Ottawa·Exclusive

On-call City of Ottawa workers log thousands of kilometres — to scrape up roadkill

On-call municipal workers are driving City of Ottawa vehicles home at night to towns as far away as Alcove, Que., and Renfrew, Ont., to be available to respond to such "emergencies" as collecting dead animals, trimming long grass and emptying overflowing trash bins, CBC News has learned.

Employees racked up nearly 500,000 km driving city vehicles between home and work

The city of Ottawa estimates it spent $80,000 on gas over a one-year period for on-call employees to drive fleet vehicles home at night. (Ashley Burke/CBC News)

On-call municipal workers are driving City of Ottawa vehicles home at night to towns as far away as Alcove, Que., and Renfrew, Ont., so that they'll be available to respond to such "emergencies" as collecting dead animals, trimming long grass and emptying overflowing trash bins, CBC News has learned.

Using gas paid for by taxpayers, more than 250 employees logged nearly half a million kilometres in one year commuting between work and home in city vehicles. That's enough mileage to circle the globe a dozen times. 

It's a concern because obviously that has a huge cost to the taxpayer to cover the mileage.- Coun. Allan Hubley

"It's a concern because obviously that has a huge cost to the taxpayer to cover the mileage to and from those locations, the wear and tear on those vehicles," said Coun. Allan Hubley, chair of the city's audit committee.

As CBC News reported earlier this year, certain employees are allowed to drive work vehicles home so they can respond quickly to after-hours emergencies.

"Having a city truck two hours outside the city coming in to pick up a dead skunk on the road is not efficient," said Hubley.
Coun. Allan Hubley chairs the city's audit committee. He wants to find a more efficient way for workers to respond to after-hours calls. (Ashley Burke/CBC News)

CBC News analyzed hundreds of pages of city records obtained under the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.  

The data shows more than 250 workers with nine different departments took fleet vehicles home between March 2015 and March 2016.

More than half of those workers were with the city's road services branch. One vehicle sat parked at a home in Renfrew, Ont., another in Plantagenet, Ont. 

This map shows where on-call workers took city vehicles between March 2015 and March 2016. The different colours represent the city departments in which the workers are employed.

Roadkill collection tops after-hours calls

The documents show the most common after-hours job for staff with the city's road services branch is shovelling up dead animals, accounting for 580 of the 2,003 calls logged over the 12 months in question. Another 447 calls were to remove debris and litter from roadways, including branches, ladders and couches. 

Hubley agreed some calls need to be answered immediately.

"The road kill calls can be little Suzy's beautiful kitten got run over. You don't want to leave that on the road," said Hubley. "That's going to be very traumatic for families in the area. So you need to go out there and get that. You're not going to leave it until rush hour the next morning."

However he questioned whether employees who live so far outside the city should be allowed to drive work trucks home, suggesting instead that supervisors be called in, or that the city require on-call workers to pick up municipal vehicles at a city yard.

'Turf issues'

Employees with the city's parks, buildings and grounds department appear to be some of the farthest-flung, driving vehicles home to such destinations as Alcove, Que., and Lefaivre, Ont. 

The top call for that department falls under the topic of "turf issues" — on-call staff drove in 426 times to deal with long grass and weeds, pick up debris and patch up holes in the ground. Emptying overflowing trash bins accounted for the second-largest volume of calls. 

In March the city treasurer told CBC the municipality can't discriminate against workers based on where they live. The policy dictates on-call employees must be able to respond to an emergency within an hour, wherever they happen to live.

City reviewing fleet policies

According to calculations derived from city estimates, on-call employees burned about $80,000 worth of gas driving fleet vehicles between their homes and job sites over the year in question. That figure does not include the cost of wear and tear or maintenance on the vehicles. 

The city has said it's not a freebie for employees since they have to report their mileage for personal use as a taxable benefit.

The city said it's currently studying its fleet policies, including after-hours use.

The city is "reviewing what is deemed to be an emergency and whether some work can be assigned to regular crews during regular working hours," Kevin Wylie, the city's general manager of public works, told CBC News in a statement.

"For example, in some cases dead animals may be a risk to drivers who may swerve to avoid running them over. In other cases, the location of the animal may not pose a risk," he added.

Wylie also said the city plans to look into whether it would be cheaper for on-call employees to pick up vehicles at city yards rather than taking them home.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ashley Burke

Reporter

Ashley Burke is a senior reporter with CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. Have a story idea? Email her at ashley.burke@cbc.ca

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