Ottawa

LRT builder has 'failed' residents, city manager says

City manager Steve Kanellakos made a rare appearance before Ottawa's transit commission Wednesday afternoon, where he offered an apology for the problems that have bedevilled the LRT system over the last month.

'We have not received what we paid for,' says city manager Steve Kanellakos

City manager Steve Kanellakos, foreground, listens at a special question-and-answer session on Ottawa's troubled transit system on Nov. 6, 2019. (Joanne Chianello/CBC)

Making a rare appearance before Ottawa's transit commission Wednesday, city manager Steve Kanellakos laid the blame for the problems bedevilling the Confederation Line squarely on builder Rideau Transit Group (RTG).

"They have failed the city and its residents," Kanellakos said. "We have not received what we paid for."

The city has experienced "inadequate management oversight, poor planning, under-resourcing and failure to anticipate predictable issues" from RTG since the $2.1-billion Confederation Line's launch in September, Kanellakos complained.

Those issues have multiplied since dozens of bus routes were retired on Oct. 6, funnelling commuters onto the LRT, where long delays have become commonplace.

"Our system is not operating at the level it should be. I acknowledge that we have not met your expectations, and I apologize for the fact that a system has inconvenienced so many people in this city," Kanellakos told the transit commission. "As it stands, it has not been good enough."

The city's manager of transportation services, John Manconi, joined Kanellakos in condemning the consortium, calling out its senior officials by name.

Manconi said Rideau Transit Group is not being paid for maintenance, and is holding back the entire $4 million monthly payment for October, and also $2.8 million for part of September after the train launched.

The LRT contract calls for the city to pay out about $4.5 million monthly to Rideau Transit Maintenance over the next 30 years. Similar deductions will be made until the performance of the system improves and stabilizes, according to the mayor.

"We're the clients, we're not happy with it, the passengers aren't happy," Watson said Friday.

Passengers wait for a bus to arrive at Ottawa's Blair station on Oct. 22, 2019, after another LRT breakdown. (Gilles Taillon/Radio-Canada)

The city manager's remarks came before senior OC Transpo staff began a nearly two-hour-long PowerPoint presentation detailing the issues with the transit system.

Troy Charter, the city's director of transit operations, said the LRT problems fall into four main categories: the central computer system, the onboard computer system on individual rail vehicles, doors and rail switches.

The new Confederation Line has run reliably 97.6 per cent of the time, but Kanellakos said the two per cent of the time it hasn't is a problem, especially if it happens during rush hours and thousands of people are affected.

"You have to get better," he told RTG. "Because you're leaving us hanging at the worst possible time."

City manager Steve Kanellakos had harsh words for Rideau Transit Group on Wednesday, slamming the consortium for "poor planning" and a "failure to anticipate predictable issues."  1:06

Councillors pepper managers with questions

Members of the transit commission and city councillors grilled staff on myriad LRT-related issues as the meeting stretched into the evening.

They've been compiling questions for weeks, as the commission has not met since the big switch to LRT on Oct. 6.

Coun. Catherine McKenney demanded to know why Ottawa didn't complete 12 days of testing before RTG handed over the line.

"There's nothing magical in the industry about 12," Manconi answered. The city's original target for testing was 96 per cent reliability on nine of 12 days, he said, and they didn't think Rideau Transit Group would hit the higher target.

"The things you're seeing now were not evident in any of those testing days. None of them," he added.

Rideau Transit Group will be billed for the cost of adding a grittier, less slippery surface to stations on the line, transit commission heard Wednesday. (Paul Jay/CBC)

When will line be reliable?

Commissioners also got to the bottom of bad odours at Parliament Station and slippery staircases at multiple stations. 

The smell was caused by a punctured sewage pipe that should be repaired this week, while the stairs will be covered with a grittier surface and the costs billed to RTG.

OC Transpo put forward some solutions in the 2020 draft budget also tabled on Wednesday, including adding 59 old and new buses to the roads by January and hiring 15 permanent customer service staff.

But Coun. Rawlson King asked the bottom-line question many transit riders care most about: When will OC Transpo become reliable?

"RTG has not given us that," Manconi said, pointing out while he and Kanellakos are in daily contact with RTG, the consortium has yet to give a timeline for resolving technical issues.

"Will we at least get a timeline for when they'll have a timeline?" King asked?

"We're trying," Manconi said.

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