Saturday, January 31, 2009

Union approves binding arbitration, strike officially over

Members of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 279 voted 95 per cent in favour of binding arbitration to settle the current contract dispute, according to The Canadian Press. The vote comes one day after City Council voted unanimously to accept arbitration.

So, although it was expected to be a minor technicality, the strike is now officially over, and O-Train service is expected to resume on Monday, Feb. 2, 2009. Although bus service is expected to return Monday, Feb. 9. there are rumblings of it being possible for some buses to return on Thursday, Feb. 4 (TransitOttawa will keep you posted on that possibility).

Parliament plays poker: McGregor

If you want to read about the negotiations in the halls of Parliament that effectively forced the City and ATU 279 to reach a deal before they could be legislated back to work, look no further than Ottawa Citizen hill reporter Glen McGregor's story in today's edition.

McGregor conveys a sense of cooperation in the House of Commons that, only eight weeks ago, would have been unforseeable. As far as can tell, this city's transit strike was the first time this calendar year that all parties on the Hill agreed about anything.

Oh, and you'll have to read the story to get the poker reference. It's all about bluffing and calling bluffs. Real dramatic stuff.

Friday, January 30, 2009

O-Train might open early next week, bus follows week later

The Ottawa Citizen is reporting that the city's O-Train might be running again as early as Feb. 2, and buses will potentially be back on the road on the following Monday, Feb. 9.

OC Transpo general manager Alain Mercier announced several incentives designed to lure riders back quickly, the paper said, including:
  • Letting riders use passes from December in February,
  • Free weekend service, and
  • Free rides for seniors on Wednesdays
The system will be running at 80 per cent capacity when buses start rolling.

Questions for readers

has some questions to ask in the immediate aftermath of the now-concluded OC Transpo workers strike.

If the transit strike forced you to find alternate arrangements to commute to work or school and just get around in general, will you just as soon return to public transit?

If not, what will it take for you to again ride the bus? Can the city offer any short-term and/or long-term incentives to lure you back?

Strike news and reaction on Rogers TV

Yours truly will be representing TransitOttawa on Rogers TV's (cable 22 in Ottawa) Talk Ottawa program tonight (Friday) at 6:00 p.m. tonight. Here is the press release:

The OC Transpo strike is over after 51 days. The City of Ottawa and the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 279 have agreed to send all contract issues to binding arbitration without preconditions. Return of transit will begin pending ratification from City Council and ATU Local 279.

Mayor O'Brien has called a special meeting of Council for today, Friday, Jan. 30. Rogers TVwill provide full coverage of this special emergency council meeting beginning at 11 a.m.

Plus, join Rogers TV for a special
Talk Ottawa with James Hendricks tonight at 6 p.m. for discussion and reaction to the end of the longest transit strike in the city's history. Executive Director of Public Transit in Ottawa Peter Raaymakers, Ward 4 Kanata North Councillor Marianne Wilkinson and President of the Ottawa and District Labour Council Sean McKenny join James in the studio to take your calls.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Strike over: CTV

The City of Ottawa and the Amalgamated Transit Union have reached a deal that will end a public transit strike that has paralyzed the nation's capital for 51 days.

Both sides have agreed to put the contract dispute to binding arbitration.
More is most certainly to come.

Because of this development, we have cancelled the previously-scheduled TransitOttawa LiveBlog about the Parliamentary discussion and possible back-to-work legislation because, well, there won't be anything to talk about.

Readers: What are your thoughts, now that it's over?

UPDATE: The Citizen adds more depth to the story (emphasis ours):

At a news conference in Mayor Larry O'Brien's office, Mr. O'Brien and union officials André Cornellier and Randy Graham came together to announce that with federal back-to-work legislation seeming inevitable, they decided it was in the interests of Ottawa residents to come to an agreement and get the buses rolling again.

Asked why Ottawa residents had to go through 51 days of suffering before this, they said an agreement simply couldn't be reached without the threat of legislation.

What do readers think of that?

Preliminary service resumption plan

Over at the OC Transpo Livejournal community, one sleuthing poster found OC Transpo's preliminary plan to resume service. It goes like this:

Schedules and route plans are still being finalized, and the number of buses available for service changes each day that the strike continues. The preliminary plan for service is as follows:


Will operate during their regularly scheduled day, including rush hours:

· O-Train
· All school routes, numbered in the 600’s
· Rapid transit routes 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 101, 102 and 106
· Major routes 2, 7, 12, 14, 85, 86 and 118
· Peak employment route 105 · Van route 123
· Early morning routes 824, 825, 830, 835, 837, and 873

Will operate evenings and mid-day only, outside of rush hours:

· Routes 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 16, 18, 87, 111, 112, 114, 115, 116 and 117.
· Local black routes numbered 121-178

Will not operate:

· Green express and rural express routes
· Red rush hour routes other than 102 and 105.

Saturday & Sunday:

All routes that normally run on weekends will operate at full service.

Text of Bélanger's request

Ottawa-Vanier Liberal MP Mauril Bélanger requested the debate on ending the transit strike that will take place later tonight (watch for our liveblog).

Below is the text of the official request that B
élanger made in the House a few minutes after 3 p.m. yesterday:
Mr. Speaker, I am asking that you consider allowing us to hold an emergency debate in this House—today or tomorrow, at the latest—to discuss the strike in the national capital region, which began on December 10.

This is the 50th day of a strike that has paralyzed our community and had a negative impact on hundreds of thousands of our citizens. From the beginning of this strike, all members of this House representing an affected riding, no matter their political affiliation, have received hundreds of comments from individuals in truly deplorable situations: students forced to consider quitting school, seniors practically shut in because they no longer have access to public transportation and cannot go anywhere, and small businesses in our community that are suffering greatly.

We believe that it is very important for the government to be fully aware of this rather urgent situation.

The role of the government is twofold. The government has jurisdiction in this instance because this is an interprovincial service that is being offered by OC Transpo. Because it crosses into Quebec, the jurisdiction falls onto the federal government. The government has intervened in this in the sense of forcing a vote but it is important for people to know what the intentions of the government are, if any, in pursuing this matter. People need to know whether there is to be any hope from those where the jurisdiction lies.

The second important reason, which is the one I raised yesterday in the House and which the President of the Treasury Board did not even answer but referred it to a colleague, is that the government is also the employer of tens of thousands of people who are finding it extremely difficult in these circumstances. If we have a day like today, where we have a snowfall, it is almost a permanent gridlock out there and it is affecting everybody.

I believe we should address this and consider options available to the government and consider options that may be brought forward to put pressure on both parties, not taking sides here but taking the side of the population. It would be an important occasion for members of this House, who are concerned and who represent over a million people affected by this, to have the opportunity of putting to the government and for the government to respond, to figure a way out of this situation and figure a way forward for the betterment of conditions for our fellow citizens.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Feds tackle transit: Time for another liveblog

According to the always-reliable website of the Parliament of Canada, tomorrow's emergency debate regarding the ongoing transit strike (now coming to the end of Day 50) will commence at 6:30 p.m.

