Ottawa

OC Transpo driver calls out agency, says it's 'not reliable'

An OC Transpo driver is publicly calling out the transit agency, writing in an open letter the service is not dependable, and personally apologizing to all transit riders in Ottawa.

Driver Chris Grover says OC Transpo service has "chronic and systemic" problems

OC Transpo driver Chris Grover says he's 'terrified' of repercussions he could face for going public with his complaints. (CBC)

An OC Transpo driver is publicly calling out the transit agency, saying the service is not dependable and personally apologizing to all transit riders in Ottawa.

Chris Grover's open letter offers a scathing critique on everything from employee morale, scheduling, driver recovery times, absenteeism and OC Transpo management, writing "band-aid solutions" are being slapped on "chronic and systemic problems."

In an interview with CBC, Grover said he's "terrified" he'll be fired for speaking out, but thought it was time someone within the agency spoke "truth to power."

"We see these people standing on the street corner, waiting for us, when we're a half hour late," Grover said. "We've been watching the place burn down around us, figuratively speaking. The service has become more and more unreliable." 

Grover said he's been working as a driver for approximately a decade and has been working up the nerve to speak out for several years. 

He's been on leave for most of the past six months due to recent surgery on his knee.

Hoping for a fix with LRT launch

With the launch of the LRT, Grover said he was hoping for a "fresh start" for bus and driver schedules, and that the system would improve as a whole.

That hasn't happened, he said. 

I don't need my job to be easy. But I need it to be doable.- Chris Grover

Because of this, and fears for his job, Grover said he's been "waiting and hoping that somebody else would" go public.

"There is a reason that you don't see drivers talking to the media. You know it's verboten. Everybody there wants to say something and everybody there is afraid for their job," Grover said. 

"I'm not asking for anybody to make life easy. I don't need my job to be easy. But I need it to be doable."

Driver has 'bad taste in his mouth,' says transit boss

Grover's critique caught the attention of OC Transpo general manager John Manconi, who said he wishes Grover had gone through "various channels" available to him before writing his open letter, including committee meetings, union meetings, or speaking to OC Transpo management. 

"That's his choice," Manconi said. "What I do encourage him to do is pick up the phone, and call me and come and see me."

John Manconi, general manager of transportation services, said he wishes Chris Grover had talked to him before writing that letter. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

Manconi wouldn't comment on whether he thought Grover might face repercussions.

He also pointed to the fact that Grover has been off work for most of the last six months, coinciding with the launch of the Confederation Line, and said the driver may have been unhappy after being asked to work weekends. 

"I suspect that's giving him a bad taste in his mouth," Manconi said.

In response, Grover said he has consistently worked Saturdays for the past ten years — though it is true that after the LRT launched, he was told he'd need to work every other Sunday.

But Grover said that has nothing to do with his decision to write the open letter, calling Manconi's comments "defensive, knee-jerk and completely uninformed."

"I'm happy to work every Sunday until the end of time if it means we get enough time to actually do the trips," Grover said.

Transit budget isn't 'bottomless pit'

Improvements to the system are definitely needed, said Clint Crabtree, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 279, which represents OC Transpo staff.

"I agree with Chris that there does need to be better scheduling, better run times, better recovery time for the operators and the public," said Crabtree, who declined to provide further comment.

Manconi said he can't implement all of the changes Grover wants to see because of budget restrictions.

"If I could, and it was a bottomless pit, we'd add millions and millions of dollars of recovery time, and keep everything perfect," he said. "Unfortunately that's not a realistic expectation."

Regardless, Grover is being called a "whistleblower" by councillor Catherine McKenney, who is also a member of the city's transit commission.

"It needed to be said," McKenney said. "I think we sometimes forget about the frontline staff that we have out there, and the impact it has on them."

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