On Saturday, Dec. 7 — a bright, sunny day in the capital — Ottawa's public transit service alerted its customers to dozens of bus trip cancellations through its Twitter account, @OCTranspoLive.
In a statement, the city blamed "the very high number" of cancellations that day on a current shortage of drivers on weekends.
"We are working to minimize these cancellations," said OC Transpo's Jim Greer.
But according to images of an internal OC Transpo computer screen obtained by CBC news, those cancellations were only the tip of the iceberg.
OC Transpo's public alert system tweeted out a total of 71 trip cancellations on Dec. 7, all between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. According to OC Transpo, that accounted for about five per cent of all bus trips that day.
But the six images obtained by CBC, and verified by three bus drivers who explained what the codes on the computer screen mean, there were in fact 216 trips cancelled on Dec. 7. More than half — 125 — were cancelled because there was no one available to drive the bus.
The data shown on the screens is available to both management and employees, but not the public. The bus routes are listed on the left, while the reason for each cancellation appears on the right. They cover the entire day of Dec. 7, and include both full and partial route cancellations.
The 125 trips cancelled Saturday because of "No Operator" included 29 different OC Transpo routes: 46, 44, 64, 51, 53, 57, 5, 6, 7, 10, 170, 88, 75, 80, 85, 93, 985, 96, 97, 12, 14, 11, 86, 40, 25, 81, 16, 111 and 168.
Traffic, collisions, assaults
According to the data, a Route 97 trip from Hurdman station to the Ottawa International Airport was taken off the road at 10:47 a.m. at South Keys due to an "Operator Assault." It remained out of service for nearly six hours because no replacement driver could be found.
A Route 63 trip from Kanata to Tunney's Pasture station was cancelled because the driver was involved in a collision.
Other reasons for trip cancellations included:
- "Adjustment Heavy Traffic."
- "Adjustment Passenger Volume."
- "No Relief."
- "Code 4," or a bus breakdown.
'A bigger problem'
CBC showed the images to city councillors Carol Anne Meehan and Riley Brockington, both of whom expressed frustration that the public doesn't appear to be getting the full picture when it comes to bus cancellations.
"I think there's a bigger problem than [OC Transpo] wants us to know about," Meehan said.
"Every one of those bus cancellations means people are inconvenienced on the weekend, waiting hours for a bus. They get no notice. It's unconscionable. We have to stop doing this."
"The public should see all the performance metrics that are being collected. The transit commissions needs this info as well to hold OC Transpo management accountable, but also to make decisions," Brockington added.
Brockington, who sits on the city's transit commission, said he plans to table a motion at the next meeting of city council calling on OC Transpo to be more transparent about bus cancellations.
Cancellation 'a last resort'
Appearing on Ottawa Morning Tuesday, the city's director of transit operations, Troy Charter, apologized to customers for the high number of cancellations on the weekend.
Charter explained there sometimes simply isn't enough time to alert customers to all those cancelled trips.
"A trip cancellation is a last resort for us." he said. "Our control centre is always working right up to the very last minute to provide every trip possible. It's a bit of a balance between what we communicate in advance with our customers so they so they have time to make alternate plans, but at the same time our control centre is working up to that minute to reallocate resources, move buses around and try to fill every single trip."
He admitted the communication could improve.
"With this year's budget there's been a slight increase in the number of staff dedicated to social media and issuing alerts," Charter said. "We've been hearing our customers clearly that they want more timely information. so we'll keep evolving and improving."
He said staffing the 40 buses brought in to boost service since the launch of the Confederation Line, plus the 20 replacement buses held on standby in case of LRT breakdowns, has put a strain on the entire system.
Kari Glynes Elliot of the advocacy group Ottawa Transit Riders says during her bus ride from Vanier to her office downtown, she often hears dispatchers pleading over the radio for drivers to take on additional shifts.
Elliot says her advocacy group is hearing from angry passengers across the city.
"If [OC Transpo] were to improve communication then the frustration levels would be dialled down," said Elliot, who believes OC Transpo would give passengers a better chance to make other plans if it alerted them to all cancellations.
She said the lack of transparency validates the concerns she's heard from customers, particularly the most vulnerable.
"It disproportionately affects low-income people, it disproportionately affects teenagers who don't drive, it disproportionately affects seniors.... It affects people with disabilities," Elliot said.
"Up until now those people haven't had a voice. They've been shouting into a void."
Charter told Ottawa Morning OC Transpo doesn't want to leave anyone in the lurch.
The Amalgamated Transit Union did not respond to requests for an interview.