Assuming lots of local MPs speak as a means of informing their fellow, less-local members about the ins-and-outs of this strike and its effect on Ottawa residents, our benevolent parliamentarians might well burn some midnight oil.

What does this mean for Well, it means we're going to have a long night liveblogging the proceedings. Because we are going to do that. The blog should go live right before debate opens early tomorrow evening.

Ambrose to propose back to work legislation UPDATED (see end of post)

The Ottawa Citizen broke this news minutes ago:

OTTAWA — The House of Commons will take up the question of Ottawa's transit strike in an emergency debate on Thursday night, Speaker Peter Milliken has ordered.

The move came at the request of Liberal MP Mauril Bélanger, who represents Ottawa-Vanier.

There is a lot to say about such a debate. Members of Parliament from across Canada could conceivably enter a debate that concerns a large number of Canadians in a very concentrated location. Perhaps parties will stack their respective allotted times for debate with local MPs, or perhaps not.

Little information is available about the nature of the debate. It could be a take-note debate, wherein no binding votes are taken (similar debates occurred involving Canada's involvement in the mission in Afghanistan).

No matter what, federal politicians of all political colours will enter their opinions into the record, and what they say could have significant consequences for Ottawans.

UPDATE: David Reevely is looking into nature of the debate, according to his Twitter: "Parliament to hold emergency debate on Ottawa transit strike. Working out whether that means more than a gabfest."

UPDATE AGAIN: Apparently this won't be a gabfest. The Citizen and CBC are reporting that labour minister Rona Ambrose will introduce back-to-work legislation that, she hopes, will receive the support of the opposition Liberals.

An Ambrose quotation from the Citizen:

"As of last night, the talks have stalled and they are at a stalemate and it is my belief that when the government sees a situation where there is clearly no compromise or no flexibility being shown by either side to reach an agreement, it is our obligation to act," [Ambrose] told reporters on Parliament Hill. "I'm prepared to act at this time, I'm prepared to introduce back to work legislation. However, I do need the support of the opposition. So I have approached the Liberal Party and asked them for that support. As you know, if we do introduce back-to-work legislation, we will need those votes to pass it in the House."
The Sun reports that NDP MP Paul Dewar was initially reluctant to lend full support to the move.
Dewar said his party would prefer to see Ambrose name an arbitrator - a move that, he says, would halt the strike immediately.
ONE MORE UPDATE: This is straight from one of the Citizen staff who knows more than most, the aforementioned Reevely, as he dictated to Twitter: "Best understanding: Emergency debate on bus strike IS a gabfest; legislation proceeds on a separate track. Maybe faster, probably slower."

So much for federal inaction on the strike. Stay tuned.

T-21 days until Obama visit

(EDIT: The Ottawa Citizen and Ottawa Sun are reporting that President Barack Obama's visit will, in fact, be to the City of Ottawa. This conflicts with the report in the Toronto Star, which stated that details of the visit--including the destination--were not yet released, and quotes from the Prime Minister do not state which city Obama will visit. The Globe & Mail does not state which city Obama may visit. Please read the following with that in mind, and I will post further updates as they are available.)

U.S. President Barack Obama will make his first international visit to Canada on Feb. 19, the Toronto Star is reporting. Further details of his visit, including which city he will attend, have not yet been released.

Possibilities obviously include Ottawa, the nation's capital, but our great city does not have a lock on the presidential visit by a long shot. Other major cities are possible, including Montréal or Québec City--although Obama can't speak French so he won't be able to pull a Franklin Delano Roosevelt and make a speech in Canada's other official language--or possibly in Toronto. Mentioned in the article is the rumoured possibility of Obama touring the Alberta Oilsands and likely making a speech in either Calgary or Edmonton, which would serve as a fitting backdrop to the energy security and environmental (Obama once referred to Alberta's major export as 'dirty oil') discussions the president and Prime Minister Stephen Harper are expected to have.

An interesting note made in the Star's story is that the House of Commons is not sitting during Obama's visit, meaning that he wouldn't be able to address Parliament. One would expect that any visit to Ottawa would coincide with a speech to Canadian politicians--as each of FDR, Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan (twice), and Bill Clinton have done during their tenures as President of the United States.

Something of great concern is the possible effect that the OC Transpo bus strike could have (or have had) on the decision-making process of the PMO and the president's handlers. Obviously the president wouldn't be riding the bus or anything of that nature, but after seeing the huge security showing during the president's inauguration, you have to wonder whether or not a city without mass transit could be suitably secured for a presidential visit. A Baltimore Sun report suggested that over 1.1M Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Administration riders were moved into the city on that one day; even at full capacity, Ottawa would not likely have that capability.

Although Ottawa wouldn't likely receive the 2M-plus spectators flocking to see Obama like Washington did, there would certainly be thousands (or tens of thousands) coming in--not just from Ottawa, but likely nearby Canadian cities and quite possibly northeastern cities in the United States. Organization for such an event would require significant time to undertake, and Ottawa politicians and union staff are still busy trying to find a way to get buses back on the roads--let alone actually getting them running.

Would the bus strike have a direct effect on the decision of where Obama will come? Maybe not. But maybe. Citizens and businesses have already paid the price for the strike, and there will likely be a price to pay even after the strike is over; this might be part of that cost.

UPDATE: "CBC News has learned that [Obama's] destination will be Ottawa."

McGuinty: Feds need to step up

The Ottawa Citizen is reporting that Ontario Premier and Ottawa South MPP Dalton McGuinty has stepped into the fray between the City of Ottawa and the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 279, suggesting that the federal government--under whose jurisdiction OC Transpo falls--needs to step in and legislate the 2300 bus operators, dispatchers, and mechanics back to work. In the Citizen report, McGuinty said that the strike has gone on too long, and is disproportionately affecting the "most vulnerable citizens":
“I think it’s gone on for too long,” Mr. McGuinty told reporters at Queen’s Park. “It affects our most vulnerable citizens. It’s dramatically affecting our economy at a time when we can’t afford to have these kind of things get in the way. So my advice to the federal government is you’re going to have to come to grips with this.”

Mr. McGuinty suggested sending in a mediator with a short deadline to determine whether there’s any chance of a settlement. Failing that, he said, “you can skip step one and go immediately to step two and send these folks back to work.”

McGuinty said that the federal response to date, including Labour Minister Rona Ambrose's suggestion that it is up to the city and the union to resolve the conflict, reflects "a lack of leadership" from the feds.

Not one to shy away from labour issues, McGuinty has twice waded into strikes within Ontario: Most recently introducing back-to-work legislation for striking York University professors, and also in April 2008 when he legislated Toronto Transit Commission staff back to work.

