Friday, November 18, 2011

The Wheels on the Bus Are Falling Off

OC Transpo and the city of Ottawa transit riders are at it again and this time, it's all out war. With the 2010 Ottawa bus strike fresh in the minds of everyone in the city, it's galling to see that the union representing the bus drivers is threatening once again to strike a year later after what they called a 'witch hunt' of its employees.

Labelling Ottawa transit riders as a torch and pitchfork mob is not exactly going to endear them to the public. But then again, there was zero public sympathy for the drivers when they went on strike in the winter of 2010, timing the strike to fall in the coldest months of the year and just in time to spoil the holidays. They stranded seniors, low income people and students during a time of crazy snow falls, exams and what should have been peak holiday shopping and get togethers.

Compounding the problem with an obnoxious attitude and no sign of compromise, the union kept digging its own grave by making statements that were anything but sympathetic for stranded riders. Now, the union is back at it in the media, claiming that they can stop all the buses with a flick of their fingers.

Let's consider the recent OC Transpo stories, both of which can be found on youtube:

The singing bus driver: riders complained to OC Transpo management that they found this singing bus driver annoying. He was told to stop. He stopped, even though many others said that they found his singing to be delight and if you watch the video, he's incredibly charming. Rare for a bus driver of any kind. But the complaints of the few meant no more singing for the many who enjoyed it. OC Transpo stated that professionalism was their top priority and that they had to silence him.

The swearing bus driver: the online video is supposed to portray an angry bus driver screaming at a semi-autistic teenager, even calling him retard and swearing profusely. While there's controversy about the context of this video, it's pretty clear that this is a rude man on the edge, talking in a way that many of us would never tolerate. In the interest of maintaining professionalism, OC Transpo wants to fire this bus driver. The union leader for OC Transpo has now proclaimed that there's a witch hunt and is threatening to strike.

So much for professionalism.

What does it say about the city of Ottawa when a union defends a screaming swearing employee against the public and management and declares a witch hunt?

OC Transpo is not the transit of choice in Ottawa. It's the only transit in Ottawa. There is no competing transit service, there is no complimentary service like a metro and there is no other commuter train or tram or streetcar. It is the transit for low income, students, seniors, mentally ill, or for those people who simply choose not to drive.

The amount of urban sprawl occurring in Ottawa due to sky-rocketing property tax and million dollar condos has driven most Ottawans out to Kanata, Barrhaven and Orleans because there is no affordable housing downtown. It's only natural that transit is going to be considered a have-to rather than a want-to option.

So most people aren't happy about riding the bus in the first place. And it's probably not a pleasant job to have. But the attitude that bus drivers for the most part are giving to their riders is that they see us as nothing more than chattle. And we aren't chattle. We deserve better.

Transit riders aren't asking bus drivers to be singing happy people. We're not even asking them to be pleasant to us at all. We just want them to do their job and treat us with a minimum amount of respect and not call strike on us every time that something bad happens to them.

All of us are accountable in our jobs if we blow our tops or lash out at our client base when working with the public. You know what happens to us in that situation? We get fired. We don't have people step in to defend us or call for action. OC Transpo should learn to be accountable as well, even though they clearly have no vested interest in serving us well, as there is no competition of any sort.

Transit is becoming a fight in Ottawa. It's time that the city intervene and legislate it. Transit shouldn't be a fight. It's a right. We can't all walk, drive and bike year round. Although with the way things are going, most of us probably want to.

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