My Dear OC Transpo

After work today, while I was waiting among the sheer madness that is Hurdman Station, I reflected on how delighted you must be that your Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 279 voted in favour of maintaining their right to strike and against agreeing to send all future unresolved contract negotiations directly to third-party arbitration. Almost two-thirds of union members (62.3 per cent) who voted, opted to maintain the current arrangement — even though the last (long, long) strike ended up with you having to go to arbitration anyway.

I understand your need to keep this threat in your back pocket. I understand because I had a long time to reflect on your decision, as people raced back and forth looking for their buses, because the bus I needed to take to get home didn’t show up — not an unusual occurrence.

I see what you people have to put up with every day. I see dozens and dozens of buses darting in an out of the few designated stop areas. Would-be passengers don’t have a clue where exactly their particular bus is going to land, so they dart about, racing from one end of the station to the other until they spot their bus. Often, the potential rider doesn’t make it before you decide to pull the bus away. Idiot passengers run next to the bus and wave and yell. Like that’s going to convince you to stop and let them on. You shrug and drive on. Passengers are so stupid, aren’t they?

By my reckoning, somewhere around 25% of potential riders never manage to get on the bus – either because you don’t feel like stopping at the designated area; or because you decide to leave well ahead of schedule (you have a life too, right?) or because you just don’t feel like showing up at all.

You do everything in your power to discourage transit users and yet some of us just won’t give up. You hiked our fares by 15% right after going on strike for 52 days, making us walk to work in the middle of winter. (Good one!) And still some sad-sack people insist on trying to riding the bus.

Don’t they understand that they, the passengers are the root cause of all of your problems?  You’ve explained, very carefully that it’s because of us always sneaking on buses without paying that you have that giant deficit.

On top of that, we insist on having stops called out to us, so now you have to install 17 million dollars worth of announcing equipment. Then we whine about bus rides taking too long, so now there’s a never-ending kerfuffle about light rail and tunnels and other silliness.

You even hired on “special constables” to scare us off. You decked them out in Gestapo uniforms and armed them with handcuffs, batons and pepper spray and had them travel in packs wherever they go. And yet, the passengers keep coming like so many locusts in a wheat field.

Having your drivers pretend it’s their first time driving anything bigger than a Vespa, does keep us at the edge of our seats, but it’s still not enough to convince us to stop pestering you people for rides.

Well, I want to assure you that I, for one, get it. I feel your pain. I understand where you’re coming from and I want to help. So, I’m forming the Amalgamated Union of OC Transpo Passengers. And we’re going to make it our first priority to find all these public transportation junkies alternate ways of getting around. You have my word.

PS: I took me from 3:30 until 4:40 to finally get home tonight. By car it would have been a 10 minute drive. And I would walk it except there just isn’t a walkable road from here to there, believe it or not. (Yay, urban sprawl)

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62 responses to “My Dear OC Transpo

  1. That was beautiful. *sniff* Really well said. My van costs me way too much to drive every year, pollutes far more than I would like, and yet I have no intention of giving it up. None whatsoever.

    As an aside, I have a friend who just started driving for OC Transpo. They told her in training an OC bus driver gets knocked out cold every week, on average. I guess that’s why they need their ‘constables’. Kind of scary when you think about it, eh? Toronto has apparently started enclosing drivers in plexiglass or some such to avoid assaults. Yikes.

  2. ..”maintaining their right to strike and against agreeing to send all future unresolved contract negotiations directly to third-party arbitration.”

    Wow. Just wow. The stupidity of those ass-clowns never ceases to amaze me.

    Oh but don’t forget how they tried to penalize older students too. Damn kids should just forget about becoming doctors, lawyers, etc anyway and should sign up to become bus drivers instead! LOL

  3. I guess that’s the problem with monopolies, they can do whatever they damn please since their customers are basically hostages.

    It’s funny, I was just thinking about a post on the new ticketing system they have here in Montreal.

  4. Well put XUP.

    And this is one almost-former OC Transpo user who has had enough and has his name on a few waiting lists for a parking space close to where I work. After 12 years of faithful ridership, I am sick of it all.

    One thing that you don’t mention in your entry, but that I am sure you have noticed is the arrogant attitude that many (not all) drivers have toward students and anyone who isn’t white.

    Students are regarded almost as a necessary evil and are often berated by the driver for holding their pass upside down or something. Last week, a driver called my daughter a “stupid idiot” for trying to use a transfer that was ONE minute past its time stamp! Gimme a break.