Ottawa transit not essential, city and union say

The Canada Industrial Relations Board held a hearing this morning in Ottawa to determine whether or not public transit in Ottawa should be deemed an essential service. Both union and city lawyers made presentations stating that there is no need to do so, according to a report on

The board has the power to order some striking employees back to work if it believes there is an immediate and serious danger to public health or safety that needs to be rectified.

Based on more than 3,000 submissions from the public and from both sides, the board has suggested that three groups might be affected by the transit strike in a way that endangers public health and safety:
  • Health-care workers.
  • Individuals who can't leave their homes and require health-care workers.
  • People on treatments and drugs.
Lawyers for both the city and for the Amalgamated Transit Union disagreed. They told the board that health-care workers are getting to work on time, people are learning to change habits and ambulance response times haven't been affected by the strike.
My only question is why we're asking representatives from the city and from the union--both of whom stand to lose something if transit is deemed essential (the city will be forced to negotiate through arbitration, the union will lose the ability to strike legally)--when most of our attention should be focussed on listening to the people whose mental and physical health and well-being is most affected.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Talks break off... again...

According to the Ottawa Sun, the Amalgamated Transit Union has walked away from the negotiating table after deciding the city hadn't sufficiently improved its contract offer to the union of 2300 memers:
"The city failed to change its key offers," says Andre Cornellier, president of ATU Local 279.

Cornellier says there is no evidence the city's bargaining team has a new mandate.
Mayor Larry O'Brien, however, has disagreed, and is stating that the city is working on addressing the concerns the drivers have with the contract:
"The city has shown that it is willing to negotiate and compromise," O'Brien said. "The only way to end this strike is for both sides to work together. However, we would like to see the union come back to the table with those items they are willing to compromise on."
And the city's much-discussed 'new mandate', which had been previously unknown due to a media blackout, apparently involves meeting the union's demanded pay raises and an offer to establish a joint committee to negotiate scheduling issues to reflect the demands of the city and the union:
The city also said to arrive at a solution, it removed the $2,500 signing bonus and replaced it with an additional 2% wage increase over two years. The city was originally offering a 7.25% increase over three years, while the union was asking for 9.25% over the same time period.

The city has also offered to set up a temporary joint management and union committee to devise a scheduling system that includes work-rest rules it argues would improve service reliability.

Federal budget: What did Ottawa get?

Total mentions of 'Ottawa' in the budget: Three.
Total mentions of 'National Capital Region' in the budget: One.

While cities and towns across Canada, including Ottawa, will receive billions of dollars in infrastructural investment over the next several years, the nation's capital did not crack the list of federal priorities.

The lone infrastructure investment specific to the National Capital Region is money that will go towards the maintenance of "several federal bridges" in the area.

Also on the transit front, Ottawa's three shout-outs in the budget were dedicated to an improvement of VIA service in the Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto corridor.

After that, it was slim pickings for Ottawa. In 2007, the federal Tories introduced the Building Canada fund, which committed $33 billion over seven years to infrastructure across Canada. The established priorities of the fund were outlined in today's budget:
• Summerside Wind Energy in Prince Edward Island
• Trans-Canada Highway improvements in Newfoundland and Labrador
• Major bridge rehabilitation on the National Highway System
in Nova Scotia
• Fundy Trail Parkway in New Brunswick
• Road upgrades in the Québec City metropolitan area, and upgrades to water and sewer systems across the province of Quebec.
• Union Station revitalization in Toronto, Ontario
• Centreport Project at Inland Port in Winnipeg, Manitoba
• Highway 39 truck bypass in Estevan, Saskatchewan
• Telus World of Science in Calgary, Alberta
• Evergreen transit line in Vancouver, British Columbia
• Piqqusilirivvik cultural facility in Clyde River, Nunavut
• City of Yellowknife bypass road in the Northwest Territories
• Water treatment projects in the Yukon
Nothing to be found on that list in Ottawa. Of course, there is plenty of money in the Building Canada fund and Ottawa is sure to get some of the goods over the years. We shall see as projects roll out.

Admittedly, this is a fairly unsubstantial first glance at the budget. If any readers have opinions about how today's budget will affect Ottawa, please make your views known in the comments section.

UPDATE: Commenter Bob LeDrew points out the following: "Algonquin College was specifically mentioned in Chapter 3D as one place where funds could be spent for repair or renovation for facilities that would lead to increases in high tech or advanced skills training."

Religious leaders speak out against strike

A joint rally of Ottawa's Christian and Jewish community leaders yesterday came out with one message: This strike is affecting the city's most vulnerable people, and needs to end. As reported in the Ottawa Metro:

At a rally in front of city hall, top officials from Ottawa’s Jewish and Christian communities signed letters to the mayor and the OC Transpo drivers union urging them to end the 49-day-old strike and get the buses rolling as soon as possible.

“It’s become an ethical issue,” said Anglican Bishop John Chapman. “Too many of the marginalized people, like the elderly and the very young are being hurt.”

Rabbi Arnold Fine with Congregation Beth Shalom said they were not taking sides in the dispute. They just want everyone to get back to work.

“Getting back to work refers not only to drivers, but also to city hall,” he said. “We need to get back together so this community can go forward. So those people who are suffering can get back to the things they should be doing.”

Budget reaction: Check back here later

Most readers likely know that today is Budget Day in Ottawa.

Given that:

John Baird's multi-billion dollar infrastructure announcement will play a large role in the federal government's economic plan;

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities insists that public transit should be among the government's infrastructure priorities; and

Ottawa can probably expect a lump of federal cash to come its way, potentially for transit projects;

Expect that will have something to say when the budget comes down late this afternoon. Check back here!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Scenes from the strike: Parliament Hill rally to "end the strike"

"End the Strike! Now!"

A few dozen people gathered on Parliament Hill around noon today to call out both sides of the transit labour dispute -- ATU 279 and the City -- for allowing the ongoing strike to last too long.

It was a diverse crowd. People held signs calling for OC Transpo to be deemed an essential service and demanding that the service be privatized. Capital ward councillor Clive Doucet made an appearance. One attendee (pictured, above centre) even held a "Coalition YES" sign, perhaps performing double duty on the Hill given today's other fairly significant event.

The rally, though fairly small, attracted the attention of plenty of local media who sampled the crowd's opinions for about 30 minutes. CTV's Vanessa Lee spoke with event organizer Catherine Gardner.

Capital ward councillor Clive Doucet, talking to CTV News

"Cornellier sounds like a guy who's enjoying the strike"

... So concludes David Reevely over at the Citizen's Greater Ottawa blog under a post entitled "Why ATU's so unpopular". Referring to a quote in this story, Reevely goes on:
I'm not a credentialled expert in labour negotiations, but I'm fairly sure that being openly contemptuous of an offer from the other side that you haven't even seen isn't on the cheat sheet in the back of the textbook. Especially when it looks as though the other side is finally starting to bend off a position that was previously absurdly rigid, you want to give them a chance to save some face. The two sides could well be able to get a deal done, but not if one side insists that the other come begging.

Cornellier sounds like a guy who's enjoying the strike.

