Public Transit Driving Us Mad


OC Transpo bus

OC Transpo bus

We all know the advantages of public transit: it’s better for the environment; it helps reduce traffic; you avoid eye-gouging downtown parking fees; and for some, it’s even a bit of free time to read or listen to an iPod.

Public transit works great in theory. In reality, anyone who’s utilized OC Transpo’s services might tell you differently. It seems we’ve forgotten, but after the OC Transpo strike that started on December 10, 2008 and ended 51 excruciating days later, OC Transpo vowed to offer Ottawa residents a better, more courteous service. And I have to admit, that first week back nearly brought a tear to my eye: drivers were on time and seemed genuinely happy to greet riders.

Since then, bus drivers have, with a few exceptions, returned to their old habits: they’re rude and impatient, they close the doors and take off even when they see you there, and they think bus schedules are just a suggestion.

Their mandate is “to deliver safe, reliable, and courteous service at a reasonable price.” Seeing as I haven’t yet had an accident while riding a bus, I’ll grant them “safe”. I’m still waiting for “reliable” and “courteous”. Buses are so often late (or fail to come at all) that I’ve got their customer service number in my cell phone contacts. This despite the fact that after the strike, their customer service reps stated a zero tolerance for lateness.

But why doesn’t their mandate mention “sufficient”? OC Transpo has held consultations, where the public can attend and express their opinion — if they happen to see the tiny notices temporarily taped to bus stop poles. Following these consultations, some bus routes were changed, while others were eliminated altogether. All to better serve residents.

Meanwhile, other buses are so over-packed that after the first few downtown stops, people are standing packed all the way to the doors, and the buses can’t take in any other riders.

I and many others have been both calling in and e-mailing our grievances. I question whether the online form we fill out even goes to a valid account, since we never actually receive a response. However, by phone, the reps take note of every comment, and encourage riders to call. The rep today (with whom I’m now on first-name basis) informed me that the next schedule changes will take place in April. I urge all disgruntled riders to do their part and tell OC Transpo we expect better, either by phone (613-842-3600) or through their online form.

What do YOU think of OC Transpo’s post-strike service?

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6 comments on “Public Transit Driving Us Mad

  1. ocdriver2010 says:

    Hello Nadia, I’m blogging about OC Transpo customer diservice and somehow your post popped up as an auto tag on my blog. You might find some of what I have been writing about of interest. I added you to my blog roll. I am sorry to read you are not getting the service you deserve from OC Transpo.

  2. Jean-Pierre says:

    The training for new drivers at OC Transpo is outstanding. They make a concerted effort to produce drivers that are sensitive to the needs of their communities. However, this is quickly squashed in the first few months of employment. Here’s how it works:

    1) New employees don’t get a steady, regular route. Every day they are given new routes in completely different areas of the city. Only senior employees get the luxury of routine.

    2) These random and rotating routes are the garbage left over when senior drivers have had their pick.

    3) These routes have bizarre and unfamiliar stop call-outs, printed on a piece of paper.

    4) These routes are usually ultra time-sensitive express runs.

    So here’s what new drivers are faced with:

    1) Reading from a piece of paper (while you drive) to figure out where the hell you are supposed to be going.

    2) Taking request stops from every passenger who asks, and believe me, there are always people doing this, and not because the windows are dirty or because they have some sort of disability. Some people just want to go to sleep and have you as their personal wake-up service.

    3) Reading from that stupid piece of paper what the official call-outs are (while driving).

    4) All the while, you have to be ON TIME while people get on your bus, block the entrance area and fish through their purse or handbag to find their pass or loose change.

    5) Many people play chicken with the bus because they are frustrated being behind one. You have to always be on guard for idiots who perform tremendously stupid and ill-conceived stunts in an effort to pass you.

    6) Pedestrians who non-chalantly take their sweet old time walking in front of your bus because obviously the world revolves around their every move.

    7) Passengers who harbour resentment and hostility towards you for the strikes of years past when you have only been working for 2 weeks!

    8) Passengers, like yourself, who have the complaints number on speed dial because they have no life, and because complaining about trivial or unfixable issues (like weather delays) give them some sort of passive-aggressive revenge.

    9) Try to imagine what it’s like to say “good morning, hello, thank-you” to hundreds of people everyday while they look at you like you are some sort of untouchable servant who is breaching some sort of unmentionable caste system of conduct.

    10) Just imagine what it’s like when you have to be the poor schmuck who gets assigned to the highschool pickup routes where self-absorbed iPod worshipping teens take a perverse joy in ringing the stop bell for EVERY SINGLE STOP and no one gets off until the very end. You also have the pleasure of cleaning up their food detritus before your next route, oh, that started 10 minutes ago.

