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Staffing, masks, Ord Road among Kamloops council concerns about bus service

BC Transit is facing a labour shortage and service disruptions in a number of transit systems across the province due to the ongoing impacts of COVID-19
BC Transit bus

Bus service to Kamloops Airport is being eyed by BC Transit, education is its priority on mask use and the transit system is trying to recruit more drivers amidst a labour shortage.

Those were among the answers city council heard during a Feb. 1 update on the Kamloops transit system.

Coun. Mike O’Reilly asked about driver shortages for the Kamloops transit system, which city transportation planner Jacob Burnley noted has caused occasional bus cancellations, particularly this past December.

BC Transit, however, recently held a recruitment fair, with 12 successful applicants now in training for Kamloops, and staffing levels are expected to normalize by this spring once their training is completed.

Burnley told KTW the Kamloops driver shortage is part of the general labour shortage being seen across most customer-facing industries. While not many, there were a few leave of absences when vaccine mandate came into effect last November, he said.

BC Transit spokesperson Jamie Weiss told KTW the organization is also currently facing a labour shortage and service disruptions in a number of transit systems across the province due to the ongoing impacts of COVID-19 on employee health. Weiss said BC Transit and its operating company, First Transit, are working to hire more drivers for Kamloops.

Weiss added that the Kamloops transit system has approximately 70 drivers as a full compliment and are currently short about 20 positions, which they are trying to fill by March. BC transit has been experiencing the labour shortage since this past September, which has ebbed and flowed at various points, according to Weiss.

Coun. Dale Bass said she constantly hears from riders, especially seniors, that they don’t take the bus because of concern over other riders not wearing masks. Bass asked if drivers can be compelled to enforce the mandate.

BC Transit government relations manager Seth Wright told Bass it’s a “tricky area for BC Transit to walk.”

Wright said BC Transit has a non-confrontation policy for its drivers when it comes to enforcing the mask mandate. Some drivers, however, have confronted maskless riders, resulting in reports of physical and verbal conflicts, which Wright said is something the transit provider wants to avoid.

“So, we continue to pursue education as a mandatory mask mandate approach and we continue to pursue that approach more passionately,” Wright said, noting 100 per cent of bus drivers across the province are vaccinated against COVID-19.

Coun. Bill Sarai said the city is missing bus service to the airport, where there are many businesses.

“A lot of people don’t take the bus to the airport, that’s a given, but a lot of workers out there need transit to get to work because parking’s at a premium and if they do get it, it costs a lot,” Sarai said.

Sarai, a member of the Kamloops Airport Authority, said the closest bus stop to the airport is more than two kilometres away, at Crestline Street and Tranquille Road.

Sarai said Ord Road would make for a good transit route, looping to the airport and then back into the city along Tranquille, and asked if the route is being considered.

Wright said Ord Road is an area to monitor for future service level increases, while Burnley said it’s something that can be explored by the transportation department and BC Transit.

BC Transit used to travel along Ord Road twice per day until a few years ago, when low passenger counts led to the route being cancelled.

 

Editor's note: This story was updated Feb. 8 with more information from BC Transit spokesperson Jamie Weiss