WINNIPEG -- The City of Winnipeg will be bringing back some of its bus drivers that were temporarily laid off due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The city said 100 transit operators will be returning to work over the next three weeks.

A spokesperson with the city said 30 drivers will resume work on Sunday, while 40 will return on June 21 and the remaining 30 will return June 28.

“The decision to recall these drivers was made in anticipation of an upcoming increase in vacation periods for operators, in order to maintain current service levels,” the spokesperson wrote in an email.

In April, the city temporarily laid off 253 transit operators due to a ridership decline brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. The city said ridership declined 72 per cent compared to the same time period in 2019.

James Van Gerwen, vice-president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505, said hiring back 100 transit operators shows the city is having a hard time keeping physical distancing on buses.

“There are still buses that are overcrowded in the morning, I’m getting reports of buses even passing up passengers due to full loads, so having only 100 I think is far below what is required at this point in the game to actually keep a system that needs to be functional,” he said.

Transit also switched to an enhanced Saturday and Sunday schedule during the pandemic. The service, Van Gerwen said, does not start as early as regular service. In some cases, some routes only have buses stop every 45 minutes.

“That is unacceptable right now,” he said. “When the city is fully opening up, getting businesses, everybody’s opening up, not having full service right now is not helping. It’s just going to make for fuller buses, people being late for work, people having to be passed up.”

The city said it will adjust bus service based on demand.

“Winnipeg Transit continues to monitor ridership levels, and will resume regular bus service throughout the City once it makes sense to do so,” the city spokesperson said. “Once regular service resumes, the City will welcome all Winnipeg Transit employees back to work.”