    And I’m not saying that all of the drivers are racists but I cannot count how many times I have seen a non-white person be denied entry to a bus for no apparent reason. Some blokes will stand at the door, arms extended in a pleading fashion, and the driver just ignores him and drives away.

    But if that person is a hot white chicky-poo… well, then there isn’t a problem.

    I could go on… but I won’t for now… I feel another anti-OC Transpo ranting post comin’ on! Gimme room!

  5. Glen – Thank you so much. I wrote it as soon as I got home, so I was still in a nice, blazing rage.

    Maven – Who’s knocking out all these drivers and why isn’t this reported? Seriously, if this were true, you’d think they’d want it announced far and wide appended with demands for safety booths, guns and tasers, right? I’m thinking this is some sort of union propaganda to set the trainees against passengers from day one. Don’t ever look at riders as friends — they are your enemy…something along those lines. And, I’m so sorry that you’ve lost a friend to the dark side. (PS: I just spent a week in Toronto and rode lots of subways, buses and trams and didn’t see one driver in plexiglass)

    Hannah – They penalize and abuse us all wherever they can. I know there has to be some sort of rationale for a business treating its customers this way, but I’m not clever enough to figure it out.

    Jazz – Oh, do it! I want to know what your new ticketing system is.

    Trashee – Can’t wait for YOUR rant. And yes, I have noticed that hot chicks will get picked up between stops even, while the old, ugly or otherwise non-hot-chicks don’t stand a chance unless they’re actually smack in front of the doors as soon as the bus makes its 5 second stop. And by jeezus, they will NOT wait until you sit down before peeling off. I would have reported that asshole who called your daughter a stupid idiot. Not that anything would ever be done about it, but it’s fun to annoy OC transpo “customer service” with phone calls

  6. I maintain that public sector unions should not have the power to strike. Nor should public sector management be able to lock workers out.

    When you work for a private company with competitors, strikes are a legitimate tactic. When you provide a monopoly service to the public, they are not.

  7. Your concept of a transit passengers union is the right one. The pols who are actually supposed to be in charge of these services don’t give a damn because they feel sure there are no votes to be lost in their elections.
    Unite and focus your rage on the people who can actually make a difference. The drivers can’t improve the service just their own attitudes but the management can be held to account if you can muster a large enough count to matter to them.

  8. A transit rider’s union would have trouble being influential, given that many transit riders have no other option, except to walk. The bus strike illustrated that well. I was walking the better part of two hours a day. One friend of mine (a student) lost her part-time job because she didn’t have time to walk from home to where she had to work.

    That being said, being organized enough to exert political pressure could have some value.

  9. Funny post. I’m sure just about every transit user has strong feelings about at least some of the complaints you outline, if not each and every one. You’ve got to wonder who’s really directing this thing, and where they think it’s headed.

  10. That being said, being organized enough to exert political pressure could have some value.

    The next municipal election is November 8, 2010.

    That’s just 405 days from now.

    Start pestering your incumbent councillors on transit issues.

    And when the candidates come out of the woodwork, start pestering them.

    Pester your transit-using co-workers.

    Pester your transit-using friends and neighbours, especially if they rent, not own, their home. (Many renters seem to believe they don’t have the right to vote, and renter voter turnout rates are even lower than the general turnout rates.)

    Pester, pester, pester.

    Only 405 more sleeps.

  11. Milan – I completely agree. Because when public sector unions strike they are striking against the public, not against any management. Because management has absolutely nothing to lose, especially if the public service in question is a monopoly. As for the transit riders’ union, as you say, I can imagine how much pressure we could bring to bear since the transit commission holds all the cards and we’d never get enough transit riders to stop using the system to make a difference

    Bandobras – We are the ones being struck upon after all, right? Not the pols. But as Milan says, we have nothing to bargain with.

    Peter – I suspect it’s a lot like Air Canada. They’re there and we have to use them since we have no other international airline. So, they can treat us like crap and if ridership is down they just go crying to the government and then they get bailed out. OC Transpo doesn’t need to make a profit, so there’s no need for customer service.

    WJM – BS that they told her that in training or BS that drivers get knocked out? I don’t believe for a minute that drivers are getting knocked out every week (as I commented to Maven). I could easily believe that they tell trainees that though to keep them mean and suspicious of the unwashed masses. Do you have inside info? Also, I’m all about pestering my councillor except that he doesn’t give a rat’s ass since he automatically gets elected every freakin’ time by a landslide because no one can be bothered getting to know anyone new. Nevertheless, I shall endevour to pester.

