Customers and communities and even the media often ask Metrolinx all kinds of interesting questions. That includes about the impact of a policy, brought in on Nov. 1, that requires all staff members working for the transit agency to be vaccinated against COVID-19. To get answers, Metrolinx News has turned to Anne Marie Aikins, head of Media and Public Relations for Metrolinx.
And Anne Marie Aikins, Metrolinx’s well-known spokesperson and head of Media and Public Relations, is answering.
The transit agency has been asked about the requirement that all Metrolinx staff be fully vaccinated, and what temporary impact that has had on GO Transit service.
Here are her answers to those most frequently asked questions:
Why would anyone choose not getting paid over getting vaccinated to protect them against COVID-19?
There are so many reasons people choose to get vaccinated – to protect themselves, their vulnerable parents and children, their colleagues and of course, customers. Most like me, just can’t wait to get this long pandemic over and they see the vaccination as a light at the end of a dark tunnel.
While speaking to staff who do not want to get vaccinated, I realized there are just as many reasons to not accept the jab. And most are not anti-vaxxers, no tinfoil hats in sight. Some staff have told me they don’t trust the science and have heard all the false claims throughout the pandemic. They’re confused as to what to believe. Some are afraid of potential side-effects.
We spent lots of time and effort providing education and support. But mostly, I think people are often so full of anxiety and fear that has been fueled by the uncertainty throughout the pandemic. That fear must be such a heavy burden.
Why aren’t you letting me know about the cancellation days in advance?
We have over 700 bus operators and each day under normal circumstances the number of available operators will vary by sick days, vacations, other absences, and service needs. There is built in redundancy to ensure we always have back-up drivers to fill in when drivers are ill, buses break down or emergency situations.
Right now, we have temporarily lost that redundancy so each day the team works around the clock to build a schedule with the current number of staff available. They plan the cancellations for the day ahead, so it is important to check the schedule before leaving home.
When can we expect service to go back to normal?
I wish I had an end date in sight. Unfortunately, we will be experiencing cancellations due to a reduction in staff for the next few weeks at least. This uncertainty is challenging, we appreciate that. Customers want consistency and predictability. We know that very well.
I’m confident we won’t be here forever. Please never under-estimate how much we appreciate your patience and understanding during this difficult time.
What are you doing to ensure you have enough bus drivers and train operators to operate full service again?
Our hope is that our employees who are now on leave change their mind about getting protected and come back to work. And some, just a few have already.
But we aren’t sitting by just hoping for the best with our fingers crossed. We are planning for the future.
Metrolinx has the largest transit expansion program in North America underway, so we are always on the look out for new talent. We regularly hire new bus operators – the next is in December. The last pool of successful recruits are completing their extensive training and will be on the road soon.
Alstom – the company that provides our train crews – is also actively recruiting and we’ve been supporting that effort as much as we can. If you have a lifelong dream to operate a big green machine, they are looking for talent.
Why are you infringing on your employees right to make personal health choices?
This is one of the tamer framing of a question I have been asked (one that is fit for print) by a few readers. The theme is very similar. I mostly don’t enter into the debate. But I do have some thoughts on the subject.
We’ve been living through an extraordinary time for the past 19 months – the virus named COVID-19 has limited all of our rights in so many ways. We’ve lived through four waves of illness and lockdown of businesses. We’ve missed our families to ensure we weren’t making vulnerable members sick. We’ve given up a lot.
The pandemic continues but the miracle of science has delivered us a vaccine that is protecting me from contracting the virus, and if I do get it, it is reducing the chance of serious illness and hospitalization.
If I choose to drive a car – I wear a seatbelt.
If I choose to fly – I handover a passport that provides all kinds of personal information to officials.
If I accept a job – I may have to provide a Criminal Record Check.
The vaccine is a choice and as an organization that transports millions of customers who depend on the safety of our services, it is our policy for staff to be protected and help us get out of this dark place.