Baird breaks silence on strike UPDATED

At a press conference earlier this morning where transport (and infrastructure) minister John Baird announced a $7-billion package of investment in public-works projects, the Ottawa-area MP also waded in to the city's transit strike.

Baird said that he is open to amending work-rest rules for Ottawa bus drivers (who are currently exempt from federal regulations, along with their counterparts in Windsor and Gatineau). But he didn't say it would be a priority:
[Baird] said changing the regulations on drivers' work time will take consultation and study.
UPDATE: The Ottawa Sun reports that a large portion of the infrastructure funding could come to Ottawa and could include public-transit initiatives (emphasis ours):
The list of projects, worth more than $500 million, has the potential to create over 6,045 new Ottawa jobs.


Last week the city's Corporate Services and Economic Development Committee directed staff to develop a priority list of all ready-to-go projects, including public transit. The list is to be presented to council on February 11. will watch that list's contents carefully.

UPDATED (AGAIN): Kady O'Malley at Maclean's reports that mayor Larry O'Brien was meeting with Baird earlier today, "presumably to try to push his latest pitch for the feds to get involved in our transit strike, now on the verge of hitting fifty days."

UPDATED (ONCE MORE): The Citizen reports on the meeting between O'Brien and Baird.

Mr. O'Brien said he'd had a good meeting with Mr. Baird and discussed a number of issues, including safety, but would not say whether they'd agreed on anything or discussed prospects for back-to-work legislation.

In a Monday-morning press conference, before he met with the mayor, Mr. O'Brien said he was open to changing the rules to cover OC Transpo drivers, but doing so would require consultations and research and could take months.

As commenter Klaus points out in another post, the Citizen mixed up names (the bolded O'Brien paraphrase should have been attributed to Baird.

The bus strike and the arts scene

Travis Boisvenue recently wrote a story for the Ottawa Citizen that explored the effects of the current transit strike on local venues and show promoters. Just one excerpt:
[Babylon club manager Ryan] Dean said the club's average attendance has decreased 20 to 25 per cent since the strike began, on top of the audience lost due to weather conditions. At about $15 per ticket for the average show, it's a significant loss in revenue for small clubs, promoters and bands.
Full disclosure: Travis was a colleague of both Peter and me at the Fulcrum for a couple of years.

Negotiations set to resume Monday

Two days after Ottawa City Council met in private to discuss how to handle the 48-day-old transit strike, and decided to explore a "substantial" change in their bargaining position (according to the Ottawa Citizen), the two sides are expected to head back into negotiations.

As a result, according to another article from the Citizen, the Union is prepared to listen to the city's offer on Monday morning:
Randy Graham, the union’s international vice-president, confirmed the meeting with a federal mediator and city representatives, but said he still doesn’t know the details of the city’s new bargaining position.

“I’m going to go and listen to what they have to say,” Mr. Graham said. “We’re just going to see what’s there.”


When reached for comment, union boss André Cornellier did not sound optimistic that the city’s new position would be enough to get a deal done.

“Oh wow, ‘substantial,’ I can’t wait. I’m just drooling, I can’t wait to see what those are,” he said.

He reiterated that the union is committed to ending the strike and restoring transit service.

“We gave them a proposal where they could have had the buses out on the street over a week ago and they decided not to,” he said.
Although it's unclear what, exactly, the City has decided to change in their bargaining, they have stated their absolute commitment to at least one change: That the new contract respects federal work-rest regulations:

Ottawa’s transit system, one of the few in the country to fall under federal rather than provincial jurisdiction, is currently exempt from federal safety regulations for driver work and rest.

On Saturday, council passed a resolution that the final settlement package must satisfy those rules.

If Transport Minister John Baird were to apply the safety rules to Ottawa’s transit system, the city would have its minimum rest requirements: drivers would be subject to a 14-hour maximum day, at least eight hours rest after a shift and at least one day off every 14 days.
The article also mentioned a demonstration, organized by community advocate Catherine Gardner, to encourage the federal government to ensure that the OC Transpo is required to meet work-rest rules. The demonstration begins at City Hall at 10:30, and then works its way to Parliament Hill.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Ottawa Transit Strike Day 45: A plethora of human interest

In the absence of virtually any news coming from either the City or ATU 279 (see: media blackout), local media have continued to tell the tales of those Ottawans whose lives have been significantly altered--mostly for the worse--by the ongoing transit strike.

For the sake of brevity, here is a list of stories worth checking out.
And in other transit-related news:

Oh, and Earl McRae has a list of (intentionally?) bad transit jokes in his latest column.

Thursday, January 22, 2009 on CBC's Ottawa at Six

If you follow this link, you'll watch the latest edition of CBC's Ottawa at Six with anchor Lucy van Oldenbarneveld. In one segment about citizen engagement during the ongoing transit strike, was interviewed by reporter Jeff Semple.

And don't forget to tune into Talk Ottawa on Rogers TV tonight, when executive director Peter Raaymakers joins host James Hendricks in studio.

Public initiative: Petition to end strike

Some Ottawans have chosen to humour all of us transit users during this transit strike, and others have used their resources to take a more traditional approach to influencing debate. And it has worked.

Ecology Ottawa launched an online petition on Monday that, without taking sides in the debate, urges both sides to return seriously to the bargaining table.

Steering committee member Mike Buckthought told that in just the last few days, the petition has garnered over 2,700 signatures--mostly online, as paper petitions haven't been circulated very much. The group plans to present the petition to the City on Jan. 28.

Buckthought appeared on CBC Radio and the free daily Metro also covered the petition yesterday.

Straight Strike Talk on Talk Ottawa

Tonight at 7PM Talk Ottawa focuses on the 44-day long OC Transpo strike.

Jack McCarthy of the Somerset West Community Health Centre, Gerry LePage of the Bank Street Promenade and Peter Raaymakers of Public Transit in Ottawa join host James Hendricks in studio to discuss the impact the work stoppage is having on the economy.

Do you have something to add? Call in, share your thougths and have your questions answered.

Talk Ottawa – tonight at 7PM - exclusively on Rogers TV Cable 22.

Strike delays downtown tunnel

According to the Ottawa Citizen, the current OC Transpo strike isn't just negatively affecting our public transit infrastructure in the short-term: We also may experience delays to the downtown tunnel component of the city's transit master plan. One of the first steps towards having the tunnel construction begun are a series of public consultations, and the first has been cancelled due to inaccesibility, as announced by City Manager Nancy Schepers:
In a memo to city council members, Mr. Schepers said the event is being cancelled because the city recognizes “the importance of ensuring that the public has access to all open houses regarding City projects.”

Ms. Schepers said “at this time” the cancellation is not expected to interfere with the tunnel study’s 20-month time frame, and that she will advise if this changes. She said other consultations and group meetings dealing with the tunnel project are continuing.

