Para Transpo vacancies caused service to suffer, union says

The union representing OC Transpo drivers says the city's failure to fill more than 30 Para Transpo positions left vacant for more than a year has had a major impact on the service.

The vacancies represent about 18 per cent of the drivers needed to operate the transit service for people with disabilities, according to the union.

"Definitely there is an impact if you don't have enough operators for the service you're giving to the public," said Clint Crabtree, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 279.

Crabtree said the jobs have finally been posted, but it could take until the new year before the service is back to the 165 drivers needed to be fully staffed. 

Kate Porter/CBC

According to Crabtree, OC Transpo deliberately held the jobs for OC Transpo drivers made redundant with the launch of the Confederation Line. But now the city is scrambling to staff buses brought back to bolster the unpredictable LRT service.

In an email to CBC late Monday afternoon, the city said it's currently "in the process of recruiting 34 new Para-bus operators." The competition is now closed, the city said, and until the new hires are fully trained "we will continue to utilize the resources at our disposal, including our external contractors."

Those external contractors include taxis sometimes hired to shuttle Para Transpo passengers when no other ride is available.

'It's frustrating a lot of people'

Para Transpo users weren't surprised to hear the news.

"Everything related to Para Transpo is getting pushed back, pushed back because of LRT, and it's frustrating a lot of people," said John Redins, a Para Transpo user and accessible transit advocate. 

Redins said Para Transpo users already face chronic delays and cancellations, and that has a serious impact on their quality of life.

Amanda Pfeffer/CBC

During an interview with CBC, Redins waited 45 minutes for a bus booked to take him to a doctor's appointment.

"It's very frustrating because you can't really plan your life around it," he said. "We're getting promises that OC Transpo can't keep anymore, and there's no accountability."

Redins said he won a pair of tickets to a comedy show Saturday, but couldn't book a bus to attend. 

"That one really hurt me emotionally because I felt like I was worth nothing in Ottawa," he said.

Redins is concerned the situation will get worse before it gets better as existing Para Transpo drivers are used to train new drivers.

'Under-resourced'

Coun. Rawlson King, who has been working to improve Para Transpo service for residents of his ward, said this was the first he'd heard about the 30 vacancies.

"We did know the service is under-resourced," King said, noting there's $2 million earmarked in next year's budget to improve Para Transpo service.

King said he'll be asking questions at a transit commission meeting Wednesday about the situation.