The number of public complaints against OC Transpo drivers caught using phones while driving buses has gone down.

From Jan. 1 to July 31, the city received 51 complaints of drivers allegedly using electronic devices in the conduct of their duties. In the same time frame last year, 103 such complaints were received.

"The decrease in complaints is as a result of our operators' commitment to passenger safety and their compliance with the Highway Traffic Act (HTA) which prohibits the use of electronic devices while driving," AJ Ryland, acting manager of transit operations, said in an email statement.

"Additionally, OC Transpo has increased its focus of on-street supervision and regularly communicates the HTA regulations (to drivers) via bulletins and cyclical refresher training courses."

Police pass public complaints to OC Transpo

Ottawa police Sgt. Mark Gatien of the east division traffic branch said he's noticed the drop in the number of complaints.

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Ottawa police Sgt. Mark Gatien of the east division traffic branch said he's noticed the drop in public complaints against OC Transpo drivers using cellphones on the job. (CBC)

He said police officers who catch violators in the act can stop and charge bus drivers for violating the HTA, but police generally can't investigate complaints from the public about those violations.

Instead, police pass along complaints to OC Transpo.

"If it comes to our office we will defer it off to OC Transpo," Gatien said. "Because they (witnesses) cannot identify the driver 100 per cent to us, OC Transpo can get into that system and know who was driving at exactly that same time ... and they will do internal discipline through OC Transpo themselves.

"We can't let them do discipline and us charge him as well. It's one or the other."

Limited 3-year exemption for police, bus drivers expires in January

On July 25, John Marshall said he was riding the No. 86 home from work when he spotted the bus driver using a cellphone as he was pulling up to Russell Road and Tupper Avenue.

"Which I found kind of strange and kind of odd because I as a driver have to abide by those talking on cellphone laws and traffic laws, and I would expect OC Transpo driver to do the same," Marshall said.

He said he filed a complaint to OC Transpo using Twitter.

Legislation that gave police, bus drivers and others a three-year extension to use certain wireless devices and display screens expires next year.

OC Transpo has already switched from using two-way radios to an automated system to call out bus stops, but drivers still use bus telephones for emergencies.

Craig Watson, president of the union representing OC Transpo bus drivers, said the city is trying to find the right technology.

"We need to get to some sort of system where the driver doesn't even have to pick up that radio handset," he said.

Watson said the union is worried that Bluetooth devices would allow drivers to use their personal cellphones on the job without being caught, which is against the rules.