Kelowna bus driver training program not working out as expected | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source
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Kelowna News

Kelowna bus driver training program not working out as expected

As with so many other industries, there’s a serious shortage of city bus drivers.

That’s why First Transit — which is the operator of transit systems in Kelowna, Kamloops and Vernon — is putting so much effort into training new hires by doing things like holding a recruitment day last week in Kelowna.

“The continued rise in Omicron cases is affecting all industries, including transit drivers,” First Transit spokesperson Jay Brock said in an email to iNFOnews.ca. “We’re always looking for people that want to make a difference in their community, and opportunities for drivers are available year-round.”

The problem is, according to the local union leader, more than half the new recruits are leaving once they’ve been trained.

“They aren’t being told, right up front, exactly what the job entails – the wages and the hours,” Al Peressini, president of Local 1722 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, told iNFOnews.ca. “A lot of people believe we are either run by the city or run by the province and they’re guaranteed 40 hours and have pensions and all that but, that’s not the case for a brand-new employee.”

Instead, contractor First Transit is the employer and the union is currently in negotiations to improve wages, retirement benefits and more.

New drivers are put in a casual pool where they have to be available to work 18 days a month. It can take two years to get on full-time. So new recruits are taking the training and moving on to better opportunities.

“Most of our new employees are either retired and don’t want to work full-time hours – they just want to work bits and pieces – or they’re young and trying to make mortgage payments or rent payments and they have other jobs and it’s hard to juggle two jobs,” Peressini said. “Once people realize, hey, I can go down the street and drive a dump truck or drive anything that needs a Class 2 licence and work full-time and get better pay, they’re gone.”

Peressini says that other transit systems in Western Canada, from Victoria to Saskatoon, that are relatively the same size as Kelowna, just have full-time drivers.

The situation in Kelowna means, despite new drivers being trained, there’s still lots of overtime being worked to make sure runs are covered.

Peressini’s been told at the bargaining table that roughly half of new drivers leave after being trained. First Transit did not respond when asked to confirm that figure.

Since Peressini’s union local doesn’t represent drivers in Kamloops or Vernon, he couldn’t speak to staffing issues there.

B.C. Transit, in an April email to iNFOnews.ca, said 10 drivers were hired in Kelowna in December, 22 so far this year and eight more were expected to complete their training by early May. Another 15 to 20 were expected to be hired by the time the system returns to its peak service levels in September.

In all, that’s 45-50 drivers in a system that currently has 165-170 conventional bus drivers, including casuals, Peressini said.

In Kamloops, four drivers completed their training in April and four to six were expected to finish training in May, B.C. Transit said.

It did not respond to a request to update those numbers this week.

Drivers start at $23.82 in Kelowna and move up to $25.30 once their probation is complete, Brock said in the email.

First Transit pays for their training but Brock did not say how long that training takes.


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