Ottawa

New bus drivers won't hit the road until June

The 100 new bus drivers that OC Transpo was hoping would be on the road by early 2020 won't all be trained until June, the city's general manager of transportation services said Wednesday.

Multiple challenges facing OC Transpo's driver shortage problem

John Manconi, Ottawa's general manager of transit services, appeared before the city's transit commission Wednesday. (CBC)

The 100 new bus drivers that OC Transpo was hoping would be on the road by early 2020 won't all be trained up until June, the city's general manager of transportation services said Wednesday.

That's because there aren't enough trainers available to prepare the new recruits sooner, John Manconi told the city's transit commission.

Instead, 23 drivers will be trained every 36 days, with the first session beginning Monday. That first batch of new drivers should be on the roads in February.

The slower-than-anticipated training of new drivers is the latest challenge for the bus system that sees more than 100 trips cancelled on an average day. While the LRT has become more reliable in the recent weeks, the bus service has not.

'Not good enough'

As Coun. Carol Anne Meehan pointed out, the current driver shortage had led to 52 trip cancellations by 8 a.m. Wednesday.

"It's not good enough," Manconi said of the bus service. "The system is still not stable."

Although drivers can sign up for as much overtime as they want — within safety guidelines — they are "exhausted," Manconi said.

"They've been working their entire summer, they've been going multi-year, they're giving up vacations," he told transit commissioners. "It's that time of the year where they want some time with their family."

Cancellations are a particular problem on weekends because there aren't enough drivers to cover those shifts.

A number of challenges, including changes to labour rules, an contributed to a driver shortage. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

New labour laws

The demand for — and on — drivers has only increased since this fall's LRT launch.

OC Transpo is having to staff an additional 60 buses it hadn't planned to: the 40 buses that Mayor Jim Watson added back to the fleet in November, and 20 buses that are kept on standby during the morning and afternoon rush hours as replacements during LRT breakdowns.

As well, unexpected changes to the Canadian Labour Code granted employees of federally regulated organizations an additional three paid and two unpaid days off. Since the rules went into effect on Sept. 1, OC Transpo — which is federally regulated because it travels over a provincial border — has lost 1,400 "person days" from employees exercising their new rights.

These changes will be expensive.

Nearly half of the 161 new positions at OC Transpo planned for 2020 are due to changes to the Canada Labour Code, according to the city, and will cost $2.6 million. 

In the meantime, OC Transpo management is employing incentives to try to get existing drivers to work extra hours. The drivers who operate the 20 standby buses are being paid a premium. And OC Transpo is asking drivers to forego vacation in January, February or March in exchange for being paid a two-for-one premium.

It's unclear what that will mean for the city's transit budget next year, which allotted even less money for overtime than in past years. Last week, seven councillors voted against the transit budget because they didn't believe there was enough money being added to transit operations.

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