Ottawa Transit Strike Day 44: News and notes

In what might be surprising news (readers, is it really?), reports that at least some drivers are apparently not opposed to turning their service into an essential one:

The vast majority of striking transit workers would like Ottawa's transit services to be declared essential, a driver walking the picket line said Thursday morning, the 44th day of the strike.

"I think about 99 per cent of us would love it to be essential service," said Tony Mitchell, who has been driving transit buses for 29 years and is on strike for the third time.

Asked about concessions that would have to be made under such circumstances, Mitchell was conciliatory:

"Well, maybe we'll have to sacrifice on certain things regarding the schedule, but at least both sides would be doing it, both sides would … have to give a little bit," he said.

Both the Ottawa Citizen and Ottawa Sun run stories about the transit strike today, but it seems more out of habit than necessity. Anyways, some news and notes:

The Citizen reports:

Ontario Transportation Minister Jim Bradley says ministry staff are working with OC Transpo officials to determine how long it will take to return service to pre-strike levels.

A total of 287 buses (of a fleet of 1,025) are due for a mandatory six-month provincial safety inspection by the end of January.

Mr. Bradley would not say yesterday whether he would postpone the safety inspections to allow a quicker rollout of buses.

Yesterday, the Citizen quoted federal labour minister Rona Ambrose as unwilling to get involved in the strike. Today, the Sun elicited a response from a local Tory MP:

Carleton-Mississippi Mills Conservative MP Gordon O'Connor said back-to-work legislation isn't the best way to end the strike and urged both sides to hammer out a solution.

"To bring it up to the federal level, to bring in legislation, we have to go through a whole legislative process which is quite long," he said.

Also in the Sun, this little tidbit about the City's emergency fund:

...councillors voted unanimously to add $500,000 to the emergency fund to help those hardest hit by the strike. Earlier this week, the city announced the $200,000 it had originally set aside is running out.

Oh, and the Sun's Susan Sherring is really pissed off with the City for even debating a rebate to those who pay for a transit Eco-Pass, which is deducted directly from their paycheques.

Another call for (at least partial) privatization

In yesterday's Ottawa Business Journal, Walter Robinson wrote about Ottawa's current transit dilemma(s). In a column bizarrely tagged as a "news story", Robinson recommended that OC Transpo at least be run as an arm's-length agency of the city, because "debates over route choices, human resources and customer service are left to managers, as opposed to politicians."

Robinson then went on to tackle the issue of privatization. He painted his recommendations as neither black nor white--transit can be only partially privatized, he wrote.

Privatization could take many forms, from competitive tendering of various route choices to better-sourcing office and maintenance functions. And this isn't about union busting, as local organized labour advocates will surely charge. Successor rights prevail under labour law whether the city or ABC bus lines is in charge.

But cities such as Las Vegas, Denver, Boston, and San Francisco, along with those in Europe and Asia, have contracted out parts of their systems and realized, according to dozens of studies, significant savings and service improvements.

(For the record, Denver's Regional Transportation District won a 2008 Outstanding Public Transportation System Achievement Award from the American Public Transportation Association. It also won that award in 2003 and 1993.)

Robinson wrote that OC Transpo "will suffer a marked and sustained ridership decline thanks to this strike". Those who are wary of transit, he continued, will ask how much taxpayers should subsidize the service: "50 per cent, 60 per cent or 70 per cent, or more?"

He went on:
From my vantage point, a transit system two-thirds rider-financed and one-third subsidized would be ideal, regardless of ownership and service structure. But international experience has shown more often than not (yes, there are some failures – in South America, most notably) that to move to this, privatization (selected, partial or full) is the proven route to follow.

And then snuck this in:

Labour disruptions are also much rarer in privatized systems.

Robinson is no stranger to privatization debates. Not only is he a former chief of staff to mayor Larry O'Brien and candidate in the 2004 federal election, two venues of public life where such issues pop up, but talking about this is what the man does for a living.

According to his bio (scroll down a bit) at the TACTIX Government Consulting website, Robinson provides advice to clients on a range of issues, including P3s--in lay terms, public-private partnerships.

Just another voice in the privatization debate.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Ambrose steers clear of involvement in strike

It seems federal labour minister Rona Ambrose is reluctant to take any direct action in the current transit strike. Her quotation in the Ottawa Citizen is a pretty safe sound byte. It takes neither side and is actually quite benign. Of course, circumstances can always change and Ambrose can always reverse course.

Here is what she said:
"It's the responsibility and the obligation of both these parties to get back to the table and come up with a negotiated settlement as quickly as possible,” she said. “That's in the best interests of the citizens of Ottawa, and it's in (the city and union) hands to solve.”

When Obama comes to Ottawa, how will we get around?

Barack Obama, President of the United States, will make a visit to Canada's capital in the near future
The inauguration of Barack Obama as the United States' 44th president was no small event, and the attendance--estimated to be upwards of one million people, and possibly as high as two million--reflects that. It's interesting to note that, according to, many attendants to the inauguration ceremony took public transit to get to the historic event:
The Associated Press, through photographs and past crowd estimates, guessed that a million people descended on Washington for the inauguration of Barack Obama.

More than 930,000 of them got there using public transportation.
President Obama is likely close to, if not equally, as popular in Canada as he is in the United States. Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Leader of the Opposition Michael Ignatieff, and Governor General were all quick to congratulate Obama during his first official day as president. And Canada seems to be popular with Obama, as he's announced that his first foreign visit as president will be to the national capital of Canada, Ottawa. And, according to a CBC report quoting Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, that presidential visit is likely to be relatively soon:

Lawrence Cannon said despite the choice of George W. Bush to visit Mexico in his first official state visit, a historical precedent from John F. Kennedy onward suggests presidential visits to Canada have "always been quite close" to the inauguration date.

"The visits to Canada have been very closely aligned with the beginning of the mandate of the new president, so I think that the presumption that it will be sooner rather than later is bang on," Cannon said in an interview from Ottawa.

Obama has already pledged his first official trip abroad will be to Ottawa. Cannon said he did not have a confirmed date for the new president's visit, but officials from both sides of the border have been in touch.

"We expect that over the course of the next couple of days …we'll get a better sense of how this is going to work out," he said. "But we're pleased that he's coming to Canada first and foremost."

But with public transit nonexistent thanks to a 43-day-long (and counting) transit strike that seems no closer to resolution than ever, and warnings that it will take anywhere from three to six months for full service even when the issues are resolved and the transit system back in place, you have to wonder how the City of Ottawa will handle Canadians--and quite possible Americans from the Northeastern United States--flocking in to see the newest President of the United States of America.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Public initiatives: Is the Bus Strike Over Yet?

Glorious. Is the Bus Strike Over Yet?, an Ottawa-based website, does a terrific job of succinctly summing up the frustration the public has with the current OC Transpo strike, now through its 42nd day.

Most people, it seems, are becoming so frustrated with the politicking and posturing from both sides that they wake up every day with only one question: Is the bus strike over yet? The website answers that question, in simplest terms.

