'Morale is terrible': Turnover at Kamloops transit plagues both management and drivers | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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'Morale is terrible': Turnover at Kamloops transit plagues both management and drivers

Some Kamloops bus drivers are pointing to a reliance on casual labour for its ongoing driver shortage.

Bus drivers in Kamloops know their passengers are having a tough time, but the workplace isn't running smoothly either.

Around 20 drivers are stuck working as casual employees, left without pension or health benefits, and often working long hours.

"Morale is terrible," a Kamloops bus driver told iNFOnews.ca, who requested to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation from his employer.

While it's true the Kamloops transit system has been experiencing a driver shortage for months, causing late buses and no-shows for passengers, he said some new drivers in training will only stay on a "few weeks" before quitting.

He blamed a combination of work load and the reliance on casual employees, who he said aren't even eligible for a full-time position until after three years of employment. He added that despite eligibility for full-time employment after three years, there's only a set amount of full time positions, and those are full.

"The full-time drivers won't retire," he said.

READ MORE: iN PERSPECTIVE: Riding the bus in Kamloops saves money but comes with a price

None of them, however, are employed by B.C. Transit.

While the Crown agency owns the buses and the office, it's First Transit that employs drivers and office staff and operates city transit. Those drivers are represented by the Unifor Local 114 union, based in New Westminster.

First Transit has around 20 casually scheduled bus drivers in Kamloops for its 51-bus fleet.

A second unnamed driver showed iNFOnews.ca a two week schedule in July showing some casual drivers working more than 100 hours per week. They make up for the lack of drivers by working frequent 12-hour days and often skipping breaks to keep the routes running.

"This is causing malaise in the workforce," he said. "That work is being performed with no breaks."

iNFOnews.ca emailed questions to B.C. Transit on July 28, but received no response. We also reached out to First Transit and the union representing Kamloops drivers, but neither responded.

Aside from an ongoing driver shortage, which B.C. Transit blames when it posts its frequent service disruptions to the Kamloops transit website, there was also an exodus of management from the Kamloops B.C. Transit office on Ord Road, beginning in May.

One day on the week of July 11, the second driver said there was no one in the office when operations began in the morning.

READ MORE: Transit, not a second crossing, is the solution for Central Okanagan's bridge, highways: planners

"The day went fine for me," he said. "It was just a little unnerving knowing you're working for a company there is no one for you to go to if there is a problem."

Problems are frequent and the reasons can vary. Whether it's a mechanical failure, a driver calls in sick or there's an incident on a bus and a driver needs an emergency stop, it's often up to dispatchers to make a change on the fly.

The general manager, assistant manager and head dispatcher were a few that left within weeks of each other.

Some "key" office employees also left, he said, leading First Transit to warn drivers it was having "payroll issues" and they should check for shortages. Meanwhile, new dispatchers are "overwhelmed" with the job of keeping buses efficiently, he said.

READ MORE: Would busses in Kamloops, Kelowna be better if they were free?

The second driver also said it's the second time in less than three years management staff abruptly left First Transit in Kamloops.

"There's bunch of paperwork the company put out saying we're involved in a little bit of turmoil right now and don't panic," he said.

He doesn't know exactly what led to management quitting the Kamloops office, but that combined with the driver shortage adds to the overall stressors and "malaise" in the organization.

Most drivers were afraid to speak to iNFOnews.ca out of fear that their employment would be at risk, but the second driver felt that public transit is an important public service, so he reached out to voice his concerns.

When asked if there was anything he wanted to say to transit riders, the first driver asked for patience.

"It's not us, it's the system."

To contact a reporter for this story, email Levi Landry or call 250-819-3723 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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