, if there is a recommendation from the provincial health officer, or an order, I would be looking to ensure that we are complying with that as soon as possible," said Allard, the chairperson of council’s public works committee.
The extent of Transit’s pandemic losses will partly depend on when people feel comfortable riding local buses again, now that they’re no longer asked to restrict their rides to essential trips only, he said.
"If ridership doesn’t come back 100 per cent, it does leave a hole in our budget and that’s going to be an issue that we’ll have to resolve at city hall," he said.
For the week beginning July 20, Transit said ridership was down about 54 per cent from last year.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.