Last month it was the winter weather taking Coast Mountain Bus Company [CMBC] vehicles out of service; this month it is the supply chain crunch.
TransLink spokesman Thor Diakow said parts have been delayed for a total of 20 buses.
“This means that more spare buses have been affected than we would like,” Diakow said. “However, none of our bus routes have seen service delays because of this. We are working to rectify the situation as quickly as possible and are able to service our routes without disruptions at this time.”
Coast Mountain has 1,700 buses in its fleet, but the situation is affecting equipment types according to drivers who are not authorized to speak to the media. One said he had noticed a lot of parked, broken down buses over the last month. Another said shorter, 40-foot buses are being used on rush hour service for popular routes such as the 99 B-Line, instead of longer 60-foot articulated buses.
Diakow confirmed that some 60-footers were switched for 40-footers on Jan. 3.
“This was due in part to the 20 buses waiting for parts and maintenance workers on annual vacation, which is higher than normal in late December and early January. No buses were cancelled or delayed as a result.
Winnipeg-headquartered New Flyer Industries [NFI] Group warned in a third quarter presentation on Nov. 16 that it was short critical parts for wiring, door controllers and parts containing microchips. It halted new vehicle line entries at all plants in late October/early November in a bid to catch-up. The company expects parts delays to continue into the first half of 2023.
“Seeing initial signs that recessionary impacts in the broader economy may help lower demand and reduce input costs,” said the NFI presentation.
The president of the CMBC maintenance employees’ union, Unifor Local 2200, said parts supply is an issue, but understaffing is more acute. President Mike Smith counts 1,100 members, of which more than 700 are in skilled trades.
“The problem is manpower,” Smith said. “I give it to Coast and TransLink, they’re looking for them. Where are they?”
CMBC general manager Michael McDaniel told last month’s TransLink board meeting that farebox revenue reached approximately 70% of pre-pandemic amounts by the end of September, up 12% from July’s tally. It expects to have another 15 battery electric buses delivered by the end of 2023.
As of September, CMBC had hired 352 of the targeted 457 new drivers for 2022. The report did not mention mechanic numbers, but warned operational risks include the inability to recruit enough trades within the required timeline, which “may cause negative impacts on overtime, morale, delays, and other operational constraints.”