Shape of city's transit service gets mauled at city council meeting. Several council members say they knew nothing about it.

News 100 blueSpecial to the Gazette

September 13th,2017

BURLINGTON, ON

 

Burlington Transit violated provincial laws concerning hours of work and followed unsafe maintenance practices following cutbacks made by City Council to the system’s budget, according to an explosive report by City Manager James Ridge and senior staff at the beleaguered transit agency.

Ridge, Director of Transit Sue Connor and Business Administration Manager Colm Lynn painted a picture of a system stretched beyond its limits at a meeting of Council’s Committee of the Whole Sept. 7.

Councillors expressed shock that the cutbacks for which they had voted caused such chaos at Burlington Transit and directed staff to come up with a budget that would at least stabilize the system at its meeting on Sept. 11.
Ridge told the presentation that the deterioration of the transit system occurred under the City’s mantra of “doing more with less.”

Spicer + Ridge

City manager James Ridge with Mike Spicer who at the time was the Director of Transit. Much of the damage done to the transit service took place on Spicer’s watch. The city manager does not appear to be amused.

“With every exercise [in doing more with less] there’s a line you cross where you just provide crappy [transit] service that people don’t want,” Ridge said. “And I think we passed that line some time ago.”

Among the revelations in the staff report:

• A significant number of Burlington Transit drivers worked above the maximum weekly number of hours allowed by provincial legislation without a permit. BT never applied for such a permit, even though some drivers had worked more than 60 hours per week.

• Two thirds of the time, BT’s mechanics work alone, without supervision. The system has had to cut back on preventive maintenance and has the lowest ratio of mechanics to vehicle miles of its peers. If a bus breaks down, there are no replacements available. Reliability has plummeted, and BT’s new Director and staff have used their own cars to rescue passengers stranded by breakdowns. Ridge called these “fundamental safety issues [that] have to be addressed.”

• Drivers who are classed as casual employees are working an average of more than 40 hours per week, with minimal benefits and compensation below the level of Halton’s living wage. Of these employees, the annual turnover is more than 50% because Burlington pays its transit operators less than neighbouring municipalities.

• The City provides no capital funding for transit. All capital funding, which buys replacement buses, among other things, has come from federal and provincial grants and special programs.

• Ridership has declined by 16.5% as service has become less frequent and less reliable.

Citizen call for a public inquiry of the city’s public transit service.

Councillors expressed shock that the cutbacks they supported had caused such a mess.

Ward 4 Councillor Jack Dennison always has an eye open for an economic opportunity - sees a great one for the city: sell the golf course.

Ward 4 Councillor Jack Dennison has his own form of transportation. Isn’t believed to have been aboard a bus for more than a decade.

“I didn’t realize that the sky was falling as badly as it appears to be,” said Ward 4 Councillor Jack Dennison, who supported diverting funds from the transit budget to “scrape-and-pave” projects on little-used residential streets.

Councillors voted to take money out of transit’s share of the money the city gets from the federal gas tax to fund the shave – and-pave projects.

Councillors Sharman and Lancaster: both part of the Shape Burlington committee who seem to have forgotten what the report was all about - civic engagement

Councillors Sharman and Lancaster both expressed shock, dismay and concern over the state of the city’s transit service.

“Every budget over the last four years, we’ve talked about gas tax split and every year, I’ve asked the question ‘Do we have sufficient funds going into the … vehicle renewal fund that makes this [service] viable?’ And every year I’ve been told ‘yes’,” said Ward 5 Councillor Paul Sharman.

Ward 6 Councillor Blair Lancaster said she was “just as shocked as anyone” by the information from Ridge and the transit staff. But she said councilors knew that the data they had been getting in the past was “compromised and not necessarily reliable.”

Transit - unhappy customer

Citizen taking part in a transit Forum put on by Bfast vents his concern over the quality of the service to the Mayo and the Director of Transportation.

“I think there’s an extreme urgency” to address transit’s problems, said Mayor Rick Goldring, but the next budget cycle was “pretty soon.”

“But I don’t believe we should be waiting two cycles before we get the fix,” he said. “I think the sooner we can get our head around this and how we’re going to address it, the better.

“We don’t want to wait. We know we have to do something.”

 

Related news stories:

Transit riders get specific about service.

Politicians try to romance transit users.

 

 

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5 comments to Shape of city’s transit service gets mauled at city council meeting. Several council members say they knew nothing about it.

  • Roger

    Shocked from Sharman and Lancaster – BS – they knew what was going on

  • Stephen White

    If the Payroll Department had been monitoring the hours worked by Burlington Transit drivers then they should have known that the maximum number of hours had been exceeded. This is a requirement under the Employment Standards Act. So, the key questions become: 1) when was the problem first detected? and 2) when and how was it brought to the attention of senior management?

    And if the Human Resources Department had been monitoring turnover rates as part of their staffing protocol then they should have known that a problem with turnover amongst drivers was occurring. For how long has it continued, and when was it first brought to the attention of senior management, and how?

    Also, how do other municipalities provide capital financing for buses? Is this different from Burlington’s current practice, and if so, why?

    And if ridership is down 16.5%, over what timeframe, and why?

    Come to think of it, Doug Brown’s suggestion of an inquiry isn’t such a bad idea.

  • Judy

    It’s about time someone stood up for the bus riders. The best thing about transit is the bus drivers. Goes to show you that complaints are ignored. A few years ago during a very hot summer none of the buses had working a/c. When I talked to a driver about it he said they put in the work orders but nothing was ever done. I sent an email to Transit & copied the Mayor. They were fixed in a week.

  • Penny

    Totally agree with Roger. Council had to know what was happening. What did they think was going to be the end result, when they kept robbing from “Peter to pay Paul”? If as Councillor Lancaster said “councillors knew that the data that they had been getting in the past was compromised and not necessarily reliable” why didn’t they do something about this.

    If indeed this is true, is this being addressed as it was staff who presented this “unreliable information”.

  • Every body

    Pathetic. Can’t even run a bus system congrats on being horrible at your jobs. Have you people ever taken the bus it’s garbage in Burlington and already more expensive then better Service in other cities absolutely pathetic!!