OC Transpo is warning transit riders could see more bus trip cancellations into next week, as the transit service deals with staffing shortages caused by summer vacations and "higher than usual sick leave absences."

And the head of the transit service suggests it could be mid-August before customers can expect service reliability to increase.

"We sincerely apologize to our customers for the inconvenience they have experienced over the last several days," OC Transpo general manager Renee Amilcar said in a memo to council on Friday.

"We are working hard to improve delivery of scheduled trips by asking staff to extend their workdays and through overtime hours."

On Friday morning, 206 bus trips were cancelled, equalling 2.6 per cent of all scheduled trips across the city. On Thursday, 324 trips were cancelled, equalling four per cent of all scheduled trips.

On Thursday, Ottawa Transit Riders said, "Keep an eye on OCTranspoLive a lot of cancellations this am." 

"OC Transpo has experienced an increased number of trips not delivered over the past couple of days compared to normal standards," OC Transpo Director of Transit Service Delivery and Rail Operations Troy Charter said in a statement to CTV News Ottawa on Thursday.

On Wednesday, 324 bus trips had been cancelled, equalling four per cent of all scheduled trips. OC Transpo typically schedules 7,900 trips a day.

"It is anticipated that customers could encounter more trip cancellations into next week based on a few short-term factors, including the number of staff who worked overtime last week while O-Train Line 1 was being repaired, higher-than-usual sick leave absences, and normal seasonal vacations," Charter said.

In an interview with CTV News Ottawa on Friday afternoon, Charter said that OC Transpo is working to minimize trip cancellations, but there are no short-term solution.

"We know that the number of trips we're unable to deliver is not meeting our customers expectations," Charter said. "We're trying to minimize this as quickly as possible, but we want to give our customers a bit of a heads up that it could potentially continue for another week or two."

Last week, service disruptions on the O-Train following a lightning strike resulted in OC Transpo launching its R1 replacement bus service for five days.

"Staff recognize that trips not delivered or late arrivals impact customers' travel," Charter said.

In May, OC Transpo completed only 94.4 per cent of scheduled trips as the service continued to deal with a driver shortage. The Transit Commission was told attrition rates and new mandatory 30-minute breaks for operators resulted in a shortage of available operators in the spring.

"OC Transpo has implemented a robust recruitment campaign to increase operator and bus service this fall," Charter said.

"We have increased training sessions throughout the year to fill vacant bus operator positions as quickly as possible. Through this transition phase, our priority is to mitigate any effects on service to customers as we aim to reduce the number of trips not delivered or that arrive late."

Charter says 32 new bus operator trainees will graduate and begin service in mid-August, on top of the 58 bus operators who started in the spring.

"OC Transpo is making every effort to improve service reliability for the balance of August and for September," Charter said.

The transit service has set a goal to hire up to 300 new operators by the end of the year to meet current needs and prepare for future requirements.  Eighty of the new hires will accommodate new Canada Labour Code requirements that state drivers must receive a 30-minute break for every five hours of service.

"Customers can expect service reliability to increase mid-August, when a group of 32 new bus operator trainees graduate. We are continuing our recruitment and training sessions this fall, and additional new operators will begin in early October," Amilcar said.

"We have seen a strong interest in our recruitment efforts to date. We have thorough and stringent processes in place to ensure we hire the best candidates for this safety-critical position."

In May, OC Transpo said it was taking a number of steps to improve bus service, including:

  • End temporary assignments
  • Negotiate delayed retirements
  • Minimize leave time
  • Efficiencies in work booking process
  • Strategic bus and bus operator placement
  • Increased operational oversight
  • Adjustments to support priority routes

Somerset councillor and mayoral candidate Catherine McKenney said on Twitter, "Let's talk about your bus that didn't show up today when you needed it."

"Sometimes buses simply get stuck in traffic and are late to their destination," McKenney said Thursday evening.

"But more often than not….there isn’t a bus available to send to you….even though you have paid one of the highest fares for your ride."

McKenney says if elected mayor, they will invest in transit services, "that pick you up where you are and get you where you need to be … on time."

"Getting people onto transit and getting others out of traffic will mean investments in the service."

OC Transpo says it will work to ensure transit riders are informed of route cancellations ahead of time.

"OC Transpo is committed to ensuring that our customers receive accurate, relevant, and timely information regarding service disruptions," Charter said. "We recognize that not every cancellation has been shared via the OC Transpo Live Twitter feed today. When time or resources are limited, we prioritize notifying customers travelling on trips such as the Connexion routes, infrequent trips, school trips, or trips with higher ridership.”