City paying outside experts to oversee LRT fix

The City of Ottawa is paying outside experts to ride herd on the consortium that built the $2.1-billion Confederation Line, councillors on the finance and economic development committee learned Tuesday.

OC Transpo boss John Manconi told them reliability is improving, but Rideau Transit Group (RTG) still can't commit to a specific date by which the problem-plagued system will be declared stable.

To move things along, Manconi announced the city would conduct an operational review and provide extra maintenance oversight due to what he characterized as "consistently poor performance" from RTG.

"Depending on what we find on the review, we'll start to bring people in, and we have a long roster of experts that have run, maintained, built and managed railroads," Manconi said.

"We have the right to go in and look at look at any document, any contract, any matter than we want to look at to understand their operation."

Manconi said that could include the smallest detail, such as ensuring the maintenance team is using the appropriate grease for winter conditions.

Some of those consultants are already on the city payroll, and Manconi said he'll call in more outside experts as needed. RTG will be expected to foot the bill, he assured councillors.

Jean Delisle/CBC

More buses, more drivers

Since its full launch on Oct. 6, the LRT has been plagued by issues with two computer systems — the train control monitoring system (TCMS) that talks to the signalling system, and the on-board computer system (VOBC) that controls the systems aboard each rail car — as well as door and signal faults. 

Councillors heard the problems, especially with the TCMS, are improving. Last week, RTG missed its target for the number of kilometres travelled by just 1.8 per cent, its best performance in a month.

OC Transpo now has 20 buses on standby during the morning and afternoon rush hour commutes to help out during rail disruptions, costing the city $95,000 per week to operate. To help with crowded trains during peak hours, OC Transpo is also looking at putting two more double-car trains into service in January, bringing the total to 15.

Andrew Lee/CBC

Last month, Mayor Jim Watson ordered an additional 40 buses brought into service to help with delayed and cancelled bus routes. But as the number of buses grows, so does the demand for drivers.

Speeding up training 

The city is in the midst of a major recruitment campaign to hire more bus operators, and Manconi said he hopes to get about 100 new drivers on the road early in the new year by compressing training time.

Although the city's driver training program usually takes about six weeks, that's based on a regular work schedule of 40 hours per week. Manconi said the city is looking to shorten that timeframe — but not the actual number of hours of training — by having longer or even split-shift training days, and holding classes on weekends.

The training also includes passing the Ministry of Transportation's exams for a Class-C licence.

"We have a requirement to follow the MTA regulations on this training, and we will because safety trumps everything," Manconi told reporters Tuesday.