ADDENDUM: After speaking with Matt Davidson, founder of Is the Bus Strike Over Yet?, he gave me the following information about his intentions with the website, and what he hopes it may do for his fellow transit users:
"Believe it or not I have been thinking of launching this since the strike started but hadn't gotten around to it yet. I am a web developer in Ottawa and used to rely on public transit to get to work. This website actually represents a growing trend in the web industry of simple websites that have a one word message (see I found the concept humorous and was inspired what most people seem to care about when it comes to this transit strike (will they be able to take the bus tomorrow or not).

"To most of us it doesn't really matter why the ATU is on strike, and many are mis-informed as to why. I figured this was the perfect summarization of the strike up to now.

"Needless to say I have no goals for this website other than to create a chuckle among fellow transit riders. I hope people enjoy the humor behind my message and visit back to see what it changes to when the strike is over."
I think the humour behind Mr. Davidson's undertaking is pretty evident. It's a refreshingly light-hearted expression of frustration with the two sides negotiating in this conflict.

Cullen on the strike's next step

Stephen Fanjoy from Friends of the O-Train recently wrote an e-mail to all city councillors by that urged them to consider a different strategy at the bargaining table. received a copy of the e-mail.

Bay Ward councillor Alex Cullen responded with the following, presented here unedited:
Arbitration does mean the risk of paying more money for wages and benefits than City Council is willing to do, and does not include the important issue of work scheduling. City Council has agreed to go to arbitration subject to certain conditions, which include adding work scheduling and limiting the total compensation cost to what was offerred in the City's previous offer. We are seeking a just end to this labour strike - one that respects both our taxpayers, users and drivers.

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.

Layoffs loom for drivers if bus fleet remains unchecked

According to reports, OC Transpo General Manager Alain Mercier is asking that mechanics, who form part of the mebership of the striking Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 279, be allowed to return to work to begin bringing buses back into running condition.

The buses have largely been sitting idle for 41 days without significant maintenance or running. Although citizens have seen some empty buses moving around the city as management has tried to keep some in running condition.

Mercier said that unless mechanics are able to return to work with time to get buses ready for drivers, there could be up to 500 temporary layoffs while the buses are brought back into running shape. According to the Ottawa Metro, the city is considering significant measures to try and get the fleet running, which will take a significant amount of time anyway:
OC Transpo is exploring the option to expedite the certification and inspections, and could even end up sending buses to Montreal, Kingston or Toronto to have some of the work done.

Mercier said they will focus on the Transitway, mainline routes and hospital areas during peak-periods for the first two weeks. O-Train service would begin almost as soon as the strike is over.

The rest of the mainline routes across the city would come back on line over the next five weeks, with express and local services not expected in service during the peak hours until the seventh week.
Mainstream media coverage in:

For student-commuters who are stranded by the strike...

For students at the University of Ottawa, that commute might become a bit easier -- if a new program to find students' temporary residences is successful. From the school's press release:

To help its students cope with the continuing OC Transpo bus strike, the University of Ottawa has created a free temporary housing program to students who are having difficulty getting to their classes.

The program will put students in contact with Ottawa residents and University of Ottawa employees who live within walking distance of either of our two campuses (downtown and Ottawa Hospital area) and who are willing to open their homes for temporary residence until transit service resumes, at no cost to students. It will also put students in touch with volunteers who live outside of these areas but who are able to provide daily transportation to the University or to one of the shuttle pick-up points. The program will be coordinated by uOttawa Housing Services.


Students interested in applying to take part in the housing program can contact our Off-Campus Housing services at 613-564-5400, ext. 5057, at or visit them at 90 University, Room 145, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday to Friday.
The release goes on to state that school president Allan Rock will take in two students at his house, which is about a 20-minute walk from campus.

Also, the school will commence operations on a new shuttle route "from Blair station, stopping at the St-Laurent station heading to uOttawa."

UPDATE: The Citizen has picked up the story (essentially re-printing the school's release).

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Ottawa Transit Strike Day 40: Close, but no cigar

Today's leading headlines on the Ottawa Citizen and Ottawa Sun, respectively, are: Transit union rejects latest city offer and Buses not set to roll just yet.

The papers are listless in their story's ledes. In the Citizen:
It's still not over.

Despite hopes that a deal might have been close, leaders of Ottawa's 2,300 striking OC Transpo workers rejected a city council counter-offer yesterday that could have seen the 40-day transit strike settled in days by an arbitrator.

And in the Sun:

After a recent flurry of activity and guarded optimism that the longest transit strike in the city's history might be coming to an end, both sides dug in their heels yesterday and blamed each other for a stalemate that appears to be far from over.

The only news today is that ATU 279 leadership was "disappointed" with the City's response to what the union saw as a fair offer.

Union president Andre Cornellier released a statement on ATU 279's strike website commenting on the important distinction between scheduling and the rest of the outstanding issues at the table.
“We can’t lose sight of the fact that when this system was created it took a joint labour-management committee more than a year to assemble it, now the City thinks a fact-finder would resolve this in two weeks. Yesterday the Union offered to work with the City for as long as it takes to resolve legitimate issues.”
The City's most recent counter-offer, union officials say, simply isn't very different from the deal they rejected soundly a couple of weeks ago.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Council meets, counters union proposal

The Citizen reports that the City will agree to binding arbitration, but as you will read below, it's not what the union offered (emphasis ours):
Early Saturday morning, council unanimously approved a motion stating the city will enter binding arbitration — on three conditions. Council said they will enter the process if the union agrees that all issues, including scheduling, are part of it; that any final agreement addresses federal safety rules for drivers on hours of work and rest; and that the price tag of any agreement doesn’t exceed the overall amount represented in the city’s last offer, which was rejected by union members nine days ago.
So not very different from their earlier stance, except this time accommodating the union's call for binding arbitration.

Meanwhile, OC Transpo manager Alain Mercier said it will take a long time for buses to start moving again.
Mercier said it will take three-and-a-half months to get transit service running at full capacity once the strike is settled, because all the buses will have to be inspected to make sure they're mechanically safe before they hit the streets.
And no buses will be on the road during the first week following the strike's end.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Union calls for arbitration, council might meet tonight UPDATED

Early this afternoon, local media moved a story outlining ATU 279's call for binding arbitration on every element of a new collective agreement except for the most contentious -- the scheduling issue -- which would be dealt with separately.

The story said that the union would go back to work if the City agreed to that arrangement, even without a settled contract.

CTV reported that if this offer were accepted, the strike could be over "within a week". The story added this note of caution:
Arbitration, however, can be very complicated and the city has historically come up short when using an arbitrator to settle labour disputes.
The Sun reports that council is expected to convene an emergency meeting tonight to discuss the union's proposal (UPDATE: The Citizen reports that the meeting is scheduled to begin at 9 p.m.). It quoted a memo circulated by Mayor Larry O'Brien:
"Although I believe this is a positive development and a direct result of our unified stand yesterday, it would be wrong to speculate in any fashion in the media until after we (have been) briefed on the facts by staff," O'Brien writes.

