Monday, January 19, 2009

Ottawa Transit Strike, day 41: In the news

Here's a rundown of some interesting headlines from the last couple of days, although the biggest news might be the possible temporary layoff of 500 drivers if mechanics can't return to the job soon to begin maintaining buses.

First off, Harry Gow, founding president of Transport 2000 Canada, suggested in a letter to the Ottawa Citizen that the city should form a transit utility, similar to the Toronto Transit Commission, to manage public transit in the city. The idea was previously rejected by the city as one that would, according to Gloucester-South Nepean Councillor Steve Desroches as saying that it "be a step that muddies accountability", but Gow suggested that the city may not have been acting with the best interests of public transit in Ottawa at heart:

Well, consultants did not seem well-prepared, but worse, it became evident that a transit commission was a threat to the powers of some Ottawa councillors and city staff to micromanage transit.

Gow went on to suggest that the politicking that has taken place in the transit strike, including "nastiness, name-calling and grandstanding on both sides of the city-union fence are ample demonstrations of the harmfulness of political transit interference."


In two more files under the 'Victims of the Transit Strike' label, see: Hugh Adami's most recent The Public Citizen column, "Family on the edge", and an article from the Ottawa Sun discussing the repercussions the strike has wrought on seniors in the city.

First off, Adami's column tells the story of an Ottawa single mother, Lori Hollowa, who feels she may lose her new job and whose 12-year-old daughter haven't gone to school in almost six weeks, all resultant from the ongoing transit strike. It is a story that, unfortunately, may be more common than one would like to believe.

In the Sun, they present a not-entirely even-handed article on the largely unheard seniors and infirm victims of the transit strike, including "93-year-old Bert Smith, who is mostly deaf and legally blind" and has to hitchhike to buy groceries, and "Bernice King, a 72-year-old widow," who now has to spend no small amount of money on taxis when she's lucky, and has to walk around with her walker when she's not.


Finally, as reported in The Hill-Times, our members of parliament aren't excited about having to vote on whether or not public transit in Ottawa is an essential service, and would much prefer a negotiated settlement to the conflict. Apparently Ottawa Centre NDP MP Paul Dewar hasn't even heard requests for federal intervention in the vote:
"It has to be something that's requested and I haven't heard anyone request it yet," said NDP MP Paul Dewar (Ottawa Centre, Ont.) about the prospect of a Parliamentary vote on back-to-work legislation, which would force an end to the transit strike.

"It's conceivable, but talk about unprecedented in terms of Ottawa and transit. I would hope that we get something before that and we'll see what happens...Before that happens we're all pushing to get an agreement."
Dewar then tore a strip of Edmonton-Spruce Grove Conservative MP and Labour Minister Rona Ambrose for forcing the vote of the members (which was a 75% no-vote), and also off Ottawa Mayor Larry O'Brien for, according to Dewar, providing imporper information to Ambrose.


Anonymous said...

Penny Wise and Pound Foolish: Transit Governance in Ottawa

An open letter to Mr. Mercier and Council,

So is this "scheduling" problem, your strike-line-in-the-sand, really worth "up to $3.5 million a year"? Or is it the $6 million Susan Sherring so dutifully suggests for you today... or is this all just a smoke screen for far deeper problems you'd rather the public didn't know? By your actions it certainly seems more important to you than the hundreds of millions wasted by management in recent years, let alone the further hundreds of millions you have cost citizens since your labour management skills thrust this strike on us.

Because of the grief and expense you are causing me, and much of the rest of the city, I feel entitled to ask: show me the details. Prove to me that what seems like "penny wisdom" is more important than all the "pound foolishness" so apparent at Ottawa's transit brain trust. For starters:
- How has this 'skyrocketing overtime' changed as a percent of total driver salaries over each year, including the years well in advance of that "just under $2 million" year? Convince me these years have not been cherry picked. I note in the current budget that transit operations expenses (mostly driver wages) for fiscal 2008 are projected to be $146.7 million, pretty consistent with the $145.5 million you initially budgeted in November 2007, suggesting little overtime surprise here.
- When exactly has the overtime occurred and how much corresponds to peak hour congestion downtown? As you know, since 2004 there have been many, many, many days the entire fleet is congested downtown and massively off-schedule, all of which pushes overtime. Unfortunately no one is city hall cares to solve this for another decade.
- Can it be shown that your runaway overtime is in fact even related to changes in collective agreements?
- We know that changes to accounting and operations have taken place during this period, have your scheduling numbers been normalized for this?

Next, let's put this "overtime inflation" in further perspective. We know that FOTO analysis of budget documents has identified that from 2004 to 2008:
- Ottawa's bus transit services total annual operating costs have ballooned 52%, from from $222 million in 2004 to a projected $337 million in fiscal 2008; and
- During the same period, full-time equivalent employment with Transit Services has grown 28% while wages have grown 50%; yet
- Passenger trips grew only 9% over the same period!

Clearly, nearly $100 million a year growth in runaway expenses in just a few years certainly make your "scheduling" inefficiencies look like chump change. In fact for years FOTO has regularly shown staff and council how to save hundreds of millions in wasted transit capital and operating costs... only to have it fall on your deaf ears.

The truth is this city's fiscal-attention-deficit-disorder has been hurting both taxpayers and transit users big time, and for a long time. There is plenty that is deeply wrong with OC Transpo, most of it systematically and apparently willfully wrong. And as with most organizations that under-perform so deeply and so consistently, the root causes almost invariably point to the top of the org chart, not the bottom. I remember in business school hearing a long validated adage: management gets the union it deserves. It is painfully obvious to any thinking person that OC Transpo's planning, management and political governance visibly struggles to support even the pretense of competence.

Yet with all this willful waste, here you are today Mr. Mercier, aided and abetted by an easily manipulated council, self righteously holding the line on one obtusely spun issue -- "scheduling" -- at the core of a protracted strike costing countless grief and over $324 million so far and growing by $8 million a day.

Stop the nonsense, do your job, get this strike resolved and the buses back in business! Fast!

Anonymous said...

Paul Dewar hasn't had any "requests" for legislation?

That can be fixed. Phone or email your request to:


Anonymous said...

I'm split on the "legislating" aspect. Yes, I'd like to done so the city could try to return to normal, but also no, since clearly for 6 weeks city has not been crippled by the strike. Bumped and bruised yes, those weakest affected the most, but life goes on.

Don't forget to check out the inspiring volleys at livejournal:

Anonymous said...

Paul Dewar hasn't had any "requests" for legislation?

I believe he's referring to jurisdiction.

An open letter to Mr. Mercier and Council

An open letter to the ATU:

FUCK OFF. You're not getting any more of our god damned money you goddamn lying greedy degenerate sons and daughters of bitches. You drew your line in the sand and held a city hostage because you figured we would all lose our jobs or fail our exams or freeze to death.

You were wrong.

We are strong.

So so long.

And good riddance.

Anonymous said...

It's clear that as residents we have to do something. We need to put pressure on all sides to end this mess. Is anyone organizing an anti-strike rally?

Anonymous said...

The union wants media play. They've lost most of their leverage and will lose more as the weather improves.

The city is set. First mechanics and then drivers are laid off from OCTranspo and hired by PTranspo.

The union wants you to rush at this point -- but not because it's going to put buses on the road faster. It won't, since many will need a month of work first. That work is actually more likely to happen earlier WITHOUT an agreement.

The union wants you as a resident to rush and to create pressure on the city because all the unions existing pressure is crumbling or expiring.

In case you forgot, as a resident most of that pressure revolved around holding your safety, your job, your Christmas, your education, your economic
welfare, and your warmth hostage.

So don't.