Driver shortage blamed for surge in Ottawa bus cancellations

OC Transpo tweeted out more than 200 bus cancellations Friday, one day after more than 150 cancellations were announced Thursday — and even more could be on the way in the days to come.

OC Transpo tweeted more than 200 bus cancellations Friday

A woman waits for an OC Transpo bus in this file photo. Hundreds of bus trips have been cancelled in recent days, and OC Transpo says the cancellations may continue into next week. (Andrew Lee/CBC)

A shortage of available OC Transpo drivers is being cited as one reason hundreds of bus trips were cancelled in Ottawa this week — and even more disruptions could be on the way.

OC Transpo tweeted out more than 200 bus cancellations Friday, with more than 150 announced the day before.

Between two and four per cent of all bus trips were cancelled Wednesday and Thursday, said Troy Charter, director of transit service delivery and rail operations at OC Transpo.

"It is anticipated that customers could encounter more trip cancellations into next week based on a few short-term factors, including the number of staff who worked overtime last week while O-Train Line 1 was being repaired, higher-than-usual sick leave absences, and normal seasonal vacations," Charter said in a statement to CBC.

OC Transpo typically schedules 7,900 trips a day, he added.

In a tweet, OC Transpo apologized to Ottawa residents and said it recognizes that alerts weren't sent out every time a trip was called off.

"We understand that customers are feeling the effects of a recent increase in undelivered bus trips. This is not the level of service our customers deserve. We recognize that this impacts your travel, and we are working hard to fill as many trips as possible," the tweet said.

'We simply don't have the bodies'

Stuart MacKay, co-founder and board member of Transit Riders Ottawa, said a large part of the delays can be attributed to a shortage of drivers — an issue raised at a meeting with OC Transpo in May.

The city has allocated money to OC Transpo to hire 80 new operators, MacKay told CBC Radio's All In A Day,  but they're looking to hire an additional 200.

"There are around seven to 10 operators retiring each month or finding new employment, so we simply don't have the bodies to drive these buses. And this is really just a result of poor personnel management from OC Transpo," MacKay said.

Regular cancellations can have adverse effects on people's lives, he added, with riders missing appointments or losing out on paycheques.

"People may have to spend money on a taxi or an Uber they can't afford. And that may hurt them at the end of the month as they're trying to buy food or pay rent," MacKay said.

MacKay said some residents have reported to Ottawa Transit Riders that they've waited as long as an hour for their buses to arrive.

"[There are] other people who don't know what's going on because of notifications that only go on Twitter," he said. "And if you don't have access to Twitter, if you don't have access to a cell phone, you don't know what's happening."


Uday Rana

CBC Ottawa reporter

Uday Rana is an Ottawa-based journalist covering city news. Uday has worked as a print, digital and television reporter in India. He was previously with the Times of India and then with CNN-News18. He's covered conflict, sectarian violence and the rise of Hindu Nationalism in India.