  12. Great post, XUP.

    As someone who was actually involved in trying to start up a transit riders’ union in Ottawa (despite not riding the bus myself), the only reason it wouldn’t go anywhere is because people weren’t getting involved and nobody took ownership of it.

    Ottawa’s a small city; it doesn’t take much to effect real political change. Get a handful of people who are actually into it, and it would be dead easy to get a groundswell of support for a transit riders’ union.

    – RG>

  13. RealGrouchy, I think a transit rider’s union can work now better than ever before, if you are willing to forego things like lots of in-person meetings.

    A Facebook group + blogs could do wonders to get people informed and active. Look how fast the anti-strike Facebook groups exploded last winter.

  14. Amen, sista! And what about the buses the heat on in August and the windows that don’t stay closed even when it’s raining and the frigid wind that seeps between the cracks in the door and having to stand the whole 40 minute way to and from downtown even though you’re paying for a premium express pass and the drivers who drive right past you as you are waving your arms at a deserted suburban intersection a mere five steps away from the bus stop as they pull away? Twice in the same week?

    After more than 20 years of relying on OCTranspo, I start driving to work next week. And I won’t miss a thing.

  15. Two weeks ago I got on the bus and was told i could not use the bus tickets I had because they had EXPIRED. the bus driver stopped the bus and was going to make me get off, even though I was holding 10 bus tickets in my hand and offered to put in 3 instead of 2.

    It’s not like they have an expiry date printed on them. In Toronto if you buy a token in advance it’s good for all time.

    Also, hey, maybe I wouldn’t have all these EXPIRED bus tickets if we’d been able to use them during your $%##@ strike last winter when they were valid!! way to restore good relations with your riders post-strike, OC transpo.

    I then waited 30 minutes in line at the OC Transpo wicket at Rideau to exchange my EXPIRED bus tickets for a smaller amount of current (but who knows for how long!) tickets.

    This really sticks in my craw (whatever that is.)

  16. Daphne, I think the tickets you had were the small ones. They put new ticket collector machines in the buses and apparently, they don’t handle the small tickets so they made them bigger. A jolly pain all around but especially for riders like you and me who don’t use tickets that often.

    craw

    –noun
    1. the crop of a bird or insect.
    2. the stomach of an animal.
    —Idiom
    3. stick in one’s craw, to cause considerable or abiding resentment; rankle: She said I was pompous, and that really stuck in my craw.

    I second the FB group for a riders’ union. I wonder what can be done about it being a monopoly? Is it only that way because no one else wants to run a bus company? I heard of some city in South America that has at least 3 different private companies providing public transit… I’ll have to go look that up if I can find it.

  17. great post XUP – I”ve had mixed experiences with the Loser Cruiser. Yesterday was particularly fine, when the nice bus driver practically held my hand to get me to my new job (seriously he was so freaking nice!)….i’ve also been passed, arms waving, in the pouring rain, running towards the bus-stop at 6:20 in the morning (no way they the driver couldn’t see me).
    i also don’t understand why in the summer, a quiet time on my route, they put the big ass stretchy bus on duty, and now that everyone is back to school and work, they have put the little dinky bus on the route, cramming us all in a most undignified manner.
    if i could drive everyday, i likely would.

  18. Ever think of getting a Vespa? People in Seattle drive them everywhere…often places they should really not be with them…but they are cost efficient, easy to park…and if I were in shape like you I would do it…I use to ride a motorcycle when I was in my 20’s.

  19. Grouchy – Really? A transit riders’ union? We’ll have to chat about this some time soon. I threw it into the post as something that I thought would be cool, but never thought could actually happen, but if you and the mysterious WJM think it can be done AND can be effective, then what the hell are we waiting for?

    WJM – OK. I’m going to give this some serious consideration. Facebook groups are nice and feel good, but they don’t really do much to affect change, do they? Blogs are only useful if they have a huge readership and some influence. From my understanding, the best action a grass-roots organization can take is a letter writing campaign. Flood the offices of 2 or 3 key people with letters from everyone and anyone with a transit beef.

    Melissa – Aw shucks. Wanna join our union?

    Dani – Oh, the level of air conditioning or heat is set for the comfort of the driver, not the passengers. Sheesh. So drivers who like to wear shorts and t-shirt sleeves in the winter can crank the heat up to 90 and those of us getting on the bus in our winter gear (assuming there is transit service in the winter), just have to suck it up. As the capital city of this country, our transit system is such an embarrassment in all respects. Happy driving.

