OC Transpo continues train rollback through July, commission wades into vaccine priority for transit workers

OC Transpo will continue to run a maximum of 11 trains through July on the Confederation Line as ridership remains extremely low during the COVID-19 pandemic, the transit commission learned Wednesday.

The LRT contract with the Rideau Transit Group requires the company’s maintenance arm, Rideau Transit Maintenance (RTM), to make 15 double-car trains available for the morning peak period.

Starting in March, the city allowed RTM to only provide 11 trains for morning peak service for two months. The rollback allowed the company to undertake maintenance activities.

Transit operations director Troy Charter told the commission Wednesday that the 11-train regime would last until the end of July, with a ramp-up expected in August.

Decreasing the number of trains in March and April was expected to save Transpo between $50,000 and $60,000 in electricity costs.

Through negotiations, RTM gave the city a $100,000 break per month in the maintenance payments for the two months in recognition of providing fewer trains for daily service.a passenger bus traveling on a train track with trees in the background:  A file photo of an LRT train in service last year.© Tony Caldwell A file photo of an LRT train in service last year.

John Manconi, the general manager of transportation services, said he negotiated the same monthly discounts for the period between May and July.

The LRT system has been delivering 99 per cent of scheduled service so far in April, a record high since the rail line launched in September 2019. The system has a target of delivering 97 per cent of scheduled service.

The lowest point was in January 2020, when 88 per cent of scheduled LRT serviced was delivered.

“We’re seeing much more stable service on a daily basis,” Charter said.

RTM continues to work on the rectification plan demanded by the city last year, but the company has made significant progress. An independent review is making sure all the work is done appropriately.

Transpo expects there will be some schedule adjustments over the spring and early summer to accommodate seasonal work on the tracks.

Manconi says he’ll be looking for RTM to maintain a “consistency and rhythm” in delivering its maintenance obligations.

Transit ridership across the entire Transpo network was at 26 per cent of pre-pandemic levels in March. Ridership is expected to be even lower in April and May since the provincial government issued a stay-at-home order earlier this month.

Commission mulls vaccine prioritization for transit ‘heroes’

The transit commission wants the head of Ottawa Public Health to know how important transit workers are as officials consider priorities for COVID-19 vaccines.

The commission voted in favour of the chair, Coun. Allan Hubley, writing to Dr. Vera Etches “to emphasize the role of public transit workers in enabling essential work to continue in the City of Ottawa.”

Coun. Glen Gower, who’s both a transit commissioner and health board member, was the architect of the motion.

The Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents Transpo drivers and mechanics, has been vocal in its call for transit workers to receive COVID-19 vaccines immediately.

Transit has been one of the few city services that has been operating at nearly regular service levels since the beginning of the pandemic, save for the train rollback in March and recent decisions to adjust bus routes in June to meet the lower ridership. Transit staff have been considered essential to daily life in Ottawa.

“We’re calling them heroes and that’s what they are,” Manconi said. OC Transpo boss John Manconi says privacy rules prevent the disclosure of details on COVID-19 workplace transmission. Tony Caldwell/Postmedia© Tony Caldwell OC Transpo boss John Manconi says privacy rules prevent the disclosure of details on COVID-19 workplace transmission. Tony Caldwell/Postmedia

According to Transpo, 106 of roughly 3,000 transit employees have tested positive for COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic. Eighty employees recovered and went back to work, while 26 were self-isolating and recovering as of Wednesday.

Manconi said privacy requirements underscored by Ottawa Public Health prevented him from indicating if there had been evidence of COVID-19 transmission in the workplace.

While people 40 years old and older are eligible for COVID-19 vaccines, Manconi pointed out that Transpo has many employees who are younger than the current vaccine age cutoff.

Coun. Riley Brockington wanted the commission to suggest a direct appeal from Mayor Jim Watson and Etches to the province urging priority vaccinations for transit workers.

However, Gower’s motion was more palatable to the commission, especially after hearing advice from health board chair Coun. Keith Egli, who talked about how prioritizing people for vaccines was a “difficult maze to get through.”

msn.com

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