Ottawa·Exclusive

City of Ottawa workers drive fleet vehicles home on taxpayers' dime

City of Ottawa employees are driving work vehicles home at night — in some cases far outside city limits — and taxpayers are footing the gas bill, documents show.

Issue 'on our radar,' auditor says


This map shows where on-call city workers with the parks, buildings and grounds branch of the City of Ottawa's public works department drove fleet vehicles. It also shows how many kilometres employees logged per month over a one-year period, from March 2015 to March 2016. The city pays to fuel the vehicles. The red areas show the parks these employees are responsible for when they are on call. CBC obtained this data through a municipal freedom of information request. 


City of Ottawa employees are driving work vehicles home at night — in some cases far outside city limits — and taxpayers are footing the gas bill, documents show.

CBC News has learned on-call employees from several city departments routinely take municipal fleet vehicles home to surrounding towns including: 

  • Alcove, Que. 
  • L'Ange Gardien, Que. 
  • Arnprior, Ont.
  • Mountain, Ont.
  • Lefaivre, Ont.

The city allows certain employees to take work vehicles home because those workers are on call to respond to emergencies such as splash pads breaking down after hours, overnight vandalism or a death in a city park. 

"It is something that is on our radar and will likely be on an audit work plan in the future," wrote the city's auditor general Ken Hughes in an email to CBC about personal use of city vehicles.
This city of Ottawa Chevrolet Silverado was spotted in an Alcove, Que., driveway in July 2015. The city says the employee who left it there was on approved on-call duty with the city's parks, buildings and grounds branch. The worker drove more than 1,200 kilometres between work and home over a two-month period last summer. (CBC)

Road most travelled 

Thirty-five employees with the parks, buildings and grounds branch of the city's public works department racked up more than 62,000 kilometres driving between work and home in city vehicles between March 2015 and March 2016, reveals a document obtained by CBC News through a municipal freedom of information request.

The on-call employee who logged the most distance drove to and from Lefaivre, Ont., 75 kilometres east of downtown Ottawa. The worker clocked 11,620 kilometres over the last year, nearly doubling the mileage of the next on-call employee on the city's top five list:  

  1. Lefaivre: 11,620 km 
  2. Carleton Place: 6,710 km 
  3. Fitzroy Harbour: 4,830 km 
  4. North Gower: 3,764 km
  5. Kinburn: 2,725 km

The city said employees from the roads services branch of the public works department, the emergency and protective services department and the environmental services department are also on call and may drive fleet vehicles home, but CBC asked only for the data pertaining to the parks, building and grounds branch.

'We can't discriminate'

The city doesn't impose geographical boundaries limiting where on-call workers can drive. The policy only states they have to be able to respond to an emergency within one hour.

"Not all of our employees live within the City of Ottawa, so allowing them to take the vehicle home means we get a faster response and they have the equipment they need at the time," said city treasurer Marian Simulik. "We can't discriminate based on where a person lives."
A city of Ottawa vehicle parked outside a home in Alcove, Que., more than 40 kilometres north of Ottawa. (CBC)
 

The city does take into consideration whether it's more cost-effective to have on-call employees use their own vehicles instead of cars and trucks from the city fleet, Simulik added.

"But ultimately this is the most cost-effective from our perspective."

'Waste of tax dollars'

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation says it's time to revisit the policy.

"It's a waste of tax dollars," said federal director Aaron Wudrick, "This is a subsidy for commuting, essentially."
Aaron Wudrick is federal director of the Canadian Taxypayers Federation. (CBC)

"The purpose may be on the face of it to allow these people to respond to things related to their job. But in effect they get to drive home and back to work every day in a vehicle that's paid for by the city, by taxpayers, " 

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

Reports to fraud and waste hotline

Allegations of misuse of city vehicles are reported to the city's fraud and waste hotline on a regular basis, Hughes said.

Hughes said his office receives numerous calls from residents reporting spotting city vehicles parked in places that seem fishy. He said one caller spotted a city of Ottawa vehicle being driven in southern Ontario.

The auditor general's office investigates each case, and usually determines the employee was on legitimate city business, Hughes said.

"But there have been instances in the past where city employees have taken a vehicle on an activity that was largely deemed personal," said Hughes.
The city of Ottawa's auditor general Ken Hughes holds the most recent audit of the use of city vehicles and mileage claims, completed in 2010. (Ashley Burke/CBC)

In a report released last year, Hughes described seven cases of employees using city vehicles inappropriately, including smoking behind the wheel, making personal trips and driving while holding a dog, but he did not look specifically at the issue of employees taking vehicles home.

The last audit focusing specifically on personal use of vehicles in 2010 revealed weaknesses in the city's policy. The controls around vehicles are now much more substantial and a policy has been put in place for managers to follow, said Hughes.

"It's imperative that we make sure we are holding people to a high standard of control and meeting all of the policies we have in place ... That's why it's on our radar. That's why it's important."


To contact Ashley Burke, email ashley.burke@cbc.ca or tweet her @AshleyBurkeCBC

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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