Ottawa

Transit strike saves $3M a week: OC Transpo

A transit strike may be causing traffic chaos for the second day in a row, but it could save the City of Ottawa $3 million a week.

A transit strike may be causing traffic chaos for the second day in a row, but it could save the City of Ottawa $3 million a week.

Alain Mercier, head of the city's run transit company OC Transpo, said Thursday that the savings come from the fact that the city is not currently paying for salaries or fuel, and isn't contributing to wear-and-tear on the buses, saving on the cost of parts and maintenance.

OC Transpo is planning to post updates on its website and will provide local media with information. Customers are also invited to contact OC Transpo by phone at 613-741-4390.

He added that the figure takes into account lost revenue from advertising and the credits OC Transpo will provide to bus riders once the strike is over.

Rideau-Vanier Coun. Georges Bédard said it may be true that OC Transpo is saving money, "but it's certainly not a saving to the people of Ottawa," he said.

He added that taxpayers have to bear the cost of finding alternative means of getting around.

In addition, he said, the strike is resulting in lost business for the private sector, lost productivity for the public sector, and pain and hardship for many people.

"Some of them have to go for long walks to get to their work because they can't afford to miss work," he said. "So this is a very difficult time for them."

More than 2,200 OC Transpo transit drivers, dispatchers and maintenance workers were into the second day of their strike Thursday, leaving commuters to keep coping without buses despite the snowy winter conditions.

The city has reported a 20 per cent increase in traffic since the strike began and said many of the extra vehicles are ending up in the city's core.

It announced Thursday that it is opening a 150-space parking lot on 531 Albert Street, east of Booth Street between Wellington Street and Albert Street, just west of downtown, in an effort to help ease the problem.

Strike could have been avoided: union

The city's transit union claims commuters wouldn't have to deal with a transit strike this week if the City of Ottawa had agreed to put off talks on the most contentious bargaining issue.

The main conflict was over a new scheduling proposal brought forward by the city, said Randy Graham, international vice-president for the Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents the workers.

Graham said the union proposed to a federal mediator on the eve of the strike deadline that the scheduling issue be temporarily removed from the table in order to work on other issues. The union was willing to return to the bargaining table if that happened, but the city refused, Graham said.

Mercier said that would likely have dragged out the conflict.

"We were looking for ways to ensure that we don't end up in same place again a couple months down the line here," he said Wednesday, adding that the city had tried to get the union to resume bargaining on all issues.

Union could picket university shuttles

The union said it won't rule out picketing shuttles hired by local universities to help their students get to their exams during the city's transit strike.

"Most of the bus companies would never ever do anything that would be scabbing our members," Graham said Wednesday afternoon. "We'll have to deal with it if it does occur. We have to do the things that we legally can do. And we will do it."

Both the University of Ottawa and Carleton University are running shuttles from various locations throughout the city to get students to their campuses, where exams are taking place as scheduled.

On Wednesday, Carleton University students who had exams later in the evening waited anxiously at a bus shelter near Bank and McLeod Streets for the bus hired by their university and the Carleton University Students Association.

Richard Ryczanowski, said some of the striking workers might have children in university, and he hopes they will think of that before taking action against the shuttle.

"They should allow access for students to get to school."

Fourth-year student Laura Baziuk said she and the rest of the crowd at the bus shelter had been getting weird looks from passersby who knew that no transit buses would be serving the stop and weren't aware of the shuttle.

"But it's a nice service if it works."

Members of ATU Local 279 have been without a contract since March 31. They said the main issue in their dispute with the city is scheduling.

Corrections

  • OC Transpo head Alain Mercier said the city is saving $3 million a week, not $3 million a day as originally reported in the story and headline.
    Dec 12, 2008 10:21 AM ET

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