Edmonton bus service returning to normal schedule Sunday after month-long service reductions due to unvaccinated drivers

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Service was reduced by three per cent, affecting multiple routes across the city, for the past month because of the loss of operators who didn’t comply with the city’s COVID-19 employee vaccination policy.

All city employees were required to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 31 or participate in a rapid testing program within 72 hours before a shift. As of the deadline, the city said 51 other Edmonton Transit Service (ETS) drivers were unvaccinated but chose to take rapid testing and continue working. Another 15 remain on temporary leave without pay.

Regular service can commence as a result of new drivers and reliable rapid testing results, the city said, noting there is less need to plan for absences and any issues producing negative rapid test results on time.

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“We will be resuming full service on all routes because of an increase in hiring and better than expected results with rapid testing,” city spokeswoman Adrienne Cloutier said in an email to Postmedia Friday. “The health and safety of staff and riders are a top priority and ETS continues to take the steps necessary to keep riders safe and the services they rely on running as smoothly and safely as possible.”

As of Nov. 17, 93.7 per cent of the city’s workforce is vaccinated and no other departments were impacted by any service reductions due to a lack of staff.

Bus network concerns

Changes are coming to the city’s new bus network for the third time since its contentious implementation in April. Transit riders have expressed concerns with longer wait and commute times since the new routes came into effect which has resulted in several minor adjustments to routes.

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A new route will now be added starting Monday to operate along Stony Plain Road between Jasper Place Transit Centre and Unity Square at 116 Street and 104 Avenue. Instead of a regular bus due to Valley Line West LRT construction, a smaller DATS bus will be used as a shuttle to provide service every 60 minutes, seven days a week, from 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.

West end Coun. Andrew Knack said lack of service along the road since the changes in April have made it more difficult for residents to access businesses in the area and he is grateful a solution was found within existing resources and not requiring a budget adjustment.

Reflecting on the bus network as a whole, Knack said he appreciates the focus on frequency, but said a lot more funding will be required to get more routes running rapidly.

“I don ‘t just want ETS to be a lifeline for those who have no other choice. I want to make sure this is a viable option for anyone and everyone and that’s the piece that’s really missing,” he said.

An update on the bus network will be brought forward to council in January, but options for service changes and funding requirements could be discussed during the fall budget adjustment.

All transit service updates can be found on the city’s website.

duscook@postmedia.com

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