    You want good customer service with calling out all stops, request stops, smooth rides, cheery banter, and perfect adherence to brand-new unknown routes with a driver capable of reading while driving? Expect your bus to be late or to get into an accident. Simple as that.

    Or we can develop schedules that allow for all of those types of delays. How would you like to take twice as long to get to your destination, but to be assured that the bus would always be on time? We can do that. How would you like us to check every single person’s id and bus pass to make sure it is presented properly, the numbers are written in, the numbers are in black ink, and that every single transfer is valid? We can do that too and busses would take an hour to go 8 stops.

    It’s not the bus drivers, ok? Please get that through your head. You want somebody to do all these things in a small space of time, in a distracted environment, moving 30 tonnes in high-density traffic, all the while knowing they are under the gun by anonymous public do-gooders who take joy in making their lives miserable.

    I get compliments every single day I’m on the job, but no one can be bothered to actually phone up OC transpo to tell them so. But there are plenty of people to complain about my irresponsible and reckless driving that occurs when I have to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting some jackass who saunters across rush hour traffic, believing that simply putting her hand up in a “stop” signal makes 30 tonnes of steel bow to her every command.

    It’s the 10% of passengers who treat me with basic respect and who actually respond to me when I say hello that keep me from being……less than courteous.

    One last thing. Do you think that bus drivers are purposefully late? Really? How many people do you know are the type who would drag out their work day so they could be late getting home? Every minute I am late driving the bus is a minute late for me to get home at the end of another day of abuse. You would think I’d like to get my day over as quickly as possible.

    But no. According to people like yourself, I get some sort of joy out of pissing people off in some sort of passive-aggressive stunt that also makes me late getting home to MY family. I’m sure that makes perfect sense to you.

    I don’t dislike you. I don’t even know you. What I do know is that people like yourself harbour these ill feelings about drivers without knowing anything about what it’s like to do the job. I have 3 degrees and this work is the only kind I can get that has some sort of security to it, post dot-com bust. People look at me and talk to me like I’m some sort of feeble-minded imbecile. Children call me “dumb-ass” if I make a wrong turn on a brand new route onto an unsigned road in blizzard conditions.

    You want to know who treats me with respect and dignity and who always have kind things to say?

    Homeless people.

    and because of that, I always issue them free day-passes. I hope they ride my bus all day long.

    • Thanks for the comments. First, let me state how refreshing it is to read a well-written, structured response. I truly enjoyed the read.

      Second, if you notice, only the first part of my post pertains to drivers. The second part was about OC Transpo behind-the-scenes service – from the people who decide to eliminate bus routes to those who simply don’t respond to customer feedback at all.
      I can appreciate the fact that drivers don’t have it easy. I take the bus every day and have seen for myself some of the incidences you describe. However, you have to keep in mind that we’ve just finished our long days of work too, and we’re getting on the bus, and much like you, we’re tired and just want to get home.

      I have to point out here that I for one, regardless of the driver’s mood or my own, try to smile, say hello, thank you and good evening. I figure everyone is entitled to that.
      Another point I’d like to mention, since you brought it up, is that I have in fact called on several occasions to tell OC Transpo customer service of good experiences I’ve had. I do that because it’s only fair. If I can call and bitch about something, I can sure as hell call to say when something’s done right, or someone went above and beyond the call of duty.

      And lastly, the reason I call customer service or have them on speed dial is far from being because I don’t have a life. I do it because I take the bus day in and day out, morning and night. And I talk to people. I talk to friends, colleagues and neighbours, who have similar grievances. And I figure by calling enough, which incidentally the customer service reps actually recommended we do often, perhaps the powers that be will see that some of their decisions on routes / schedules / number of buses have had considerable impact on their clients.

      As a side note, I have to mention that the term “strikes of years past” is used a bit lightly, in my opinion. The last strike was just over a year ago, and lasted nearly 2 months. Thousands of jobs were lost because some people literally had no other way to get to work, many lost their homes as a result, businesses closed, and thousands more had their lives turned upside down because of the severe implications this had on their lives. I acknowledge that many drivers didn’t want to strike, and many probably weren’t even there when it happened. What you have to understand is that riders aren’t necessarily pissed at one particular driver – they’re pissed at OC Transpo, and unfortunately drivers are the face of the organisation in the eyes of the public. No, that doesn’t excuse ill treatment, but it is a reality.

      I actually know of many people who’ve stopped taking the bus altogether. As someone having spent years in marketing, I know that it’s much more valuable to an organization to have clients call and complain, because that means they still give a crap and you haven’t lost their business yet. But for every person that calls you might have several who don’t bother, and simply find an alternative. And especially with something like public transit, which is a more sustainable solution, I think the first option beats the latter.