    Daphne – That’s just insane. I’ve seen a driver do that to someone before. They had a big screaming match while the rest of us sat there wondering if we were ever getting to work. This post was sarcastic, but I seriously believe they are just looking for reasons and ways not to have people on their bus.

    Julia – I don’t think another bus company would be allowed to do business in the city, though I’m sure there would be plenty who would jump at the chance. Remember during the strike they refused to allow the yellow buses to pick up school kids that normally take city buses? They finally allowed it, provided they picked the kids up after school had already started and didn’t bring them home until after 5:00 pm. Of course this was pretty much the same thing as saying no way! As for the FB group — see my response to WJM

    Meanie – I’m sure anyone who had a real option would take it, rather than the bus. It’s not like that in every city. In some cities, people actually prefer to take public transit because it’s faster, cheaper and more comfortable than driving a car. Can you imagine? Me neither. As to your question, again, I truly believe they go out of their way to cause us inconvenience and discomfort. Just because they can.

    Cedar – I’d only be able to use it a few months of the year. A Vespa doesn’t do well in 4 feet of snow and driving blizzard winds. I’d have to move to Rome or something to make it a viable transportation method. Also, cars around here are incapable of seeing anything smaller than an SUV. Cyclists, pedestrians, motorcyclists and electric bikes are forever getting creamed. I don’t think I’d look good creamed.

  20. You don’t use your union to strike anything but fear into the hearts of the only people you can have any effect on. The ones seeking re-election. Every significant change in our civilization in the last century was spearheaded not by the people in power but by interested groups who got organized, and then used that organized clout to demand action from, or removal of the power brokers. Civil rights, woman’s voting rights, old age pensions, medicare, the list goes on and on.
    It won’t be easy and it won’t be quick but imagine a future with a buses only lane on a street called XUP blvd.
    The Rosa Parks of bus riders.
    Repeat after me ” We ain’t going to take it any more.”

  21. “Is it only that way because no one else wants to run a bus company?”

    Public transport is a natural monopoly. It works best when all the parts of the system are coordinated. OC Transpo may not do that especially well, but they probably do better than a mishmash of private operators would.

  22. Pingback: Dr. OC Transpo-Love. Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bus | Trashy's World

  23. I’m going to give this some serious consideration. Facebook groups are nice and feel good, but they don’t really do much to affect change, do they?

    Tell that to this politician from Chicargo… what’s his name now. Iraq Osama? Something like that. He made big news there last fall. Has the lovely wife and daughters, lives in a big white house.

    Blogs are only useful if they have a huge readership and some influence. From my understanding, the best action a grass-roots organization can take is a letter writing campaign. Flood the offices of 2 or 3 key people with letters from everyone and anyone with a transit beef.

    And that’s where the blogs and Facebook come in. A bunch of bloggers, none of whom had great readership individually, forced major changes to public services at the National Archives. And blogs and Facebook are great ways of organizing letter campaigns: you publicize the issue, produce facts and suggested arguments, and wrap it all up in a sugar coating that includes the addresses, emails, and phone numbers of the people who you are trying to put public pressure on.

    I also know that this kind of thing generated a lot of heat on federal MPs and the labour board during the OC Transpo strike… and on the ATU for that matter, who had to take all the contact info off their website in the face of the brutal onslaught.

  24. Could such a group agree about what they want changed?

    ‘Fix public transport’ is awfully vague, and people might disagree about details. For instance, people who live downtown may not want to pay extra to improve rural services they never use.

  25. The Under Pressure Collective tried to stimulate a Bus Riders’ Union back in 2006 after a few screenings of the documentary “Bus Riders Union” inspired a bunch of people to get active. I think it could be best summarized in David Reevely’s 2006-05-16 column “Bus critics must get practical,” which you can view here with your OPL card login.

    As for public transit being a monopoly, that is mandated, either through provincial law or municipal by-laws. That’s why the airport/hotel shuttles have a very limited scope, why you can’t get a ticket to take the train between Fallowfield and the Ottawa train station, and why Clarence-Rockland transit buses can’t pick up or drop off any passengers outside of downtown Ottawa. If a private company tried to start its own public transit service in Ottawa, they’d get shut down in a heartbeat by the City. Other cities seem to manage with multiple private-sector public transit operators just fine though.

