“First of all, we must apologize to our customers for any inconvenience they are experiencing”

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OC Transpo ridership problems continued Friday, with hundreds of bus trips canceled, adding to the roughly 650 canceled Wednesday and Thursday combined.

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More than 200 bus trips were canceled on Friday morning alone, leaving many would-be passengers in the dark or marooned in the blazing sun as they waited for a bus, and then another, in at least one case, that never came. .

The cancellations, according to OC Transpo, are the result of numerous factors, including staffing shortages and summer vacations, higher-than-usual sickness absences, and recently worked overtime due to maintenance on O-Train Line 1.

Changes to the federal labor code, which entitle bus drivers to a 30-minute break for every five consecutive hours of work, have also posed a challenge.

But Citizen Transit Commissioner Sarah Wright-Gilbert says the blame for much of the problem lies squarely at the feet of OC Transpo management who she says have known for months about the staffing shortage but told their drivers to take vacations during the summer whenever they could. I do not promise that free time will be available this fall.

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“They knew they were 80 to 200 operators short,” Wright-Gilbert said. “I questioned them and got the usual ‘Well, there are no school races. People are on vacation. There are fewer people going to the office. We’ll handle it.’”

But tell that to someone who was waiting for the No. 6 Rockcliffe bus from Greenboro on Friday afternoon, unaware that OC Transpo had canceled the 1:01 p.m. departure. And tell that to the stranded himself that he may not have been armed with internet access and thus was unaware that the 1:16 pm bus was also cancelled.

“OC Transpo seems to have, on a lot of things, an inability to plan ahead,” Wright-Gilbert said. “They are very reactive and not proactive.

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“We were talking about this issue of drivers taking summer vacations months ago. And instead of proactively going out and saying, ‘Look, we’re going to have some route cancellations, and we’re prioritizing the routes that have the most people or are serving hospitals, they just stay quiet. ”

But Troy Charter, the city’s rail operations and transit service delivery director, said Friday that “hindsight is 20/20.”

“We are always looking for ways to improve our communications and communicate better with our customers. You want to give your clients enough time to be able to make alternative arrangements or plan their day, plan their week, but at the same time, we have staff here who are working 24/7 and are doing their best. to fill as many trips as possible. possible. So it’s always that balance between when you go and say ‘We have a challenge.’

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“But I understand everyone’s frustrations,” he added. “We have a great team of people here who take pride in what they do, and it’s hard for them too. I’m not trying to minimize the impact it has on our customers, and I think first and foremost we should apologize to our customers for any inconvenience they’re experiencing.”

Priority bus trips, Charter added, include the first and last bus trips of the day on each route, those that are infrequent or where other travel options are limited, routes that transport school-age children and those that service to hospitals.

OC Transpo general manager Renée Amilcar sent a memo to the city council on Friday, outlining Transpo’s plan to hire “up to” 300 new operators. “Customers,” the memo noted, “can expect service reliability to increase in mid-August, when a group of 32 new bus operator trainees graduate.”

The memo also assured the council of OC Transpo’s commitment to providing customers with “accurate, relevant and timely” information about service outages, while acknowledging in the next sentence that it has not.

Wright-Gilbert argues that OC Transpo has lost the goodwill of the public. “And the way to get it back is not to cancel 300 buses, or if you absolutely have to cancel them, give people a couple days’ notice so they can make changes to their plans.”

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