Monday, November 9, 2009

A new organizational structure for OC Transpo

In the Ottawa Citizen this past weekend, columnist Randall Denley penned an opinion piece opining the politicians responsible for managing our city's transit authority. In short:
"In the perfect world, the bus company called OC Transpo would be run by a board of directors consisting of people who know something about transit and something about business. Instead, we have city councillors whose business experience is negligible to non-existent and who think their job is to be hands-on managers of the bus company, even though they're not qualified for the job."
Denley went on to describe why, exactly, he feels that "These people simply can't run a bus company": Councillors aren't qualified transit planners; they fail to see the big picture, because they have short mandates; they base decisions on political considerations, such as the routes that run in their wards, rather than efficiency and economy; they sometimes (perhaps often) disregard the input of their staff. Although not all councillors are guilty of these weaknesses, some can be, and that inhibits the decisions made for OC Transpo.

Denley's recommendation is certainly interesting, and timely, but he's not the first to make the suggestion. In Moving Ottawa: The Mayor's Task Force on Transportation, which was commissioned by Larry O'Brien after the cancellation of the city's north-south light rail project and delivered on June 1, 2007, one of the chief recommendations of the task force was "to set up an arm’s-length operating company, in most cases reporting to an independent board of directors appointed by the City Council." The argument presented is convincing:
"Public transportation in cities is one of the major challenges of urban life and as such deserves a dedicated entity within the City government—as opposed to a division of a City department that is dependent on many other departments to achieve performance. OC Transpo is currently a department of City government reporting to Council via the City Manager. This arrangement is not optimal. OC Transpo staff and management complain that bureaucratic obstacles, caused by the fragmentation of management and operational functions, reduce their ability to serve the interest of citizens. An independent governance model incorporating OC Transpo would help ameliorate current problems associated with cumbersome decision-making, cost control, supply of services, union relations and operational decisions relating to route planning."
Most important, however, was that the task force declared re-organizing the management structure of OC Transpo as one of the most important recommendations, suggesting it be complete within 6-12 months. Although that may have been an ambitious timeline, it has been over two years and four months since the report was delivered, and there has been no indication of political will or urgency to institute what the mayor's task force--which Mayor O'Brien has been vocally proud of--recommended with such urgency.

On this website, I've asked before whether or not city council is micro-managing public transit in the city. It looks like some, at least Denley and the Mayor's task force, are concluding that it is, and that something has to be done to get public transit run more efficiently and effectively in Ottawa.

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