    XUP – I think it can be done, but it would take a lot of work. I don’t take public transit, so it’s really not a high priority for me. All you need to know is a few key people in the government and the media. Getting some people who are willing to stand at bus stops/stations and hand out flyers (e.g. explaining important issues affecting passengers) is something that is almost never done. I’ve only heard it done a handful of times by Friends of the O-Train.

    Milan – Ottawa’s political structure would never allow us to discourage cars downtown. The closest we have is that the federal government has very limited parking for their employees, which encourages them to take public transit. That’s the only reason public transit use is so high in this city, and is also why public transit is so singularly focused on serving suburban rush-hour commuters.

    Could they agree on what they want changed? Maybe, maybe not. It would be nice to have a strong, unified voice speaking out against perennial fare hikes, and also to consult when the City considers new changes (to a degree, the Pedestrian and Transit Advisory Committee does this, but it is a bureaucratic advocacy group, not a grassroots one).

    There’s an active Livejournal community for OC Transpo, which includes passengers and drivers. The comments in those forums scare me.

    – RG>

  26. Julia – Thanks. I’ll give this a look see

    Bandobras – I’m all teary now and fired up with the righteous spark of inspiration and determination. Thank you

    Transhee – Excellent. Brilliant rant.

    Milan – I’m going to have a look at the link Julia provided and see how that South American city manages with multiple private transit providers. For sure I think cars don’t belong in the downtown core at all. Thanks for the link. As to the group agreeing on some demands, I reckon we’d have to hammer out some basics to begin with. Just getting the buses to adhere to a schedule would be nice, so that you can actually rely on the transit system. Asking the drivers to show some courtesy and to drive respectfully. Keeping the buses in good repair and adjusting the temperatures to convenience the passengers not the driver…stuff like that. The big stuff can follow later.

    WJM – Who are you? I’m happy that you found the blog and are so engaged in the conversation. Do you have a blog you can link us to? Or are you just passing by? And you’re right, technology can snowball a cause very quickly these days.

    Grouchy – Thanks for all the info. I’m interested to see this LiveJournal group and to read Dave Reevely’s column (before my time here).

  27. God knows I’ve ranted enough about OC Transpo. If we get this “union” up and running, and a Facebook group going, I’ll join in.

    I think it’s an excellent idea, if just to get the word out that we’ve had enough.

  28. Something to begin with would be a “Transit Rider’s Charter of Rights.”

    1) Every transit rider has the right to have respect shown to them by OC Transpo employees, regardless of sex, race, etc.
    2) Every transit rider has the right to a safe environment; including a safe driving environment.
    3) Every transit rider has the right to on time service except in extreme weather or traffic conditions

    etc., etc…

  29. “Every transit rider has the right to on time service except in extreme weather or traffic conditions”

    I don’t think this can ever be fully achieved on streets where there are also private vehicles. Traffic is a chaotic phenomenon, and impossible to perfectly correct for at all times and places.

  30. @Milan – you are right – how else can this be phrased? The purpose is to say that there is a right to expect that a bus is gonna be there when the sked says that there will be one…except under extenuating circumstances…
    Hmmm… maybe that’s it.

  31. Even in normal traffic, it is asking too much for every bus to always be on time. The best you can hope for is a probability distribution where busses are often right on time, and not usually too early or too late.

  32. On-time performance
    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    In transportation (such as municipal public transportation), schedule adherence or on-time performance refers to the level of success of the service (such as a bus or train) remaining on the published schedule.

    There are many factors that can have an impact on on-time performance. Depending on the situation, the service may face regular delays or a service that usually performs on time may be occasionally behind schedule.

  33. Ken – Okay. We’ll all have to have some real discussions to figure out how this would best work.

    Trashee – Yes. This is starting to look like we’ll have to call a meeting and vote on stuff and take notes.

    Milan – I appreciate that buses can be late. There is no reason for them to leave a stop early, though. At my house, especially on weekends, the buses are often 6, 7 and 8 minutes early and their point of origin is only 6 minutes away according to the schedule. Also, there surely has to be a way to ensure that if, for some reason a bus breaks down or whatever, that they replace it asap so it can still make the scheduled run. I’ve called customer service before when a bus doesn’t show up and they tell me: I don’t know (75% of the time), or “we didn’t have a spare bus” or “the driver didn’t come in today”. If that happened once or twice a year, okay – but once or twice a week is unacceptable, I think.

    Stephanie – Yes, I’ve seen that forum and it seems to be dominated by bus drivers. It’s interesting, and perhaps a good place to vent, but is it productive?

    Jobthingy – They know where I am. Ha ha. (Actually, Dave Reevely has already picked it up and linked it in his blog today)And yes, it IS very annoying. Every day in every way.

