Every day for the past few weeks, dozens of bus drivers have gone to work, only to be told to stay put because there are no buses available.
Every day for the past few weeks, dozens of bus drivers have gone to work, only to be told to stay put because there are no buses available for them to drive.
“We’re cutting at least 100 buses per day,” Gleason Frenette, the president of the Société de transport de Montréal’s maintenance union, said in an interview last month. “So it’s safe to say that dozens are staying in the transport centres and being paid not to do anything.”
On Thursday morning, the STM sent out only 1,246 buses out of a fleet of 1,808 buses for the morning rush, according to official STM figures provided to the Montreal Gazette. The STM’s target for the morning rush is at least 1,407 buses in order to meet the times posted on its bus schedules. That means the agency was 161 buses short, and that 31 per cent of the STM’s buses were parked or on hydraulic lifts waiting for repairs or basic maintenance. It appears that the situation is worse than it was in November, when the Montreal Gazette first reported that the STM was not sending out enough buses to meet its schedules.
Speaking for the STM, spokesperson Alain Legault said it has been a difficult winter, especially since there was already a backlog of buses waiting for repairs or maintenance before the cold temperatures set in.
“With the extreme temperatures we’ve been seeing, it’s a challenge every day,” Legault said. “Our employees are on the ground to try to help and they are working hard to make sure the service is being given.”
The union contends that the STM is contributing to the problem because it has stopped fuelling up buses on a daily basis, switching to an as-needed basis.
Frenette said the new method — which cuts the number of employees fuelling the buses — has affected STM riders, because it has meant more buses running out of fuel on their routes, and fewer buses available to pick up passengers. Bus drivers can’t tell how much fuel is in their tanks because the buses don’t have fuel gauges on their dashboards.
The STM’s executive director for buses, Renée Amilcar, claims the new method has saved $1 million in overtime costs on the STM’s $1.5 billion budget.
However, the union says employees can’t fuel the buses fast enough with the new method. On Jan. 25, 40 buses were unavailable at the Anjou transport centre because their fuel tanks were empty, Frenette said.
They had 20 drivers sitting in the cafeteria, paid to do nothing because there were not enough buses for them.”
“They had 20 drivers sitting in the cafeteria, paid to do nothing because there were not enough buses for them,” he said.
Reached Thursday, Lisa Djevahirdjian, a spokesperson for the drivers’ union, declined to comment on the situation, saying it is up to the STM to respond to such questions.
Legault said he was not able to confirm whether drivers were being paid to do nothing because of a shortage of available buses.
Frenette said buses have been breaking down at an unprecedented rate, and the union can’t keep up because they lack for staff, and mechanics are being asked to log hundreds of overtime hours every year.
He added that maintenance employees have been cut back since 2015, as the STM is not replacing those who retire. The number of maintenance employees has gone from 2,508 in 2015 to 2,338 at the end of last year, according to figures from the union. In that time, the STM added nearly 100 buses to its fleet.
Frenette said his members are exhausted, and being pressured to log overtime hours. Overall, mechanics working on buses have logged about 200 hours on average per employee over the last few years.
“They say it’s cheaper for them to have maintenance workers do overtime, but mechanics are less productive when they work 10, 11 or 12 hours in a day,” Frenette said. “We’re seeing more divorces, more workplace accidents and dozens of people who are just burning out from all the hours.”
He added the STM isn’t using maintenance staff efficiently, because many are occupied with the buses that are running out of fuel.
“When a bus runs out of fuel, a mechanic has to take a new bus out there to replace it, and another maintenance worker will drive the tow truck to bring the broken down bus back to the garage,” Frenette said. “The money they’re saving on the new fuelling method, they are losing with towing and the inefficient use of mechanics, and worst of all is the impact on the customers. If the bus is full, we send them out to the sidewalk, and when there is no bus available to replace it, they have nowhere to go.”
Frenette wants the STM to hire more staff. The STM has said it would like to hire more maintenance employees, but only to work nights and weekends so they can clear the backlog of buses parked for maintenance and repairs.
Negotiations between the STM and its maintenance union have been underway for nearly two years, since May 2017. Legault said there are more meetings scheduled between the two sides next week, and he hopes they can come to a resolution soon.
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