OC Transpo Boss Unfazed by Buses Arriving Late and State of the Fleet

OC Transpo Boss Renee Amilcar began today’s Transit Commission meeting by giving a brief overview of the city’s transportation service, beginning with statistics on the new on-demand transit service that started testing on February 11, 2024. During the first five weeks, the Sunday and holiday service was used for 82 trips with a 93 percent on-time performance rating. Of these trips, sixty-two percent were to Blair station.

A report on service-wide customer satisfaction shows that 45 percent of residents were “somewhat satisfied” with the level of service OC Transpo provides. This number makes sense given that service delivery is at 78 percent for routes that arrive every 16 minutes or less and 66 percent for routes 16 minutes or more in frequency, meaning that nearly one out of every three buses in the city arrives late.

The number one leading cause of late buses in the city is attributed to a lack of operators (41 percent), followed by on-street service adjustments (29 percent) and mechanical breakdowns (20 percent). In 10 percent of the cases, no bus was available to cover the route.

Fare revenues are $1.5 million higher than in 2023 but remain $1.5 million lower than budgeted, meaning that ridership is not returning to pre-pandemic levels in Ottawa.

A service reliability plan was presented to the commission. The service reliability team was launched in 2016 but only recently began holding regular meetings to examine the fundamental issues affecting bus service delivery.

Riley Brockington asked Amilcar for an outline or plan on how bus reliability is “being addressed consistently.” The councillor noted that he had made the same request during the February 2024 Transit Commission meeting but has yet to receive the information.

Amilcar responded that the city has 8,000 daily trips and is committed to meeting 99.5 percent for service delivery, but there are not enough buses and too much traffic. She further stated, “It’s very hard to get on-time service delivery right because we just try to deliver the service.”

In a surprise statement, Amilcar stated that customers are indifferent to buses being late on frequent routes: “Don’t even look at the on-time performance that doesn’t make anything for our customers.”

Councillor Brockington responded that Amilcar should set a goal of 70 percent on-time service delivery for the end of the year and 75 percent for the end of 2025. Brockington further laid into Amilcar, “You tell us what you need, and we will deliver, but if we do not establish performance targets, we’re just going to talk about this every month.” He finished his address to the OC Transpo GM by stating that he was not criticising her but establishing expectations.

Councillor Shawn Menard asked Amilcar why the city did not have enough buses. Amilcar said that the delayed e-bus program meant that the city was dealing with a larger number of old buses.

The Transit Commission also presented a report on the city’s zero-emission bus program. Delivery of the buses is scheduled to begin in 2024. The nearly one-year delay is due to difficulties securing funding and getting a contract to install the required infrastructure for the buses.

Despite a report last week stating the electric pilot buses provide the same service delivery as the city’s diesel fleet, Councillor Wilson Lo, a former bus operator, previously voted against their procurement, saying that there was insufficient testing of the new buses in our cold-climate city.

Since implementing electric buses, the city of Edmonton has been in a difficult situation, with more than half of the fleet in Alberta’s capital city not working. Ironically, the buses used in Edmonton also require diesel-burning heaters to keep the batteries warm enough during winter months.

Councillor Tim Tierney asked Amilcar if there was a Plan B for procuring extra diesel buses to service the city’s needs if the electric buses were delivered late. He stated that late delivery is not uncommon in the electronic vehicle industry. Amilcar said, “We do not want to come back with diesel buses, and everyone in the world wants to move to e-buses.”

Councillor Wilson Lo spoke about the age of the buses, saying some are over 20 years old, and he did not see a coherent plan from Amilcar to maintain service if the delivery of the e-buses was late.

Amilcar responded that she knows the buses are old, but “we are working with those old buses and the other good buses” and doing “preventive maintenance” to keep them longer.