    Meagan – Thank you. We seem to have a good, passionate start to our transit riders “union”

  34. REAL GROUCHY – By the way, your first comment this morning has the dubious honour of being the 10,000th comment on this blog!! Woo-hooo…bring on the streamers and confetti

  35. XUP – That’s awsome! I instinctively clapped my hands and shot them in the air, while shouting “SCOOORREEE!!!” in my head. We should celebrate. Possibly on National Grouch Day, October 15th.

    It must be a sign that a transit riders union is the way to go. I call ‘not it’.

    – RG>

  36. XUP — You might send it to the letters desk at letters@thecitizen.canwest.com. It’d probably have to be trimmed a bit for publication, but it’s the kind of well-informed rant I’d have loved to get when I subbed as letters editor.

    Here’s that column Grouchy liked. I was probably wrong about the hybrid engines.

    Bus critics must get practical
    The Ottawa Citizen
    Tue May 16 2006
    Page: D4
    Section: City – City Editorial
    Byline: David Reevely
    Column: David Reevely
    Source: The Ottawa Citizen

    The list of complaints about Ottawa’s transit service overflowed the whiteboard and spilled onto sheets of chart paper. Rising fares. Service cuts. A wonky online trip-planner. Unhelpful drivers.

    Twenty-eight-year-old Matt Morgan-Brown markered the list on the wall of the Ottawa District Labour Council’s boardroom last week, on the fifth floor of the Colonnade Pizza building on Metcalfe Street. Hot spring sun streamed in through the windows, then faded as dusk settled. Ottawans elsewhere gathered around TVs as the Senators skated to a 3-2 loss in overtime. In the boardroom, drawn together by anti-poverty advocates calling themselves the Under Pressure Collective, 18 devoted public-transit users threw out ideas for improving OC Transpo, brainstorming through a preliminary meeting of the provisionally named Ottawa Bus Riders Union.

    “We should be the watchdogs that make sure that when OC Transpo does something, the riders have been represented in that decision,” said Charles Akben-Marchand (the head of Citizens for Safe Cycling, who knows his way around City Hall), articulating the closest thing to a mission statement anyone in the group developed.

    Transit users in Ottawa are mainly spoken for, but not really represented by, transit experts at Transport 2000. A City Hall advisory committee, which meets for about two hours every other month, splits its time between transit and pedestrian matters. An Ottawa Transit Riders Association never found traction and published its last monthly bulletin in the winter. Tens of thousands of Ottawans take OC Transpo every day, yet transit is a big target at budget time: in 2005, council voted to hike fares 7.5 per cent a year for five years, after cutting funding by $9 million in 2004. Fat chance of turning Ottawa into a transit city that way.

    But if the Bus Riders Union wants to champion riders, it’ll first have to be taken seriously. Its most important challenge will be not collapsing under the weight of its own earnestness.

    Canada’s most prominent bus-riders union is in Vancouver, where it coalesced during a four-month transit strike in 2001. The Under Pressure Collective people opened last week’s meeting saying no other community’s model can simply be transplanted here, and that’s smart: the Vancouver group is loud and visible, but it doesn’t get too much done.

    The Vancouver Bus Riders Union sees public transit as a tool for social transformation, not for getting people from place to place. “We are committed to the fight against racism, class oppression, sexism and the oppression of immigrants,” the Vancouver group says in its “Basis of Unity” declaration. “This work includes defending and expanding the social, political and economic rights of the disabled, gays, lesbians, the elderly, youth and other historically oppressed communities in the struggle for economic democracy and the redistribution of wealth.”

    So what about making sure the schedules show which buses are wheelchair-accessible? That idea, put forward by attendee Catherine Gardiner, is easily understood and you’d be nuts to oppose it. What about encouraging OC Transpo to make sure non-riders know how many cars a Transitway bus gets off the road?

    A fundamental dispute, which the participants in last week’s brainstorming session decided to put aside and deal with later, was how the group should feel about light rail. Is all transit good, or is commuter-rail service to the suburbs just a subsidy for the well-off and a gift for the corporations hired to build it?

    Without common ground on these questions, the group couldn’t immediately agree on a final name. Should it be the Bus Riders Union or Public Transit Users Union or what? The disagreement can’t be papered over forever: any serious transit-advocacy group in Ottawa needs a position on what city council sees as the future of transit.