Can the U-Pass rise from the ashes? will temporarily engage in some transit-related speculation concerning potentially lower post-strike ridership and its potential consequences for a Universal Bus Pass for students in the city:

Depending on the reaction of traditional transit users to the bus strike, the City might have to deal with lower ridership for some period of time when service resumes.

The City is arguably "saving" money during the strike. Some estimates suggest that each week, $3 million is saved by OC Transpo, which doesn't have to pay various transit-related costs (salary, for one). While it's hard to know exactly how much the City is "saving", given some spending on mitigation measures and other strike-related costs, there could be some money in the pot.

Council rejected the Universal Bus Pass for students at the student-approved price of $125, and instead went for a $194 pass. At the time, OC Transpo claimed that a $125 pass would generate $2.1-million in revenue that the City could not afford to cover.

The City has already endorsed a 10-point plan to bring riders back, but there are obviously no guarantees that those perks will result in stable ridership.

Student leaders have often stressed that a U-Pass would provide stability for OC Transpo, even if only for a one-year pilot project.

Before the strike, ridership was at an all-time high and the need for such stability was less urgent. Now times have changed.

Could councillors be convinced that a cheaper U-Pass is worth the cost, given the benefits that students are promising in a time of potentially lower ridership? Are students' promises realistic?

(Kudos to commenter Rob who already mentioned this on an earlier post today.)

How are cabs fare-ing during the OC Transpo strike?

Last week, I asked a taxi driver how the strike was affecting his business. The logical conclusion was that it was booming, right? Less buses means more people in cabs. His answer was the opposite, though. There is more traffic, he said, and it bogs down the cabs and means they can pick up less fares.

One of my friends recalled a nearly identical line from another cab. Interesting. What my driver didn't mention was another issue facing legitimate cab companies in Ottawa: bandit taxis.

Almost a month ago, linked to a story suggesting that the City was cracking down on illegal cab drivers. That story quotes Linda Anderson, Ottawa's manager of bylaw enforcement, as saying such cabs are unsafe and need to be reined in.

On Day 38 of the OC Transpo strike, so-called bandit cabs haven't gone away. The Ottawa Citizen reports today that underground taxis apparently account for 25 per cent of all cabs in the city during normal times, and that, during the strike, that number could rise to 30 per cent. One illegal company, the report says, could "employ" as many as 50 drivers.

The story also says that, according to taxi union boss Yusef Al Mezel, Anderson is the only full-time bylaw officer working on the file. Al Mezel represents 1,500 cabbies who are members of the Canadian Auto Workers.

Here is a reminder of how much money is at stake, in this excerpt from the Citizen story:

Last July, a court slapped an illegal operator with a $56,250 fine, the highest ever, after a five-month investigation resulted in 112 charges against 80 individuals.

In 2006, the city put a dent in the bandit industry when it charged 26 people with 107 offences. As part of its investigation, it found records that one company was pulling in about $300,000 a year.

Ottawa Transit Strike: Day 38

If you followed our two-day, hours-long liveblog of City council proceedings that included 15 hours of in-camera meetings, then you will already know that a deal between the City and ATU 279 that would end the strike is nowhere near closer than it was at the beginning of the week.

In fact, it could be at least two weeks before the conflict is resolved, according to city manager Kent Kirkpatrick. Why?

Well, council passed a motion that suggested they might renegotiate scheduling for drivers, but there are some caveats. It can't make the system less safe or reliable, and it can't cost the city more than its last offer. Importantly, though, the City made no attempt to find savings that could take scheduling off the table.

The same motion approved hiring an independent fact-finder -- so long as the union agrees (and maybe even if it doesn't) -- to write a report that explains to the union exactly what the City's latest offer means in its section about scheduling and booking.

If the union agrees to hire the individual, it will take some time to get the report written. Hence the two-week minimum for the strike's resolution.

But it's important to the City, evidently, as OC Transpo manager Alain Mercier claimed the union's understanding of that part of the city's offer is fundamentally flawed.

Also in the same motion, by the way, the City also took a $2,500 signing bonus for union members off the table, pending the scheduling re-negotiations.

Union leadership, as readers might expect, lamented councillors' decision to not fundamentally alter their bargaining strategy. (Even Capital Ward councillor Clive Doucet backed down from his counterparts around the table, apologizing to Mayor Larry O'Brien for unfairly criticizing the city's strategy).

All in all, Ottawans are seemingly still left in the dust. There are no indications that the union will accept the validity of the fact-finder or, even if they are hired, his or her ultimate findings.

The City's approach drew criticism from some quarters that were "baffled" by the City's approach, which seemed less conciliatory and just as hard-lined as before all the in-camera presentations and questions and answers (That same Citizen columnist tempered his views somewhat in an update to that post).

At the same meeting, council also approved a 10-point strategy to bring riders back after the strike. The Ottawa Sun outlined them in a story this morning:

- Waive April's transit fare increase
- Ecopass credit for one month and more
- December transit passes be valid for one month and more
- Rebate and discount on next purchase of student semester pass, student annual pass and annual adult pass
- Consideration of two for one ticket credit
- Free transit service for first few days
- Free transit service evenings and on weekends
- Free O-Train service
- Promotional offers for businesses, museums, recreational facilities and other organizations
- Customer and employee appreciation events

Council also decided to meet weekly during the strike. If we can swing it, is going to try to liveblog every one of those meetings until the strike is over. Hey, it could happen.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A case for making public transit an essential service

The Pensacola News Journal, of Pensacola, Florida, published an editorial entitled "Mass transit a right, not a privilege". The author, Reginald T. Dogan, cited the worsening economy in the United States--which has certainly made an impact on the Canadian economy, as well--as one reason to consider public transit an essential service. (He also used that necessity to argue in support of a gas tax.) Here's the gist of Dogan's argument:

If the economy continues to nosedive, and the downward spiral of job losses causes more people to ditch their automobiles to save money, public transportation will become an economic necessity rather than a tax nuisance for so many more people.

On the issue as it pertains to Ottawa, Klaus Beltzner (B.Sc., M.Math., M.B.A, and member of Friends of the O-Train) made the following case for the possibly essential nature of public transit in Ottawa during TransitOttawa's marathon 18+ hour LiveBlog:
    1. A core transit service is essential; the whole transit service with all the routes and runs is not.

      A core service is essential to permit seniors to get to their doctor appointments and buy groceries (health and safety). A core service is essential to permit minimum wage/shift workers to earn a livelihood and students to go to classes (health and safety)A core service is essential to permit those who do not own a car to buy groceries, get to doctors appointments, visit ailing parents in hospitals and nursing homes. (health and safety).
    2. A core transit service needs to be defined by the City

      The City must be ordered to define the core transit service to be provided in oder to meet the health and safety requirements above.

