Ottawa

Councillor, union call for more organization from OC Transpo amid cancelled trips

After OC Transpo cancelled more than 300 trips this weekend, the drivers' union says the transit agency's lack of organization is partly to blame. While the city has attributed the cancellations to staff shortages, the union says it won't improve until OC Transpo addresses scheduling issues that interrupt routes.

Poorly planned breaks can interrupt trips, union president says

People wearing masks cross Gladstone Avenue in Ottawa after getting off an OC Transpo bus on Oct. 22, 2021. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

After OC Transpo cancelled more than 300 trips last weekend, the drivers' union says the transit agency's lack of organization is partly to blame.

While the city has attributed the cancellations to staff shortages, the union said it won't improve until OC Transpo addresses scheduling issues that interrupt routes. 

"The way they put those schedules together is terrible and the public is feeling that as well," said Clint Crabtree, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 279. 

Starting in the spring, the Canada Labour Code began requiring all drivers to take 30-minute breaks for every five hours of work. 

Crabtree said OC Transpo has not done a good job of organizing schedules around the new mandatory breaks.

"You have bus trip cancellations because the operator is mandated to have the break," he told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning earlier this week.

Before the change, drivers would take short breaks where their routes turned around, he said. 

While mandated breaks are good for staff, Crabtree said OC Transpo needs to rearrange bus schedules to ensure breaks don't disrupt service. 

"If it is planned properly, you won't have people missing trips," he said.

Clint Crabtree is president of the local chapter of the Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents many OC Transpo employees, including bus operators. (Mathieu Theriault/CBC)

OC Transpo is also struggling with staffing shortages, and Crabtree warned "it's going to get worse." 

Every fall, OC Transpo ramps up service to meet increased seasonal demand, including resuming service to schools.

Crabtree said this year "could be a disaster" based on the severity of the issues during reduced summer service. 

Give more notice for cancelled routes, councillor pleads

Bus reliability is the number-one issue, according to Coun. Riley Brockington, a member of the city's Transit Commission. 

Brockington said it is not acceptable for trips to be cancelled with little or no notice given to riders. 

"If there have to be some reductions in service because there are some staff shortages, OC Transpo should be able to map that out over a number of weeks and make decisions in advance so that people can plan accordingly," Brockington said.

The majority of would-be riders will be forced to find other modes of transportation unless OC Transpo can improve reliability, he said.

"If you do not have reliable bus service ... then you will never win back customers," Brockington said. "You'll never win back the confidence of the people of Ottawa, which is lacking at this time."

River Ward Coun. Riley Brockington says OC Transpo needs to improve bus reliability to win back riders and their trust. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

City working to hire 300 more drivers

Troy Charter, the city's director of transit operations, said OC Transpo is doing the best it can to hire enough staff to cover gaps in service. 

The vigorous selection process and training operators must endure is part of the reason OC Transpo is short 300 staff.

"We're not going to cut corners when it comes to recruiting the right people, nor are we going to cut corners when it comes to training them," Charter said. 

As for last-minute trip cancellations, Charter said the organization is looking for ways to improve how to notify riders.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michelle Allan is a reporter with CBC Ottawa who was previously the CBC’s Kingston reporter. She has also written for the Globe and Mail. Michelle has a master’s degree in journalism from Toronto Metropolitan University. She is half of the two-person team that won a 2021 Canadian Association of Journalists national award for investigative journalism. You can reach her at michelle.allan@cbc.ca.

With files from CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning

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