Staff Report #2
October 27, 2021
To All Commissioners
Re: COVID-19 Impacts – Conventional Transit Service
The report be NOTED and FILED.
At the January 27, 2021 meeting, the Commission approved the 2021 Conventional Transit Service Plan which called for the addition of approximately 18,000 annual service hours. The approval was subject to the pending approval of the Assessment Growth Business Case by Municipal Council, which was confirmed on March 23, 2021.
At the August 25, 2021 meeting, the Commission was provided with an update on the status of the Service Plan implementation and the required delay of same relating to available Operator complement. Notwithstanding ongoing recruitment and onboarding of new Operators beginning in April 2021, pandemic-related restrictions and protocols required class sizes to be limited to four (traditionally classes of six to eight have been held during onboarding). The limitation of class size, coupled with the approximate five weeks of training for each class resulted in the total Operator complement falling below requirements for implementation of the planned and approved service improvements, which had been scheduled to be implemented in early September. As such, a revised implementation schedule for the transition back to full service levels and the introduction of the 2021 service improvements was established as set out below.
2021 Service Plan Phased Implementation as at August 2021
|Phase||Effective Date||Service Level|
|Phase 1||September 5, 2021||90% of fall service levels with a re-introduction of Routes 90, 91 94, 102, 104 & 106 which were not operating during the Spring/Summer periods|
|Phase 2||November 28, 2021||Full 2019 fall service levels with the addition of frequency improvements on Routes 31 and 34 as per the 2021 Service Plan|
|Phase 3||February 6, 2022||Implement the remaining service improvements as per the 2021 Service Plan|
Subsequent to the August report, a number of pandemic-related impacts that were being reported in other sectors began to impact the transit industry directly, most notably, difficulties associated with recruitment and onboarding of new employees, higher levels of attrition and resignation than normal, and supply chain issues, each of which is discussed in greater detail below.
Human Resource Issues
Since August 3, 2021, classes of Operators have completed their training and are now available for work, increasing the complement by 12. Unfortunately, over the same period, the Operator complement declined by 17, as the result of retirement (14) or resignation (three), noting 11 of these occurred over the past month. While some attrition was assumed when the August assessment was completed, the number of actual retirements not only exceeded the assumption, but also occurred within a short timeframe very close to the planned date for the next phase of service plan implementation. Given the move several years ago to eliminate mandatory retirement at age 65, predicting retirements has become increasingly difficult (the average age of the group of retirees over the last several months is 66), and the impacts that the pandemic has had on working conditions has made this task even more difficult.
A class of four Operators commenced training on October 18, 2021 and, should they all succeed, they will be available for service beginning November 17, 2021. Should there be no additional retirements or resignations from the Operator group in the intervening period, the Operator complement available for the November signup period beginning November 28, 2021 will be the same as it was when the August assessment was completed. This complement level is not sufficient to return to full 2019 fall service levels, nor can it support the frequency improvements on Routes 31 and 34 as planned.
As provided for in the Collective Agreement with the ATU 741, the Commission maintains a group of casual Operators who must commit to work 300 hours over a two-year period in order to remain in the program. This group of employees provides an additional employee pool to cover daily non-attendance in order to ensure that service is delivered as scheduled. This group is made up of retired employees who wish to continue to work flexible, casual hours, noting the total hours scheduled for employees in this group is subject to limitation by pay period per the Collective Agreement. During the pandemic period, many of the employees in this group chose not to work, or to work considerably less given most would be in the age group that is considered to be more vulnerable to significant impacts from the COVID-19 virus. This decline in available employees has also impacted the overall working complement that is required to move back to full service levels. Given the manner in which the signup process works as prescribed by the Collective Agreement, the next opportunity for service improvements to be implemented is February 6, 2022.
The planned onboarding for Operators post the October 18, 2021 class calls for a class of four Operators beginning November 8, 2021and another class of four Operators beginning November 29, 2021. Given the Christmas break, there may be an opportunity for one additional class beginning in early January that would be available to work for the February 6, 2022 signup period.
While administration has continued to focus on hiring to meet the planned Operator onboarding, the market has experienced a significant shift in terms of the manner in which candidates are accepting employment. During 2021, there has been a discernable increase in the number of candidates who complete the entire recruitment process and then decline the position when it is offered, with most indicating they had chosen to move forward with other opportunities, or to stay with their current employer. At time of report writing, the candidate pool who have been interviewed and offered positions for the November 8, 2021 class have all requested more time to make their decision on whether to accept noting they are considering other options. Administration will continue to work to fill this class however the pool of Operators that have passed the pre-screening and employment requirements who would be moved to the interview stage for possible hiring is significantly depleted. This situation is consistent across all transit systems in the Province, with most reporting difficulty in hiring for any position, but most notably Operator positions.
In addition to the difficulties attracting candidates for the Operator position, similar issues are being experienced for vacant General Service and Mechanic positions. This problem existed pre-pandemic and was believed to be related to the hours of work noting new employees to these positions are generally required to work nights. Should the complement levels in these areas fall below what is required to maintain the fleet, service impacts will be experienced due to bus availability.
Over the coming weeks, administration will be assessing options to increase the Operator pool, in an effort to continue the planned recruitment and onboarding process that is required in order to move back to full service levels as well as to look at options to attract candidates for other vacancies. With every transit system in the Province experiencing the same or similar issues, the ability to attract potential candidates from other jurisdictions is hampered as well.
Supply Chain Issues
Over the past number of months, supply chain issues have hampered manufacturers across the country, most notably the automotive sector, with many factories having to shut down or reduce shifts to accommodate the lack of parts. Until recently, these issues appeared to be focused on the personal automobile sector, and had not impacted transit in any significant way. Unfortunately this is no longer the case.
At time of report writing, there are 14 buses that are not available for service as the parts required are outstanding, noting in some cases, suppliers are indicating a delivery date of 16 weeks out from date of order. In addition, there is a North America wide shortage of the sensor that is required for the Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) system on conventional transit buses. There are currently five buses in the LTC fleet that are not available for service as this sensor has failed and there is no availability for replacements, and the current estimated delivery date for these parts is unknown. The transit industry is working in partnership with the engine manufacturer on possible short-term solutions to address this problem; however, any solution identified will require Ministry of Environment approval given the part in question is required to meet established emission standards.
In addition to parts shortages and delays, a North America wide tire shortage has recently come to light. Administration has been in contact with the supplier of the Commission’s leased tires, and has been advised that shipments will be limited until further notice given this shortage. While they have indicated that transit has been deemed a priority in terms of supply, the nature and extent of the shortage is not known at this time, and may result in additional buses being unavailable for service until such time as tires can be delivered.
Given the aforementioned issues, the move to full fall service levels and improvements on Routes 31 and 34 effective November 28, 2021 will not be able to be implemented. Service levels will remain as they are currently (90% of fall service levels with Routes 90, 91, 94, 102, 104 & 106 operating) for the November 28, 2021 signup period.
Given the adjustment to the phased rollout of service changes, the London Transit website will be updated. and onboard posters will be utilized as appropriate. The annual Ride Guide has been distributed, and includes all of the 2021 changes, with notations referring to the effective dates (e.g. the new Route 95 is included on the map, but is denoted to indicate it will not take effect until February 6, 2022). Should this date not be attainable, appropriate communications will be shared well in advance.
Administration will continue to provide regular updates on the aforementioned issues as appropriate.
Katie Burns, Director of Planning
Joanne Galloway, Director of Human Resources
Craig Morneau, Director of Fleet & Facilities
Concurred in by:
Kelly S. Paleczny, General Manager