      The City must be ordered to have a plan in place to publicize and deliver this core service in the event of a labour dispute, snow or other serious weather event, or other emergency when full service cannot be provided.
    3. A core transit service needs to deliverable

      The City must have various contingency plans in place to deliver the defined core transit service in the event of a labour dispute, snow or other serious weather event, or other emergency when full service cannot be provided.

What will people do when the buses come back?

Earlier in the week, the Ottawa Citizen published an article exploring the damage that transit strikes--particularly longer ones, such as Ottawa's now 37-day-old strike--has on public transit ridership levels.
Transit strikes invariably lead to a loss of riders, but experts say work stoppages that last four weeks or more have such a corrosive effect that damage to the system could last years.


Some of the frustrated commuters who have found other ways to deal with the strike will never go back to transit. Psychologically, they will tune out OC Transpo as a way of getting around. For a city government that wants people to choose transit over their own vehicles, that would be very bad news.
The good news is that there may be a way to lure people back to the buses, as brought up in the same Citizen story: A massive advertising campaign and discounted and free fares:

In January 1997, the first full month of service after the strike, OC Transpo carried 6.8 million riders, about the same as January 1996. But company officials acknowledged that this may have been the result of a massive marketing campaign, backed by fare discounts, to woo back disaffected riders. The promotional campaign, on buses, billboards and the airwaves, included four days of free fares after the strikers resumed work on Dec. 19, 1996. Riders were also offered discounted fares for the rest of December and discounted passes for January.

In February 1997, when full fares resumed, ridership tumbled four per cent. In March, it fell 2.3 per cent. Other promotional activities, including an extension of Transitway service and a flat fare any time of the day, continued for the rest of the year.
Already, one councillor--the recently-maligned Capital Ward Councillor Clive Doucet--has suggested a period of free fares once the strike is finally resolved, according to a story on

As the OC Transpo strike enters day 36, Clive Doucet says the city should offer free service to help get people back on transit as quickly as possible when the strike ends.

Doucet is proposing a "substantial period" of free transit.

Since the "Urban Transit Levy" covers half the cost of transit, Doucet tells CFRA News if the strike lasts six weeks there should be three weeks free service.

If nothing is done to get people to come back to buses, though, the Citizen offers a few examples of warning: A six-week strike in Knoxville, Tennessee that brought about a 12 per cent ridership loss on regular routes, and a strike of the same length in Orange County, California bringing a 20 per cent drop in ridership.

Scenes from the strike: Union waits outside council chamber

This was the scene outside of council chambers just a few minutes ago, as a small group gathered outside the room. At 10:40 a.m., it was nowhere near the size of yesterday's crowd, but council isn't expected to meet again in-camera until 11 a.m. Even then, it is largely unknown how long they will meet behind closed doors.

Council to resume marathon in-camera session Thursday morning

After going through several hours of in-camera discussion surrounding the city's ongoing transit strike and council's position on it, councillors were recessed at some time between 8 or 9 p.m. with intentions to resume the in-camera discussions at 11 a.m. Thursday morning, and--one assumes--hold votes on some issues afterwards.

There was some confusion with the in-camera session, as the city's Webcast of the council meeting continued after council was recessed with no note of any change. When contacted about the meeting, several councillors responded, some with differing reports on when, exactly, council did decide to recess. In direct e-mails to TransitOttawa, Gloucester-Southgate Councillor Diane Deans said that they recessed at "about 9 p.m.", while College Ward Councillor Rick Chiarelli said that the recess came "just after 8:00pm".

Whichever the case, TransitOttawa will continue our exclusive LiveBlog coverage of the council meeting tomorrow at around 11 a.m., so be sure to visit the site for updates, and feel free to comment as the LiveBlog goes on.

Union may target students, Para Transpo UPDATED

The Ottawa Sun reports this morning that ATU 279 president Andre Cornellier is not ruling out picketing any private shuttles that accept city funding or the expanded Para Transpo service if it is staffed by new, non-unionized workers.
In a letter to the city's post-secondary schools, Cornellier warned of picketing at both pick-up and drop-off locations should the schools run their shuttles with the help of cash from the city. He said the arrangement would be "tantamount to the use of scab labour" and that "our members will not stand by and let the city pay for their work to be done by other companies."
And on Para Transpo:
"It is very disappointing that the City of Ottawa has chosen to hire scab labour during this strike. Instead of bargaining with us to find ways to resolve this strike, Mayor O'Brien seems determined to create even more disruptions for the people of this city," Cornellier said yesterday in a press release.
UPDATE: The Citizen reports that Para Transpo will not be picketed, and university shuttles will not likely be picketed.

h/t David Reevely, who passed this along to's ongoing liveblog

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Liveblog continues

Scroll down the page to keep following our liveblog of City council, now entering Hour Ten.

UPDATE: Come back here tomorrow morning at 11 a.m. for continued coverage of council's closed-door -- and even more importantly, open-door -- proceedings.

Cracks in city council's position of solidarity

As we wait for the Jan. 14, 2009 City Council meeting to complete their in-camera session--going on seven-and-a-half hours now--here is a briefing of the recent developments within council, which they will have spent at least some of this marathon in-camera session discussing.

The first sign of stresses within City Council's solidarity came after union members voted 75 per cent against the city's most recent offer, after which Transit Committee Chair and Bay Ward Councillor Alex Cullen suggested that the city may need to "reassess" their position on the strike. From a report in the Ottawa Sun:
"This will be Day 36 and we need to reassess how we are handling the strike," said Cullen. "We are not at the table and there is no end in sight. We want the strike to end.


"It [the City's strategy] has to be discussed," he said. "It's been a contest between two players (O'Brien and union president Andre Cornellier) and this is not conducive to settling a strike. I don't want to undermine the mayor but we have to reassess what works and what doesn't work."

In the same Sun story, Capital Councillor Clive Doucet had some harsher words for Mayor Larry O'Brien and his tactics:
"I want him out of there. I have been betrayed by his leadership," said Doucet.

Doucet is also calling for new city negotiators."We have negotiators that are out of touch and it's not something you joke around with."
Doucet was also quoted by the Ottawa Citizen in saying he and the rest of council were "misled" by O'Brien, and had some even more pointed comments on
"He comes out of the private sector, he's never worked in a unionized environment before, he's never worked in the public sector environment before," he said. "We've got someone who not only is a politician but clearly maladapted to the situation he finds himself in."
There were rumours of potential legal action against Doucet for, according to Orléans Councillor Bob Monette, weakening the city's bargaining position, but--pending the outcome of the current ongoing in-camera session--there has been nothing pursued against the councillor. According to, however, Doucet may face sanctions from some of his council colleagues:
"City council went behind closed doors shortly before noon to discuss possible sanctions against Capital Ward Coun. Clive Doucet and other matters related to the transit strike. By late afternoon, councillors had still not emerged."
And that's about where we sit right now, waiting for council to exit their in-camera session so we can find out what they may have been talking about, and what they may have decided or be deciding publicly.