Peterborough Transit facing potential service cuts

City staff recommend eliminating some bus routes and scaling back weekend service to make up for a budget shortfall, after city council froze transit funding earlier this year.
Photo of a parked Peterborough Transit bus with two bikes on the front.
Peterborough Transit is facing a slew of potential service cuts after city council froze transit funding earlier this year.

City staff are recommending significant cuts to weekend transit service, as well as the elimination of some bus routes and holiday service, after city council voted to freeze transit funding earlier this year.

The proposed cuts, detailed in a new staff report, include the elimination of Community Bus 22 and Community Bus 23, as well as an on-demand community bus service, to help make up for a $941,000 transit budget shortfall.

The community bus routes are popular among people with mobility constraints and accessibility needs, as well as employees at the Peterborough Regional Health Centre, Lansdowne Place Mall and Peterborough Square Mall, the report said.

But staff say they need to find savings at Peterborough Transit, after city council voted in January to freeze transit funding at 2022 levels for 2023, in order to rein in the overall city budget.

The report also proposes cutting almost all transit service on Sundays and after 8 p.m. on Saturdays, except for on routes 5 and 6. Additionally, staff propose cutting all service on statutory holidays, starting after July 1st. The other changes would come into effect on June 25.

And even more cuts will be needed to balance the budget, staff say. They want the city’s newly-struck transit liaison committee to advise the city on how to find additional savings.

Staff had warned back in January that service cuts – and potentially layoffs – would be coming as a result of the funding freeze. They said rising fuel prices and staffing costs meant that the transit budget needs a boost this year in order to maintain current service levels.

That prompted Councillor Keith Riel at the time to accuse staff, including then transit manager Laurie Stratton, of “fear mongering.” (Stratton appears to have now been replaced by a new interim general manager, Barry Wakeford, according to the report).

But the report suggests that staff’s warnings were not a bluff. Staff estimate that at current service levels, gas prices for city buses will rise by $667,000 this year while staffing costs will grow by $289,000 – money Peterborough Transit doesn’t have because of the funding freeze.

It’s unclear from the report exactly what the cuts will mean for transit drivers. The service reductions translate to the loss of “12 full time equivalent operating position hours,” the report said.

Staff say transit service levels could be maintained if the city dips into its transit reserve fund, but they don’t recommend doing so as it would have a “significant impact” on future budgets.

City councillors are expected to vote on the recommended transit cuts at their general committee meeting next Monday (May 8) and then again for a final time later this month.

Cuts come as bus cancellations had been decreasing in recent months and driver shortage was easing

The proposed service cuts come as transit riders had been seeing some improvements to service lately, after the year began with hundreds of bus cancellations at Peterborough Transit.

More than 300 bus trips did not run because of “operational issues” in January and February, according to notices posted to Peterborough Transit’s Twitter account. That number doesn’t include cancellations due to winter weather. (The transit agency hasn’t released official statistics on service disruptions).

The cancellations, which have plagued the transit system since the pandemic, prompted the Peterborough and the Kawarthas Chamber of Commerce to write to city council recently to call for more transit investment. Businesses and transit riders have also spoken out about the problem.

But the last two months have seen an improvement, according to notices on Peterborough Transit’s Twitter account. Last month saw only 10 bus cancellations, the lowest number since November 2021, when the city first alerted the public that it was facing a transit driver shortage. March saw 13 cancelled trips.

Buses are cancelled when drivers call in sick or are away from work for other reasons and there aren’t enough staff to replace them, according to the City.

More buses have been staying on the road recently because of a boost in hiring, according to Brendan Wedley, the City’s communications manager. Eight new drivers have joined Peterborough Transit recently and recruitment is ongoing, he wrote by email before the new proposed cuts were announced. “Tweaks to schedules” over the last several months have also helped reduce cancellations, he wrote.

Meanwhile, before the proposed cuts were announced, the head of the union that represents Peterborough Transit workers had said drivers’ working conditions had also begun to improve recently.

The union has complained that drivers are being forced to work “excessively long” split shifts that include lengthy unpaid breaks, as Currents previously reported. But Cory MacLeod, a transit operator and president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1320, said management is making an effort to reduce the number of split shifts, which can be 11 hours or more. “Labour relations have drastically improved between the ATU and management,” he said.

The City has maintained that its scheduling practices align with transit workers’ collective agreement.

That collective agreement is up for renegotiation next month, according to MacLeod and he said when contract talks begin the union will be pushing for wage increases and further “improvements to our working conditions.”


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