Multi-million-dollar payouts to settle lawsuits stemming from the fatal crash between an OC Transpo bus and a Via Rail train in September 2013 could push Ottawa's transportation department into deficit by the end of the year, general manager John Manconi said Wednesday.
As CBC reported Tuesday, the city has so far paid out $8 million to settle 31 legal claims related to the crash, in which six people died and many more were injured. Eight lawsuits remain unsettled.
"We've maxed out on our base budget in terms of insurance claims," Manconi told the city's transit commission. "That could cause us to get into a deficit."
He said there's no way to predict the size of the deficit the department may be facing because the final tally will depend on the outcome of the outstanding claims.
Adding to OC Transpo's financial stress, revenues came in $6.2 million under target for the first half of 2017.
Ridership was down, with 1.5 million fewer rides from January to June than there were over the same period in 2016, Manconi said.
'Isolated incidents have a bigger impact.' - Troy Charter, director of transit operations
He cited a number of factors, including passenger fatigue over detours related to LRT construction.
Coun. Michael Qaquish said the biggest complaint he hears from residents is that the system is unreliable.
"They're either waiting longer than what the schedule says or (the bus) just doesn't show up,"
Construction makes the system more "vulnerable" to issues that cause unreliable service, said Troy Charter, director of transit operations.
"Isolated incidents have a bigger impact," Charter said.
As an example, he said even something as minor as an illegally parked car can cause a major backlog on routes that have been detoured.
Ridership 'pretty good' says transportation manager
But Manconi said ridership, which was at 97 per cent of predicted levels, was quite good considering the circumstances.
"I always go back to what everybody said when the contract was awarded," he said. "There was a lot of pessimism, they said our ridership was going to tank, people were going to stop taking transit. That has not occurred."
Manconi characterized the conversion of bus transit to LRT as one of the most complex transformations in the world, moving bus routes onto Highway 417 and Scott Street.
"We're at 97 per cent of our ridership. I think that's pretty good," Manconi said.
He said he expects a small bump in ridership once the LRT is up and running next year.