      • Allen 7990 says:

        Hello Nadia,

        I am a newly minted and newly fired OC Transpo bus operator. I got more than a chuckle while reading Jean-Pierre’s post as it rings so true.

        You mentioned the behind the scenes OC Transpo staff and their contribution to a less than positive customer experience. I have a few words to share with you on that subject.

        OC Transpo claims to be all about customer service, however the management style at OC Transpo is all stick (bashing the driver) and no carrot. Each driver is accountable to a Section Head. There are ten section heads to “manage” 1700 drivers. The Sections Heads don’t have time to cultivate a positive relationship with a driver as most of their interactions with drivers are disciplinary. Ask any driver how they feel when they are told they need to meet with their Section Head and they will report a feeling of dread, not joy.

        Worse yet, the 99% stick, 1% carrot approach leaves very little good will between the drivers and OC Transpo management. My recent termination is a good example. As soon as the drivers perceived me to be in some way aligned with OC Transpo management, a campaign of harassment was launched against me. On my last day of work a Section Head came to me as said : “I fear for your personal safety.” What kind of work place has management telling workers their personal safety is a concern? Then he sent me out to work. The reason my personal safety was threatened was because the drivers felt I was in league with management, and the drivers don’t have a good relationship with management. A poor relationship with management results in even small problems never being solved. The end result, over the long haul, is poor customer service.

        I would be interested to read your thoughts on my explanation.

        Thank you,
        ~ Allen (7990)

      • Thanks, Allen. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard such comments regarding the management style at OC Transpo. It’s somewhat reminiscent of the 1950’s style of management, whereas they tend to boss people around and intimidate, rather than engage their people. I’ve spoken on several occasions to different bus drivers about some of the issues I had, notably overcrowding, schedules and route changes. They often agreed with the points I brought up, or at the very least had no clue why the changes were taking place. My next question is always the same: “Don’t they ask you guys what you see on the road? About the conditions?” Their answer is always a resounding “No”. In fact a few of them have gone as far as saying that they’re never asked because they’re not taken seriously. To me, that’s astounding.

        I believe that management style is hugely (although not solely) responsible for work satisfaction. If you feel valued, respected and trusted, it makes you all the more eager to get up in the morning and go to work. And the way I see it, drivers are OC Transpo’s eyes and ears on the road. If anyone is in a position to tell them what the deal is, it’s them.

        It’s about time OC Transpo join the rest of the business world. You’re right, the 1% carrot approach will never work. In fact, ideally, everyone should be entitled to reward for objectives attained, having nothing to do with what mood management is in, or what other drivers are doing, but how any given employee is performing with respect to personal objectives. Meetings with management should be seen as a good thing – a chance to exchange ideas, suggest improvements to the overall system.

        The entire process should be a collaborative effort. Why should there be such a gap between employees and management in the first place? Isn’t management there not only to set objectives, but to do everything it can to help you reach those objectives? In a way, management should work for its employees, as it will ultimately benefit the entire organization – from employee satisfaction and retention, to management, to ridership.

      • Jean-Pierre says:

        Thank-you for a balanced reply to my earlier comments. You have not only earned my respect, but also my attention.

        I must disagree and agree with 7990’s perception of management. There is a strong effort with the management at the Section Head level to be open and even convivial with employees. I must say that this is not something I am used to. Personally, they are easy to get along with and endeavour to look out for you, especially if you take responsibility for screw-ups.

        However, with the transition to management who have no background as drivers, and have been hired outside of OC Transpo, there have been difficulties. Professional managers from an outsourced campaign are using the 1% carrot and 99% stick approach, more and more often. These are the people drivers do not want to see for any reason. They are the ones that foster an “us vs. them” mentality.

        I have seen incredible kindness and a definite effort to be approachable from all supervisors on the road.

        That being said, 7990’s situation is deplorable. The decision to let him go was not made by section heads, but rather higher-ups, who wanted his embarassing expose of illegal activity to be swept under the rug.

        It is this type of thing that resonates with the idea that your voice (as a driver) is not heard. Or if it is heard, and upper management does not like what it hears….well 7990’s fate is a perfect example.

        Sure, I can fill out a form detailing troublesome aspects of certain routes and what I think would be the solution. If it does not fit into a fiscally efficient mandate however, my suggestions will never see the light of day.

        Remember, OC Transpo has been operating for decades. One would think that operational requirements and route optimizations would have already been solved. The changing urban landscape and population demographics do not change drastically on a year-by year basis.

        However, I am not management, and as such am poorly equipped to even hazard a guess as to what challenges are faced when trying to optimize the service provided by the behemoth that is OC Transpo.

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