Editor’s note: Though we generally do not work with anonymous sources, in this case, I believe the motives are in the public’s best interest. I believe that Chris Grover wrote that letter in the public’s best interest, and I believe his job should be protected, and I will make exceptions in order to further public discourse on the topic of accountability and transparency in our public institutions. In the interest of improving our city’s transit system, I believe we need to listen carefully to people who use it, and people who operate it.
I am an OC Transpo operator. I am an OC Transpo user. I was not sanctioned by my employer, union, or co-workers to speak on their behalf. However, I do believe many of my co-workers and the riding public share my frustrations with OC Transpo and how it is run. Our Code of Conduct states we cannot speak negatively of our employer, so I am writing anonymously.
Many operators are part of the riding public, so we have a unique perspective on the current crisis. In Mr. Grover’s words, we don’t need the job to be easy, but we need it to be doable. That’s why I wanted to reveal my own views on the controversy surrounding OC Transpo.
Mr. Manconi’s claim that Mr. Grover has “a bad taste in his mouth” due to being forced to work weekends reveals how far he is removed from the front line operation. Half, if not more, of OC Transpo’s operators work at least one weekend day every other weekend. Depending on movement within the operator pool, it takes roughly 15 years for an operator to be able to have both weekend days off every weekend.
But the problem goes beyond Manconi. Among operators, management is perceived as ineffective, inconsistent, and unresponsive.
The various channels Mr. Manconi mentions in his response to Mr. Grover’s letter do exist, as employee-employer committees, human resource departments, internal request systems, and the union. Many of my co-workers are more than willing to share their ideas to contribute to a better workplace and a better service, but most will never follow the procedures in order to get their ideas heard by the decision makers. One of the greatest challenges is the time they take — attending committee meetings or writing emails can be time consuming, taking away time from our personal lives.
But the other challenge is the fact that our calls for changes and improvements are met with “this change will incur costs” and “there is no demand for this change”. Ask many of my co-workers and their reasons for not forwarding their ideas to OC Transpo are usually “nothing will change,” or “it’s been that way for 25 years.” Some frustration is due to the time it takes to get anything done, but much of it is in the ability for city councillors to demand change and see it implemented within days. That is why, when faced with a customer complaint, operators will often direct the customer to contact their city councillor. Some even contact their councillors without revealing who they are.
From incorrect timing technology on our routes, to an inept ability to handle harassment claims, to a lack of communication during service interruptions, the problems are widespread. In addition, discipline is applied inconsistently and in ways that best suits the company. For example, some operators will go above and beyond the call of duty in order to help a passenger in need. Though drivers aren’t supposed to get out of their seats to help passengers in need of assistance, it happens. If this situation goes well, and the passenger praises the operator, OC takes pride. But if the operator suffers an injury or receives criticism, the company will be quick to criticize, reminding them they’re not to get out of their seat.
The results is that morale is destroyed. Employees have no motivation to do anything more than show up for their shift and leave. The effect is felt greatest by the riding public. Mr. Grover took years to build up the nerve to speak out publicly about the problems at OC Transpo; that speaks to the culture of fear inside the company.
In closing, I would like to say that I am hopeful that, with input from people who know and understand existing problems, we can help the public apply pressure to improve the service everyone pays for through taxes and fares. It’s a great job and I really enjoy being able to help better people’s lives, little by little; it keeps me in touch with what life can be, and what I can do to be a better person.