LRT delay costs offset by savings, city confirms; OC Transpo predicts fewer layoffs after LRT opens
The delay of the opening of the Confederation LRT Line by six months has added millions to OC Transpo’s operating costs in 2018 — but senior staff from the transportation services department said Wednesday those extra costs will be offset by other savings.
In a presentation to the city’s transit commission, the city said the cost of running bus detours during those six months is expected to hit $10.8 million. Meanwhile, extending bus operations will add an extra $24.8 million, and lost revenues “due to lower ridership” will cost OC Transpo about $1.6 million.
As outlined in its project agreement with the city, the consortium building the Confederation Line, the Rideau Transit Group (RTG), is paying for the $10.8 million in bus detours, which arise from the closure of the Transitway and certain streets during the construction period.
As a result of the delay, transportation services staff said they are also saving $16.6 million in maintenance and energy payments and another $9.8 million in monthly debt service payments to the RTG — which together will cover the cost of extending bus operations and the shortfall from lost fares.
The transit commission, charged with addressing all issues related to Ottawa’s public transit system, approved these adjustments to OC Transpo’s 2018 operating budget at the meeting.
The commission, chaired by Coun. Stephen Blais, is made up of both city councillors and members of the public and is separate from the city’s transportation committee, which is responsible for transportation planning and infrastructure.
The RTG was originally supposed to turn over the completed $2.1-billion Confederation Line on May 24. The consortium’s new deadline is Nov. 2, although the city’s general manager of transportation services said earlier this month he can’t guarantee the RTG will meet that date.
If the RTG doesn’t make the Nov. 2, deadline, it will be fined $1 million.
In OC Transpo’s first quarter report for 2018, the city reiterated that Nov. 2 is “not the date that the O-Train service will be brought into service for customers.” After the RTG hands over the keys to the system, OC Transpo says it will conduct “intensive final familiarization of all aspects of the system for all staff who will be carrying out work associated with O-Train service.”
In the same report, city staff also repeated there will be a four-week “adjustment and transition “period throughout November, once the light rail line opens for business, during which the bus detours will run parallel to the LRT service. The city is doing this so that the change for residents’ commutes is “not abrupt but smooth.”
That month-long service overlap, expected to cost $4.5 million, was previously budgeted for and will be covered using transit reserve funds, the city said.
OC Transpo now predicts fewer layoffs due to LRT switch; Q1 report shows surplus;
As a result of the transition to LRT, John Manconi, general manager of transportation services, said the city now predicts it will have to issue layoff notices to around 425 OC Transpo employees — down from the 500 to 600 it had previously estimated.
The first quarter report noted the number of layoffs could range from 421 to 480, with severance payments totalling between $5.5 and $7.0 million.
Manconi said the transit agency’s key strategies for reducing layoffs include maintaining vacancies after employees have moved on or retired, as well as “a good working relationship” and “good communication” with the union.
The report also showed OC Transpo ended the first quarter of 2018 with a surplus of $1.084 million, which city staff chalked up to compensation savings from keeping vacancies open, as well as lower fuel costs.
“We’re at a surplus, which is a really good state given all the disruption that’s going on,” Manconi told the transit commission.
Asked how OC Transpo spent 31 per cent of its annual budget for overtime compensation in the first quarter, Manconi said that the city expects to see increases in overtime payments as a result of leaving vacancies open.
“We’re doing a delicate balancing act in trying to minimize the layoffs we’re doing,” Manconi said. “We’re balancing all those pieces and I can assure you we’re tracking all the major line items, including overtime.”
City staff also told the commission that overall savings during the first quarter were partially offset by an “increased cost of support services and a fare revenue shortfall due to lower average fares” paid by riders. The sale of more discounted fare products — like youth, student and day passes — was a major contributing factor to those lower average fares, staff said.