62% of new OC Transpo drivers involved in collisions, audit finds

More than 60 per cent of OC Transpo bus drivers who finished their training between 2017 and 2019 later ended up in collisions, a new audit has found.

About 1 in 4 new drivers involved in more than 1 collision

Less experienced OC Transpo operators often end up driving articulated buses on longer routes, according to an October 2020 audit on driver training. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

More than 60 per cent of OC Transpo bus drivers who finished their training between 2017 and 2019 later ended up in collisions, a city audit has found.

Most of those collisions — about three-quarters — were deemed minor, causing less than $2,000 damage. The rest, 23 per cent, were considered major, and one-quarter of the new drivers were involved in more than one collision. 

The audit covered the 227 drivers who took OC Transpo's 31-day training course between 2017 and 2019, as well as the ongoing training for experienced drivers.

Transportation general manager John Manconi assured councillors on the city's audit committee Tuesday that OC Transpo's training program meets or exceeds Ministry of Transportation requirements.

"You have my assurances, we're all over this audit. We're taking it seriously," Manconi said.

He said unlike some other municipalities, every collision is tracked by a program called Riskmaster, even a "$10 nick on a mirror." Because of the city's expansive geography, OC Transpo operators together travel some 64 million kilometres a year, Manconi noted.

The audit includes 20 recommendations to improve driver training. Nine have already been implemented and the rest will be by spring, said Brandon Richards, OC Transpo's new chief safety officer, who was hired since the audit began.

LRT delay affected recruitment, training

Deputy auditor Ed Miner pointed to one particular period in the fall of 2017 when the city was rushing to hire more drivers in the lead-up to the opening of the city's new LRT line.

He said from October to December of that year, OC Transpo had a bigger pool of candidates and gave them fewer training days and less time behind the wheel, while still meeting MTO requirements.

"Based on the percentage of active [new bus operator training] graduates involved in a preventable collision within four months after graduation, it appeared that the general quality of the drivers coming out of these sessions was affected," said Miner.

Driver training is one of the most important tools available to reduce the risk of bus collisions.- Ed Miner, deputy city auditor

Auditors studying trainees' files came across remarks about Highway Safety Act violations, as well as instances where instructors had to intervene. Rather than end their training, the city might let them fail the MTO exam, Miner was told. 

The current failure rate of the city's new driver training program, which includes the MTO tests, is 18 per cent.

Meanwhile, some planned refresher training for existing drivers didn't happen because of the LRT launch. New drivers trained in good weather and didn't get their winter refresher, auditors found.

Given collective agreements, senior drivers get first choice of routes and bus types, leaving less experienced drivers to the more difficult routes and longer articulated buses, even if they had only spent 20 per cent of their training behind the wheel of that type of bus.

"Driver training is one of the most important tools available to reduce the risk of bus collisions," said Miner.

Councillors concerned

"Reading this audit left me a little bit worried for obvious reasons, because driver training and the safety and qualifications of the driver behind the wheel are so very important," said Coun. Carol Anne Meehan.

Miner clarified that the original complaint that spurred the audit didn't specifically mention double-decker buses, which were involved in both the tragic crash at Westboro station in January 2019 and the fatal collision with a Via Rail train in Barrhaven in 2013.

"Our residents have to have total confidence that we're working toward all these ... 20 recommendations," said Coun. Theresa Kavanagh. 

A second audit  presented Tuesday showed that driver error, not mechanical problems, are responsible for nearly all preventable collisions.

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