Ottawa

City of Ottawa demanded $8,640 for data on cost of take-home trucks

When CBC asked the City of Ottawa for data on the cost of fuelling fleet vehicles being driven home by on-call staff from one branch, the city responded with a bill for more than $8,000.

Original request for 5 years' of data pared down to cut cost

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 )

When CBC News discovered employees with just one branch of the City of Ottawa's public works department logged more than 62,000 kilometres travelling between work and home in city vehicles — the equivalent of circling the equator one and a half times — we wanted to know how much that was costing taxpayers. 

First, getting that answer was going to cost us. A lot. 

The search began when we were made aware of a City of Ottawa truck parked at a home in Alcove, Que., more than 40 kilometres north of the city.

The city told us the employee driving the truck had approval to take it home because the individual was on call with the parks, buildings and grounds services branch.

We decided to file a municipal freedom of information request to find out more. Narrowing our search to the same branch, we asked for five years' worth of data on the following:

  • How many employees take home city vehicles?
  • How far do they drive to and from work?
  • How much does it cost the city in gas?
  • How much does the city spend maintaining these vehicles?

No central database

The estimate to supply the information came in at $8,640, or 230 hours of searching at $30 per hour.
The estimate from the City of Ottawa for data on the cost of allowing on-call workers from on branch to drive fleet vehicles home.

An analyst with the city's access and privacy department explained the city doesn't collect the information we sought in any centralized database.

Supervisors do track on-call workers' mileage, and employees must submit monthly taxable benefit forms for the travel. Nevertheless the city told us collecting and calculating the information would be a monumental task, even for one branch of one department. 

So CBC narrowed the request to one year of data at a much more reasonable cost of $120. But the city was unable to provide a price tag for the practice of allowing on-call parks workers to drive fleet vehicles home.
A city vehicle parked outside a home in Alcove, Que., more than 40 kilometres north of Ottawa. (CBC)

"The city pays for the gas for its work vehicles," wrote Laila Gibbons, manager of parks, buildings and grounds services in an email to CBC. "The cost may vary from week to week as the on-call supervisors rotate their schedule."

'Most cost-effective' 

The city was unable to tell us how much it costs to maintain these vehicles, or the cost of wear and tear on the vehicles some employees are allowed to drive home.

City of Ottawa treasurer Marian Simulik. (CBC News)
The city maintains that allowing on-call employees to drive fleet vehicles home is the cheapest and fastest way to respond to emergencies after hours.

"The city looks at this on a continual basis. Do we need to have all of these people on call? Is it better to have them use their own vehicles or use city vehicles?" said city treasurer Marian Simulik.

"But ultimately this is the most cost effective [practise], from our perspective."

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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