    The Ottawa group risks heading down a well-travelled road to irrelevance if it wastes time on ideas such as eliminating fares altogether, wresting control of OC Transpo from city council’s transportation committee, converting the bus fleet to hybrid engines and charging fees to downtown drivers. They’re ideas middle-class homeowners — the biggest voting bloc in town, whether a radical likes it or not — will never buy.

    Narrow the list down to things you might get done in three months. Combat the violence inherent in the system later.

  37. @David – a good analytical piece would focus on the pros and cons of privatising transit in Ottawa. Competiton among private sector operators may (may!) go a long way…

    I think I’ll do some research and post the results on my blog… what other jurisdictions have privatised successfully?

  38. Transport Canada’s got a not-bad overview here: http://www.tc.gc.ca/programs/environment/utsp/privatesectorcanada.htm

    The short answer is that straight-up privatization (City council says, “We’re not going to do this anymore, anybody who wants to run a bus system, go nuts.”) isn’t on, particularly in a city as far-flung as Ottawa. Any reasonably comprehensive system is going to require heavy subsidies, and that means heavy regulation and involvement of the government(s) providing that money.

    Otherwise, you’d probably see rush-hour service on the Transitway and that’s about it. I’m not sure what the current figures are, but last I checked, only a couple of the 90-series routes turned a profit overall. Even if you paid the drivers less and tightened up the operation somehow, you’re still not looking at profits in many places. There’s a reason taxpayers spent $220 million on OC Transpo last year.

    Contracting out is a different story. Several places do that even in Canada, as the link above describes. Private providers mostly provide medium-distance commuter shuttles (including into and out of Ottawa to places like Rockland and Carleton Place), but there are some urban transit systems that contract out. Ottawa even contracted out Para Transpo for a while to FirstBus; they eventually decided they didn’t want to renew the contract so the city took the operation back over, but there’s no theoretical reason contracting out municipal transit can’t work.

    Thing is, in Ottawa you’d have to get past the ATU 279 contract first, which I believe forbids contracting out union work. That’d be pretty much ironclad under Canadian labour law, though there might be a fight ahead over whether the operators of a new big rail system have to be union members.

    That’s a big practical obstacle. I’m not sure there’s any way the city could surmount it, even if everybody wanted to contract out.

  39. Grouchy – I know eh? How exciting. And you can’t call “not it” until everybody’s around.

    Cedar – Except ice.

    Trashee – We’ll have to form sub-committees and attend conferences and do some training. Because nothing can be accomplished without some new mandatory training.

    David – Thanks for this. I completely agree. IF such a transit users organization were to be organized, it should begin by looking at effecting a series of small, doable changes. Then, after they have some successes under their belt and some credibility, they can look at some increasingly bigger issues.

    Trashee- I’m also not sure that we need to throw they baby out with the bathwater. From what I understand it’s almost impossible to make a profit from public transit. Shame on a city that can’t make its public transit system work. It should be an important part of their overall transportation plan, not something they feel they have to put up with — which is how it seems right now. If a city can’t find a way to efficiently and effectively move its people around then it’s going to suffer in all aspects of its life. But this is a big issue and if we’re still talking about a transit riders’ advocacy group, then it’s not something it/we should be even worrying about right now. I would think the first order of business is to make a short list of day-to-day issues that annoy, inconvenience and generally make taking the bus hell for people. Then take those up with OC Transpo management. If the group could just get buses to stop leaving early, to get drivers to show some respect for their bread-and-butter, maybe to sort out the chaos that some stations represent, keep the bus temperatures reasonable and buses in good repair — those alone would be huge. Dontcha think?

  40. Yup – quick victories do a few things:
    – give an advocacy/interest group added confidence
    – bring in new members… strength in numbers
    – shows management (the City in this case) that it is a serious matter that cannot be ignored.

  41. I would bet privatization would work. You wouldn’t necessarily have to make a profit – you could aim to break even, or make a very small profit.

    We seem to assume that privatization = company wants to make large profits.

    I work for a credit union – a co-operative. We make a profit, but we’re not worried about making big-bank profits. We never could. But we deliver products and services at competitive prices and reasonably efficiently, and most importantly, our customers – our members – are happy. The fact that we make money at the same time is a bonus.

    Public transit could be approached the same way, I think.

  42. WJM – Who are you? I’m happy that you found the blog and are so engaged in the conversation. Do you have a blog you can link us to? Or are you just passing by?

    I am me!

    I have blogs, but they are unrelated to anything Ottawa-y (Ottawy?) or urban-y.

