Summer shortages

Kelowna bus drivers are being called back from vacation and routes are going unfilled because of a summer staffing shortage.

Bus drivers are giving up their summer holidays to ensure the Kelowna Regional Transit system runs as scheduled, the drivers' union says.

Staffing can always be a problem in July and August despite frequency of service reductions on some routes, the Amalgamated Transit Union acknowledges.

"But we've never seen a situation like what's been happening this summer. It's pretty bad," local transit union president Scott Lovell said Monday.

"Nobody likes to have to give up their holidays — that's what you work all year for, to get that vacation time," he said. "But we also know we have to come back to work to provide transit service for our fellow citizens."

Despite holidaying drivers agreeing to return to work, some runs have still been cancelled for lack of operators, Lovell said.

But BC Transit, which provides the bulk of funding to run the local bus system, disputes the union's contention that service levels have been significantly impacted this summer.

"We are unaware of lost service beyond regular operating challenges (including limited missed service due to staff sick days) due to staffing issues," BC Transit said in an emailed statement.

The Kelowna Regional Transit system has 110 full-time drivers, who recently signed a new collective agreement with First Canada, the private-company that runs the bus system with public funding.

There's also a casual work force of about 60 drivers, who are not guaranteed a specific number of hours but who are called as needed when not enough full-timers are available because of holidays, illness, or other reasons.

Because many of the casual drivers have other jobs, it occasionally happens that not enough of them can be called in. When that happens, the contract allows for full-time drivers to be recalled from their holidays, Lovell said.

Although vacationing drivers who are recalled to work this way receive extra pay, it's not an ideal situation and it's one the union would like to see changed, Lovell said.

What the union would prefer, he said, is for a "spare board" to be created of full-time drivers ready to fill in when operator shortages arise. That's the system long used in larger cities like Vancouver and Victoria, he said, and one which guarantees no scheduled runs will be missed.

"Then people aren't left at bus stops, wondering where their ride is," he said.