OC Transpo head apologizes for cancelled bus trips

An OC Transpo bus at the Eagleson Park and Ride. (Dave Charbonneau/CTV News Ottawa)

The head of OC Transpo is apologizing to riders for a higher number of bus trip cancellations this spring as the service deals with a driver shortage.

The city’s transit commission was told 96.7 per cent of scheduled trips were completed between Jan. 1 and May 14 this year, compared to 99.2 per cent during the same period last year. 

Transit Services general manager Renee Amilcar told the commission that COVID-19 related absences, attrition rates and new mandatory 30-minute breaks for operators have resulted in a shortage of available bus operators.

"Our customers are currently experiencing a higher number of bus trip cancellations than we would like to see. They are not caused by a lack of available buses, instead due to operator shortages," Amilcar said Wednesday morning.

"I take this opportunity to apologize to our customers and I promise you that we're working very, very hard to resolve this situation."

The Amalgamated Transit Union said last week the "whole schedule is a mess" as OC Transpo implements a mandatory, 30-minute break for every five hours of work for operators. The transit service adjusted schedules as of April 24 as part of the spring service changes to give operators the break.

Amilcar says the Canada Labour Code requirement is "law and we are following it," and OC Transpo is in a "period of transition" while it navigates the schedule changes.

"The implementation of additional breaks demands significant coordination of logistic and resources," Amilcar said. "Throughout this shift, OC Transpo's top priority is to mitigate any effects on routes or service to customers."

OC Transpo will hire up to 200 new operators this year to deal with attrition and expanding service.  Council also approved hiring 80 new operators so the transit service could accommodate the 30 minute mandatory breaks for drivers.

Amilcar says since hiring bus operators will "take some time", the transit service is taking the following steps to improve bus service:

  • End temporary assignments
  • Negotiate delayed retirements
  • Minimize leave time
  • Efficiencies in work booking process
  • Strategic bus and bus operator placement
  • Increased operational oversight
  • Adjustments to support priority routes

OC Transpo anticipates seven to 10 retirements a month this year.

Ridership remains below expectations

OC Transpo ridership continues to operate below expectations this year as many people continue to work from home.

The Transit Commission was told 3.8 million people used OC Transpo in April, down from the budgeted number of 6.5 million. There were 8.4 million riders using OC Transpo in April 2019.

April's ridership was down from the 4.4 million riders in March, when fares on the O-Train and 15 downtown routes was free.

Here is a look at ridership through the first four months of 2022 (2021 in parenthesis)

  • January – 3.2 million (1.7 million)
  • February – 3.4 million (2.2 million)
  • March – 4.4 million (2.5 million)
  • April – 3.8 million (2.2 million)