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Durham Transit forced to lay off 41 drivers

Twenty-four of those laid off were volunteers

Durham Region Transit has had to lay off 41 drivers due to lack of ridership. 24 of the drivers volunteered to temporarily vacate their positions.

By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express

Durham Region Transit (DRT) has been forced to suspend 11 more routes because of low ridership due to COVID-19.

DRT has been forced to make a number of changes since the COVID-19 pandemic began, such as passengers boarding in the rear of the bus.

“It’s been very important from us since day one to ensure our operating staff are safe and secure when driving the bus,” says DRT General Manager Bill Holmes.

The organization has also blocked off the front of the bus and has foregone fare payment to make sure social distancing between riders and staff is occurring.

However, despite all of the precautions, DRT has been forced to layoff 41 bus operators.

There was initially a 25 per cent service reduction back in March, according to Holmes, but since then there has been a 70 per cent drop in ridership.

This is a significant change compared to last year, says Holmes. However, numbers have been consistent since late March.

“We maintained that level of service since… to ensure that we have that reliable consistent service there for customers because things were changing daily and we wanted to make sure we were there when they needed us,” he says.

He says even with steps taken last week as the economy began to reopen there hasn’t been much change in the number of riders.

“Our ridership is still down 65 to 70 per cent, and it’s really important for us that we maximize those resources and make sure that we’re assigning them to where they have the most value,” he says.

Holmes says DRT has seen a daily average of 10,500 to 11,500 riders, and can vary depending on the day.

He notes at this time of year it should be 45,000 to 50,000 daily riders.

The latest service reduction is set to begin on June 8, and will see routes in Oshawa such as 406 Wentworth temporarily suspended.

Most routes will operate on a Sunday schedule, while additional weekday tips or increased service will be seen on routes such as the PULSE 900 Highway 2.

Despite the layoffs, Holmes praises DRT staff as they have been on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We tried to mitigate the issues because our staff have been great, very committed, and resilient in coming to work everyday,” says Holmes. “We owe it to them to do the most we can to mitigate the impacts.”

He says in consultation with UNIFOR, they were able to have 24 of the 41 layoffs being taken voluntarily.

“That was a big help to us, we only had to lay off 18 otherwise,” he says.