    I’m just a fed-up transpo-dependent by choice citizen. And having discovered this blog, no I’m not just passing through. I’ll sit a while!

  43. Trashee – Okay, we’re agreed. Put it in the minutes and draft a policy!

    Ken – I never thought of a cooperative model. I wonder if there are functioning examples anywhere of a cooperative city transit system?

    WJM – I’d still like to have a look at your blog(s). This blog is almost never Ottaway or urbany either. As you’ll find out if you’re sticking around.

  44. A cooperative sounds like the equivalent of either a Transit Commission (arms-length appointed by City Council, like how OC Transpo was pre-amalgamation, or how Hydro Ottawa is currently set up, or how the board of health is sort of shaping up), or like a separate body elected by the shareholders (like the school boards).

    City Council is very resistant to a commission-like model, because it removes their ability to meddle in the nitty-gritty details of running a bus service. (This meddling is not necessarily a bad thing; it allows the councillor to serve as a point of authority when service really sucks, or when the transit company cuts service to a particular area)

    – RG>

  45. So true – I wonder if they allowed bus drivers to take monetary tips if it would help alleviate the situation.

  46. I hardly ever take an OC Transpo bus however I took one recently from the rideau center to Kanata to meet a friend at a pub and go on to a Senators game from there. I bought a ticket at the rideau center booth and asked them which bus would take me to Terry Fox drive in Kanata so I could meet my friend.

    They told me which bus to take and away I went. When I was waiting for the bus and because I do not take one very often I noticed how patient riders must be to stand or sit around waiting for a bus to arrive. Because I drive and own my own car I got impatient waiting for a bus very quickly. The bus finally arrived in about ten or fifteen minutes and I was on my way. I thought the bus ride was comfortable and efficient going to Kanata as it made short stops along the way and moved quickly between stops.

    My only problem with the ride was when the bus finally arrived in Kanata at Terry Fox station there is no where else to go it is a final stop at Kanata Centrum Mall where I had to walk. After discovering my friend was way up Terry Fox drive in Kanata at Darcy McGees Pub I started to realize I was in for quite a walk. I walked for forty minutes from Kanata Centrum to where my friend was with no other busses to take and only my two feet to get me there. I looked for a taxi the whole way and only saw two in total who both had customers and one going the other direction. I am glad I dont have to take the bus as anyone who lives in Kanata is resorted to walking home if Terrry Fox drive is your last destination,

  47. Just a thought – Anyone who lives within spitting distance of their workplace, buy a bike; rollar blades or a good pair of running shoes. I bike about 12 k each way, each day – and it is by far much faster than the red-rocket could ever be – and it sure is a much healthier way to travel.
    From April to the first snow significant snowfall – there is no exuse. Most office buildings downtown provide showers, have gyms, and bike cages. Get enough people on bikes and before you know it, we could have bike lanes instead of bus lanes (far fetched, I know).

  48. Grouchy – Cooperatives are great for a lot of things. Like most team efforts though, there are drawbacks.

    Disenchanted – Don’t even suggest that. Who would actually tip them? Not me.

    FOC – Interesting that you had such a variety of experiences during one bus adventure. Imagine the frustration of doing this every day?

    Steve – If I could, believe me, I would. I’m within walking distance of work – as the crow flies – unfortunately Ottawa’s streets are designed so you can’t get there from here. I would have to cross several highways, clamber through fields, crawl over fences and swim through some culverts. OR walk around which would take 2 days.

  49. I just stumbled onto your blog, about 5 months after your post. I’m a new driver at OC Transpo. I can tell you some of the drivers really do care about serving the passengers. I don’t mind calling out stops, in fact I call out most major intersections routinely, regardless of whether or not they are on the list of announced stops. I will do special request stops, I even wait for people who are running for the bus. It seems to confuse them. :o)
    About the strike… in my opinion, it was a bad idea, but there are some people who have such a very little feeling of control or power in their life that voting for a strike is as close as they get to feeling important. Sad, but true.
    Yes, Hurdman is a zoo sometimes, and it can make getting the bus to the right place very difficult. One time I did pick up at the wrong platform, then circled Hurdman and picked up people again, at the right platform. However I still had people running for the bus after the second pick up.
    Also, it does not matter if I am on time, one minute late, two minutes later, five minutes late, or ten minutes late, there will ALWAYS be someone running for the bus. I’ve had someone get on the bus and angrily tell me I am late, and the next person who gets on the bus, after running across the platform, THANK ME profusely for waiting. I can’t win, someone will always be upset. Right?