Mayor says there is no need for emergency transit meeting
Crews moving an LRT train slowly along the track after a minor derailment earlier in the week. Aug. 11, 2021. (Jim O'Grady / CTV News Ottawa)
OTTAWA -- Two Ottawa city councillors want the transit commission to hold an emergency meeting following a week of problems for OC Transpo, but Mayor Jim Watson says he doesn't think it's necessary.
Commission chair Coun. Allan Hubley suggested he does not believe such a meeting is necessary, so councillors Catherine McKenney and Diane Deans say they intend to take the question straight to other commissioners and force a meeting through a city procedure.
The Confederation Line LRT was shut down for five straight days following a minor derailment on Aug. 8, which was caused by a loose axle bearing. That same week, 19 double-decker buses were temporarily pulled from service after one of them ended up in a ditch because of a steering issue. Then, just as trains started to run again, Rideau Transit Group said an unspecified number of trains needed further inspection as part of the ongoing derailment investigation.
The incident on the LRT also brought a team of Transportation Safety Board investigators. The TSB is already investigating cracked wheels on the trains, which were first identified last year.
In an open letter to transit commission, chair Coun. Allan Hubley, councillors Catherine McKenney and Diane Deans asked that the transit commission meet within the next 10 days to discuss these issues.
"We are greatly concerned about the ongoing issues with our transit services," the councillors wrote. “In the interest of accountability and transparency to residents, we request an emergency Transit Commission meeting in the next 10 days to discuss these events."
McKenney, who is a member of the transit commission and Deans, a former transit commission chair, both said the recent incidents with the LRT and the double-deckers "have left us and residents with ongoing questions about the safety and reliability of our trains and buses."
In a response that was shared with CTV News Ottawa, Hubley told both councillors that he shares their concerns but he thinks OC Transpo responded well to the situation.
"As they always do, staff have taken all precautions to prioritize the safety of our riders and operators, and inspections are ongoing on the remaining trains and double-decker vehicles to ensure they are safely brought back into service," he wrote.
"Throughout these events last week, Mr. Manconi has provided regular updates to City Council and Transit Commission – sometimes twice daily – as more information became available. It is inaccurate and unfair to say otherwise. Mr. Charter has also granted multiple interviews with numerous media outlets in order to keep the public informed on the progress and staff’s efforts to safely restore service as soon as possible."
Hubley said city staff would provide a full update on both issues at the next transit commission meeting, which is currently scheduled for Sept. 20.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday morning, Mayor Jim Watson--who was away from the office last week on vacation--echoed Hubley's position.
"Staff have been giving answers on a regular basis. We've issued a number of detailed memoranda," he said. "My number one objective is to ensure that our staff are working 100 per cent of the time on fixing any core problems. They've done that and we're going to move forward and we have a transit commission meeting next month."
Watson said councillors and members of the transit commission can contact OC Transpo staff with their questions outside of meetings.
The mayor also praised the system's reliability prior to last week's disruption.
"Last week was a very bad week, no question about that, but the staff worked very quickly to get the service up and running as quickly as possible and as safely as possible. We weren't going to rush from a safety point of view," he said.
Petitioning a meeting
Deans and McKenney told Newstalk 580 CFRA's "Ottawa Now with Kristy Cameron" that they plan to petition individual transit commissioners to see if they can call a meeting to order.
"Under the rules of procedure, a percentage of the commission members can, by petition, call a meeting even if the chair doesn't agree and I think, in this case, that needs to happen," Deans said.
A section of the city's procedure bylaw says that a special meeting may be called "upon receipt of the petition of the majority of the Members of the Committee/Commission."
"It cannot be up to one person to decide whether we have public accountability in our transit system," McKenney said. "We have to know what we don't know. Memos … will not assure our ridership that they have a safe and reliable service and it will not assure residents that what they have paid for is what we got."
Deans said that Hubley is wrong to deny an emergency meeting.
"In my estimation, as a former chair of the transit commission, he is absolutely wrong. These are serious issues and even numerous memos are not sufficient to deal with the public angst around the safety and reliability of this service."
"We have got to ask those probing questions, they have got to be asked in a public forum, and they have to answered in a public forum so that we can get to the bottom of these root causes," McKenney added. "A memo a day will not take this issue away."
McKenney tweeted Tuesday morning that they had petitioned members of the commission to request the meeting.
Half-dozen trains need extra inspections
OC Transpo's director of transit operations Troy Charter told CFRA that there are six to eight trains that need extra inspections of their axle bearings.
"They're looking at those (trains) in which a number of them have been determined to have a little bit of that movement, of a fraction of a millimetre, so they need to look at those ones in more detail," Charter said.
Charter was quick to note that the investigation is ongoing and that the number of trains that require additional inspections may change as things develop.
"Even the number I quoted you may change by later this afternoon," he said, adding that there is no expected timeline for the inspections to be complete.
A memo sent Monday evening confirmed that eight of 39 train cars require repairs.
"Rideau Transit Maintenance (RTM) has confirmed they have the required components and the required work will commence shortly," the memo said.
There were also two train cars that were still undergoing inspection at the time the memo was written.
Manconi also confirmed that the Transportation Safety Board is not conducting a formal investigation into last week's derailment on the LRT.
"Further to some reports last week, the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) has informed staff that they are not currently conducting a formal investigation but are assessing the situation. OC Transpo staff continue to communicate and engage all partners including Transport Canada, TSB and the Regulatory Monitoring Compliance Officer (RMCO) throughout the vehicle inspection and root cause investigation," he wrote.
Charter said the city remains focused on ensuring a full delivery of rail service in time for September.
"I want us to progress to 15 trains in the (morning) and 13 trains in the (afternoon). That was our pre-COVID service plan and that's what our goal is to get to," he said. "We're at the 12 trains in the p.m. right and we want to continue to grow that."
Charter also said the 19 double-deckers that were pulled last week for inspections after one went into a ditch have since returned to the roads.
A previous version of this article mistakenly misquoted Troy Charter saying they wanted 15 trains in the afternoon and 13 in the morning. In fact, the peak service on the LRT is 15 trains in the morning and 13 in the afternoon.
We regret the error.