DRIVER SHORTAGE: OC Transpo needs hundreds more bus drivers

According to the agency, an average of 300 bus trips out of around 8,000 trips are canceled every day.

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OC Transpo will manage a shortage of bus drivers in the coming months as the transit agency tries to plug holes in scheduled services while juggling new labor law requirements and filling vacancies, the Transit Commission heard on Wednesday.

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After the main Transpo union recently criticized the agency for poorly handling bus drivers’ timetables, CEO RenĂ©e Amilcar told transport officials that management was surprised by the federal government’s announcement last autumn that new labor regulations would be put into effect.

Canada’s Labor Code now requires five hours of uninterrupted work with a 30-minute break, meaning Transpo has to fill all half-hour slots with workers driving buses to meet customer expectations, but it’s been difficult.

Scheduled bus services have taken a hit since the spring timetable was changed in April, with trips canceled as Transpo works to fill gaps in driver availability.

According to the agency, an average of 300 bus trips out of around 8,000 trips are canceled every day.

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Transpo has no problems with available buses; There just aren’t enough drivers to serve them.

Amilcar apologized to customers for missed bus trips, “but the good news is that we are implementing many solutions.”

The City Council gave Transpo budgetary authority to hire 80 more operators this year in response to the Labor Code amendment, but the agency intends to hire 200 more operators to fill vacancies arising from retirements and other resignations.

Amilcar said Transpo expects between seven and 10 operators to retire each coming month.

It is also planning staffing requirements for the expected opening of the expanded Trillium line in 2023.

The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 279, which represents bus drivers, said morale among members was at an all-time low because Transpo handled the Labor Code amendment. Experienced drivers are now working weekends and public holidays to fill in gaps in the schedule.

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Citizens Commissioner Sarah Wright-Gilbert said she was receiving messages from drivers “full of malice and full of anger” and she was worried drivers were starting to quit.

The summer could be challenging for the Transpo as they try to avoid bus cancellations.

Jim Greer, the director of bus operations and maintenance, said he has asked the bookings department to give bus drivers more opportunities to take their annual summer vacation to ensure there is a strong list of drivers available in September.

Transpo has known labor laws were changing for two years, Coun. Riley Brockington pointed out – “We saw this move coming” – but Amilcar declared a budget sensitivity in preparing for the move.

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The agency couldn’t just hire dozens of new drivers and keep them waiting to get paid during a tough 2021 fiscal year if they weren’t needed on the road yet, Amilcar said.

The challenge with the amendment to the Labor Code only affects Transpo’s bus drivers, Amilcar said.

This inevitably has an impact on customers.

Bus traffic has already suffered in the winter with the trucker occupation in the city center.

Between January 1 and May 14, Transpo performed 96.7 percent of its scheduled bus service, compared to 99.2 percent for the same period in 2021.

Despite the lack of bus drivers, Transpo expects there will be no problem ringing the bell at special events throughout the summer.

Pat Scrimgeour, the agency’s director of client systems and planning, said he anticipates Transpo will be able to handle events such as the Ottawa RedBlacks games, Canada Day and Bluesfest. These last two events will rely heavily on the LRT system to move people.

Ironically, given the Confederation Line’s past troubles, the LRT service is the bright light of the transit department right now.

Rideau Transit Maintenance has provided the necessary number of trains for daily operations and Transpo has operated 99 percent or more of scheduled train runs since March.

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