OC Transpo's OT plan could pose safety risk, says expert
New rules allow drivers to be on the road 130 hours every two weeks
OC Transpo drivers have been given the green light to work up to 130 hours every two weeks, and one expert is worried all that extra overtime could put bus riders at risk.
The surge in overtime has come as the service deals with a shortage of operators caused by the city's much-delayed light rail line.
Last summer, the city issued termination notices to 345 OC Transpo drivers and cancelled some bus routes, assuming LRT would be up and running in November 2018.
Those notices were later rescinded, but by then many drivers had moved on. The service now has 140 vacancies, and drivers are being asked to sign up for extra hours to reduce cancellations and delays.
"We are encouraging people to take up the extra shifts that help provide a reliable service for our customers, but it's not forced overtime," said Troy Charter, the city's director of transit operations.
In April 2019, drivers worked 37,328 hours of overtime, 15,000 more hours than they worked in April 2018.
Those additional hours have driven up costs, with OC Transpo spending $4.2 million on overtime between May 2018 and April 2019.
Charter said he expected overtime hours would continue to increase right up until LRT opens, which could happen by September.
70 hours per week
Since OC Transpo drivers cross into Quebec on some routes, the agency is federally regulated.
Under that legislation, OC Transpo drivers may work up to 70 hours during a seven-day work cycle, and must take a break of at least 36 hours before starting another seven-day cycle.
The collective agreement between the drivers' union and the city used to limit them to 120 hours behind the wheel every 14 days, but according to a city memo issued June 26 the union recently agreed to temporarily allow drivers to work up to 130 hours every two weeks. That is still ten hours under the two week maximum allowed under federal regulations.
As for daily shifts, bus operators can work up to 14 hours, with a maximum of 13 hours behind the wheel. They must have eight hours off between shifts.
"It is a very heavy work schedule," said Alison Smiley, an adjunct professor at the University of Toronto who's appeared hundreds of times as an expert witness in transportation collisions.
"When you think about what that means, it is five days of 12 hours plus another five hours, or six days of eleven hours."
The risk is going to start going up more quickly as you get more and more hours.- Alison Smiley
Smiley said research shows people perform more poorly the longer they work — and the fact Ottawa drivers have working increased hours for months exacerbates the safety risk.
"There is no particular magic number. It's just the risk is going to start going up more quickly as you get more and more hours," she said.
One saving grace, Smiley said, is the fact most drivers aren't working overnight.
"People who are working those night hours, until 2 a.m., should not be working excess overtime," she said.
Watching the numbers
Charter said the city is watching the overtime numbers closely. Drivers are well-versed on their legal limits, he added, and can ask for a schedule change if they feel overwhelmed.
"If there's ever a time which an operator doesn't feel comfortable or feel that it's safe for them, they can always call us [and] let us know. And we'd find something to cover off their work for them," Charter said.
There are also "checks and balances" in the scheduling system, Charter said, and other tools to ensure drivers aren't working too much.
"We have a team of supervisors that are monitoring our service, special constables, even dispatchers in the operating lounges."
- A previous version of this story suggested OC Transpo was skirting federal law by allowing drivers to work 130 hours every 14 days. In fact, OC Transpo drivers are on a seven-day work cycle and are allowed under the law to drive 70 hours per week, or 140 hours within a two-week period, provided they take a 36-hour break between cycles.Jul 16, 2019 10:40 AM ET