Extra office day for public servants could add 2.7M annual OC Transpo trips

OC Transpo hopes that  public servants will rescue the agency from its budget woes, as it crunches the numbers on what an extra day in the office will mean for its ridership numbers.

At a meeting of city council's transit commission Thursday, management said the move to require three days in the office for most public servants starting this fall could add an extra 2.7 million trips on OC Transpo buses and trains over a 12-month period.

That would mean 12,000 more riders per weekday if the commutes are spread out evenly over the week.

If most public servants choose the same days to go back to work — say Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday — there could be 20,000 more riders on each of those days.

That's about 10 per cent of the 200,000 or so people who use the system daily, according to Pat Scrimgeour, director of transit customer systems and planning.

Scrimgeour said OC Transpo will be watching the numbers closely come September, when the new three-day-a-week policy is set to take effect.

Some routes, he warned, may not have enough spare capacity to carry all those workers, and that could mean more spending and overtime.

Office workers skipping their downtown commutes are responsible for essentially all of OC Transpo's lost ridership since the pandemic, Scrimgeour said.

Sales of adult passes are at just 32 per cent of 2019 levels, while all other pass types have almost fully recovered.

As a result, OC Transpo ridership has lagged about 2.1 million trips below the agency's forecast during the first five months of this year.

The lost fare revenue has left OC Transpo about $10.7 million short of its first quarter revenue targets.

Coun. Riley Brockington, who sits on the transit commission, has wondered whether OC Transpo is setting realistic targets for itself, given that it manages to miss them quarter after quarter.

"You've delivered us very ambitious budgets for years that you have not met, and we wait until the end of the year to find sources of revenues to plug those holes," he said last week.

Councillor wants plan on late buses

In Brockington's view, late buses are among the most significant obstacles to getting riders back on OC Transpo.

"We have to acknowledge that on-time performance is an issue in this city, and late buses, again, is what's going to hamper us to get people using the system," he said.

"I cannot let up on this point, because that's what I hear all the time with my residents."

OC Transpo has been falling short of its timeliness targets. For routes that run on schedules less frequent than every 15 minutes, a quarter of buses are showing up either more than five minutes late or more than a minute early.

Brockington complained that he's seen no plan to fix that.

Renée Amilcar,  general manager of transit services, says the public criticism her team makes supporting them one of her most important duties.
Renée Amilcar, general manager of transit services, says OC Transpo cannot promise on-time service when it's still not delivering all the trips that are being scheduled. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Transit services general manager Renée Amilcar said on-time performance is not her first priority. That will come later, she said, after she reaches her goal of getting 99.5 per cent of trips running in the first place.

"We cannot promise on-time service when we don't deliver all trips that we have scheduled," she said.

Brockington wasn't satisfied with that answer, saying the public is running out of patience.

But the main challenge preventing OC Transpo from delivering its trips, Amilcar said, is no longer a shortage of buses or operators but something more intractable.

"The traffic is killing us, frankly," she said.