Ottawa

OC Transpo's 'brutally honest' job ad hopes to lure new recruits

The posting from the City of Ottawa to attract new bus drivers warns of the role's challenges, including to "expect no summer vacation for up to 10 years."

'It has not been uncommon for new operators to work weekends for five to 10 years,' the post reads

An eastbound OC Transpo bus makes a stop on Queen Street atop Parliament station in November 2019. The city is facing a bus driver shortage. (CBC)

A "brutally honest" job posting from the City of Ottawa to attract new bus drivers minces no words about the role's challenges, including to "expect no summer vacation for up to 10 years."

The post says "all booking of work is given out by seniority," meaning junior operators should expect to work split shifts and "may be forced on vacation."

"It has not been uncommon for new operators to work weekends for five to 10 years," the post reads.

The job is "physically demanding and includes tasks which are repetitive and constant," including dealing with "difficult passengers."

While that may not make the job seem particularly appealing, it's better the city is "upfront and honest," according to the driver union.

"I absolutely believe that's brutally honest," said Clint Crabtree, president of Local 279 of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU).

"Everybody that starts at OC Transpo was told the same exact thing when they started, and that has been going on for years. I would rather know what to expect."

Short-staffed

The city is struggling to find enough drivers to fill shifts, particularly on weekends, with some bus trips being cancelled because no driver is assigned. 

It had planned to lay off about 340 drivers when the new Confederation Line light rail transit system started because the trains could carry as many people as eight of its articulated buses, but delays getting the line going changed that.

The city then needed drivers for 20 standby buses at RCGT Park on weekday peak periods in case there's a problem with the LRT, and 59 extra buses added to the network.

Last month, Crabtree said the city still needs to hire as many as 100 new drivers to meet Ottawa's transit demands.

Earlier this week, OC Transpo's general manager said the new drivers the agency was hoping to have on the road in the new year won't be trained until June.

Job attractive to many, says career counsellor

Given that, the way the job post is worded may seem counterintuitive.

But that's not necessarily the case, according to Alan Kearns, a managing partner of career coaching company Career Joy.

"I think it's direct, in this is what we have to offer and this is what we don't have to offer."

He said he doesn't think the city will have a hard time finding people willing to drive. 

"For many people, this is a well-paying job with good benefits, and there are not many well-paying jobs with good benefits at that skill level in our economy."

The driver's pay is $15.78 an hour during training then $26.83 to start, building to $31.56 an hour after two years (plus overtime), with pension and benefits kicking in the first day of training.

Working conditions raised at city hall

The question of driver work conditions was raised during Wednesday's transit commission meeting at city hall.

"What I'm hearing you say is that it's OK to tell junior operators that for a few years, there's going to be health impacts… that you're going to be running these kinds of schedules without the adequate recovery time," said Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper to John Manconi, OC Transpo's general manager.

OC Transpo general manager John Manconi, shown at a transit commission meeting at Ottawa city hall on Wednesday, says working conditions have improved for drivers in the last several years. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Manconi responded by saying working conditions have improved for drivers in the last several years.

"You can generally get your weekends off after a couple of years. So the working conditions have improved. Are they perfect? Absolutely not."

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