OC Transpo boss John Manconi retiring

John Manconi, long the face of public transit in the City of Ottawa, is retiring after a 30-year career with the municipality.

Longtime senior manager to step down as head of Ottawa’s transportation department 

OC Transpo boss John Manconi takes part in a tour during construction of the city's $2.1-billion Confederation Line. Manconi is retiring after a 30-year career with the city. (Stu Mills/CBC)

John Manconi, long the face of public transit in the City of Ottawa, is retiring in September after a 32-year career with the municipality.

"Thank you for your 30+ year service with the city — including his years as the GM of Transportation Services," Coun. Allan Hubley tweeted on Thursday afternoon, which is how many people first heard the news.

"Thank you for your hard work, guidance & friendship during my time as Chair of Transit Commission."

A longtime municipal employee — his first job was inspecting backyard drainage in the pre-amalgamated City of Nepean in 1989 when he was in his early 20s — Manconi worked in surface operations including road maintenance and snow removal. Between 2007 and 2012, he was the City of Ottawa's general manager of public works.

But Manconi, 54, is best known to the public in his role as head of OC Transpo, a job he took on nine years ago, just months before the council of the day signed the contract for the first stage of LRT.

In July 2016, after a reorganization of the city's management, Manconi's role was expanded to include oversight of all the city's transportation services, not just transit.

According to Ontario's Sunshine List, he earned $295,624 in 2020.

Despite his hefty paycheque, Manconi said his decision to retire in September — the earliest date that he'll be eligible for his full pension — "just feels right."

By the fall, Manconi said, he hopes that the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic will be behind the city. The Confederation Line is much improved, he said, and the second phase of the city's rail expansion is well underway.

Face of LRT debacle

The head of a public transit agency is a relatively high-profile position in any big city. This was especially true for Manconi as he both oversaw the huge disruptions to OC Transpo service during the construction of the east-west Confederation Line, and has repeatedly been the bearer of bad news about the $2.1-billion LRT project.

Although it was Rideau Transit Group (RTG) that built and now maintains the light rail system, it often fell to Manconi to update council on the LRT's progress and operation, including numerous delays during construction and multiple problems after the line's launch 18 months ago.

LRT issues spark questions about “Plan B” for Ottawa transit

3 years ago
Duration 1:16
As problems with the LRT continue, OC Transpo General Manager John Manconi defended efforts to restore consistent service to the Confederation Line. RTG CEO Peter Lauch says fixes for every issue LRT vehicles have experienced will be incorporated into future train models.

In a brief interview with CBC, Manconi admitted that the pressure could take a toll.

It was unpleasant for his children to hear him called names at public events, he said, and upsetting to receive death threats during the worst of the Confederation Line debacles.

"It is very, very difficult to be the leader of this organization, the face of it. But that's part of the job," he said.

"You're the leader of a transformational, historic city-building initiative. And with that, you'd better be prepared to take the criticism, the armchair quarterbacking, the 'It's never good enough.'

"We have people that want a high standard and we need to deliver," Manconi added. "Do we do that all the time? Absolutely not. Do we strive for it? Yes."

While neither Manconi nor anyone at OC Transpo was held directly responsible for issues with the LRT, some questioned whether the senior manager kept politicians — and the public — properly informed.

For example, in early September 2018, Manconi told councillors that the Confederation Line wouldn't be ready until 2019, instead of that November as expected. Councillors running for re-election had been campaigning that summer based on the understanding that the LRT was coming that fall, and some felt blindsided by the news of the delay.

In August 2019, after repeatedly telling councillors that RTG would have to deliver 17 double-car trains — 15 for rush-hour service, plus two backups — Manconi suddenly changed his stance and said Ottawa only needed 13 trains for peak service.

Last year, Manconi apologized to council for not properly informing them that the city had paid RTG $4.5 million. A CBC story that reported the payment came as a shock to some councillors.

And in March, CBC reported that SNC-Lavalin had told the city it is expecting to be at least four months late finishing the extension of the Trillium Line — information not shared with councillors. 

OC Transpo boss apologizes for confusion over LRT payment

3 years ago
Duration 0:27
John Manconi apologizes for failing to inform councillors about a payment made to LRT contractors

Kudos from city leaders

The city's top leaders have been quick to thank Manconi for his decades of work, especially overseeing the LRT project.

In a statement, Mayor Jim Watson said Manconi "placed the safety and well-being of residents, customers and staff
above all else," and praised him for maintaining good relations with the transit union.

"As we all know, John played a critical role in the planning and delivery of Ottawa's LRT system, our
city's most transformative project since the construction of the Rideau Canal," wrote Watson. "He saw us through the
construction phase of the project, the commissioning and launch, and a challenging first year of
troubleshooting the system."

City manager Steve Kanellakos, who has worked closely with Manconi for many years, stated in a memo to council and the transit commission that he is "very happy for John as he transitions to the next chapter of his life.

"However, I recognize that his departure will be felt by all in our organization. John is a dynamic, results
driven leader who has carried the weight and burden of many leadership roles and over the last ten years."

Kanellakos noted Manconi has given the city nearly five months' notice of his departure, leaving plenty of time to transition to a new senior manager. Kanellakos said he'll soon have more details on the recruitment process.