Toronto's transit agency is temporarily reducing service on some routes for the next two months to deal with an anticipated staff shortage due to its mandatory COVID-19 vaccine policy.
The Toronto Transit Commission has said employees who are unvaccinated or haven't declared their vaccination status by Nov. 20 will be placed on unpaid leave until they receive all their required vaccine doses, or Dec. 31 — whichever comes first.
The agency said Wednesday that a small reduction in service starting next month takes into account employees who will be ineligible to work because they're unvaccinated or haven't disclosed their vaccination status.
The TTC said it's focused on maintaining scheduled service on its busiest routes while some other routes will see "varying levels" of temporary service changes.
"Since the pandemic began, our commitment has been to safely deliver service based on demand and focusing on the busiest routes across the city," TTC CEO Rick Leary said in a written statement. "Our plans for November and December ensure we can continue to do that - even with a reduction in available workforce."
Leary said the agency is moving quickly to hire operators and backfill job openings, and will begin returning service to regular levels "as soon as possible."
The transit agency said it could work to increase service faster if additional employees come forward and report their vaccination status in the coming days and weeks. Unvaccinated employees with a valid vaccine exemption will be allowed to keep working, it noted.
"I stand firmly behind our vaccination policy," Leary said. "It is the right thing to do to protect the health and safety of our employees, their families and the communities we serve."
Stuart Green, a TTC spokesperson, said the agency doesn't have specific numbers for how much of a staffing shortage it expects to face, but that "it could be in the hundreds we have to make up for."
"That’s why we are ramping up hiring, bringing back retirees who are interested and canceling closures to redeploy operators," Green said in an email.
To date, 88 per cent of the agency's 15,090 active employees have shared their COVID-19 vaccination status and the "vast majority" are already fully vaccinated, the TTC said.
TTC ridership is at roughly 50 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, the agency noted.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 27, 2021.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Noushin Ziafati, The Canadian Press