People & Places

New documents reveal chaos and cover-ups inside OC Transpo

A photo of an internal computer cancellation report reveals the pressure behind the scenes at OC Transpo to keep buses on schedule as the city tries to cope with driver shortages.

The photo obtained by Ottawa Magazine shows a computer screen that reveals 60 OC Transpo trip cancellations during the afternoon rush hour of Friday, November 29 that were not made public. These cancellations between 2 p.m. and 6:15 p.m occurred as thousands of transit users waited for buses to get home.

The cancellations were not posted on OC Transpo’s website or its social media accounts. 

John Manconi, the city’s general manager of transportation services, has said OC Transpo is transparent and posts the trips that are cancelled on its website and on social media — but he had to backpedal on that statement after being shown the internal cancellation report.

John Manconi addresses media at City Hall on Dec. 3

On Friday, November 29, @OCTranspoLive tweeted out 23 trip cancellations. But Ottawa Magazine found dozens more cancellations that bus riders were not alerted to during the peak of the afternoon commute.

Ottawa Magazine was provided the screen shot by an OC Transpo employee and verified the information with several bus drivers. The photo was taken from an internal computer that both staff and management use to track route information. Each cancellation includes a reason, so it also provides a revealing window into the causes of dozens of cancelled routes.

It’s a dizzying list, but we’ve broken down the information into three categories that show 26 different bus routes were affected that afternoon.

The first half of the screenshot of the internal cancellation report

No operator available
Eight routes (51, 74, 48, 93, 19, 7, 111, and 14) had trips cancelled because management could not find drivers to operate the vehicles.

Route 93 appears to have been most affected by the delays that Friday afternoon. The 93 runs from Hurdman to Greenboro station to the community of Findlay Creek. The data appears to show that no operator could be found to drive that route for more than two and a half hours during rush hour. This forced OC Transpo to cancel pick ups at every stop on that route, rather than just partial trips.

Code 4 breakdown
Seven buses also experienced a “Code 4”, according to the document. A Code 4 points to a vehicle breakdown on the road; drivers say it occurs when a bus is put out of service due to a mechanical failure, or when someone leaves behind bodily fluid due to sickness or injury. The buses affected by a Code 4 included regional routes 197, 85, 57, 48, 74, 90, and 25. 

Driver assaulted
The data also reveals that Route 111, which started at Baseline Station, was sidelined on November 29 after a bus driver was assaulted. Chief special constable Jim Babe has stated that  a customer threw a drink and spat on the driver, and that it is being investigated.

“Other work”
Nine bus trips were also cancelled because of “other work.” OC Transpo employees say the label “other work” refers to drivers who are asked to operate the LRT or train new recruits.

The second half of the screenshot of the internal cancellation report

The local Amalgamated Transit Union has previously said 100 drivers need to be hired to meet the city’s current public transit demands. Federal legislation limits operators from driving more than 13 hours in a day, and sets a maximum of 70 hours in 7 days. Drivers say many operators don’t want to take overtime on the weekends.

 

The last bus alert tweeted by OC Transpo on Nov. 29 was at 1:21 p.m. about Route 50 being cancelled from Lincoln Fields to Tunney’s Pasture. The 60 route cancellations during the afternoon rush hour shown on the internal computer screen were not shared with riders.

OC Transpo apology
The city’s media relations department was provided with the photo of the Nov. 29 cancellation report this past Monday, Dec. 2; on Friday, Dec. 6 — one week later — it issued an apology for its lack of transparency.

In a statement attributed to Pat Scrimgeour, the Director of Transit Customer systems, OC Transpo said, “We attribute the lapse in communications to human error. Our goal is to provide customers with timely and accurate information…we did not sufficiently meet this expectation and we apologise to our customers.”

How often does OC Transpo experience unreported cancellations? The service delivers 8,200 bus trips each weekday. In the month of November, OC Transpo says it delivered on 98.5 percent of its routes — but there are several caveats. That statistic excludes any days that involve “special weather events.” The day after OC Transpo apologised, the service appeared to pursue more accuracy, with the @OCTranspoLive Twitter account posting 71 cancellations between 7a.m. and 7 p.m. 

It was a clear, sunny day on the city’s streets. 

A bus operating on route 93 on Dec. 1

Union says 100 more drivers needed
The most common reason cited for cancellations is “no operator.” The local Amalgamated Transit Union has previously said 100 new drivers need to be hired to meet the city’s current public transit demands. Federal legislation limits operators from driving more than 13 hours in a day, and sets a maximum of 70 hours in 7 days. Drivers say many operators don’t want to take overtime on the weekends.

Manconi says the city has ramped up its recruitment of bus drivers to cover for drivers and more than 160 applicants are going through the hiring process. They will have to go through 36 days of training. Manconi concedes some applicants won’t be certified.

“They have to pass the course. We generally have 20-30 percent failure rate on that. We’ll see what we get, but right now we have all the operators we need for the current service … We need to prop up the current complement to have the spare operators in to cover off for sick leave and vacation and things like that.”

With thousands of transit users experiencing dozens of delays every day, riders and politicians are getting frustrated. 

Rideau-Vanier ward councillor Mathieu Fleury — who says 20 percent of the delays are in his ward — has been charting OC Transpo route cancellations for more than two years using publicly available information. The data he gathers from open sources shows there were 1,833 route cancellations in January 2019. One month after the arrival of the LRT, his information shows route cancellations dropped to 575 in October.  

But after being shown the internal cancellations report, Fleury questions the accuracy of the information OC Transpo is providing the public. He says the public should have access to all the internal cancellation data.

“I release the info based on OC’s release of information. You have more information that shows more cancellations than I am able to track,” said Fleury. “It shows you that the range of problems we have around trust [for] the customer and [OC Transpo] reliability.”