The City of Ottawa is taking a significant step in escalating its response to repeated service failures on the Confederation Line.
City council is sending a notice of default to Rideau Transit Group, the consortium of contractors tasked with building and maintaining light rail in Ottawa, on Tuesday. The notice advises RTG that it is in default of its obligations under the contract and gives the organization an opportunity to “remedy” the issues.
Council announced Monday amid a marathon of transit meetings that it would take this disciplinary step to push RTG to fix recurring issues plaguing the LRT system. These include problems with train availability in recent weeks that have regularly seen reduced service on the Confederation Line and supplemental buses put on the roads.
The city is also asking RTG, which now goes by Rideau Transit Maintenance, to more actively hold trainmaker Alstom to account on the performance of its vehicles.
“We signed a contract for a reliable system to support our City’s high transit ridership of 10,000 people per hour per direction – and to support our future ridership growth. The acceptable levels of service and reliability are detailed in our contract with RTM, but they are not being met,” said Mayor Jim Watson in a statement.
Members of council and the public have also called for RTM to step up its service or take a hike. Citizen transit commissioner Sarah Wright-Gilbert tweeted a few weeks ago that "if RTM isn't performing their contractual obligations, then it's time for them to go."
The notice of default does not immediately tear up the city’s 30-year maintenance contract with the consortium. RTM has until March 31 to submit its plan to remedy LRT’s recurring issues. Staff will report to council a week later on RTM’s response.
Watson knew of technical failures in stage 2 procurement
Later in the day Monday, councillors also heard from staff that Watson knew SNC-Lavalin had failed the technical standards test before voting to award a $1.6-billion contract for the Trillium Line extension to the contractor’s subsidiary.
A lack of transparency and time to make the decision were points of contention for councillors and members of the public when the stage 2 LRT contracts were first approved a year ago. It wasn’t until this past fall that council knew widely the extent of the shortcomings in SNC-Lavalin’s proposal – technical evaluators had sought to disqualify the bid but were overruled by an oversight committee that felt it was prudent to move the company forward.
But city manager Steve Kanellakos told members of council late Monday that Watson was told about the bid’s technical shortcomings on March 5, the day before council voted to approve staff recommendations that the sizeable contract go to SNC-Lavalin’s subsidiary. A media inquiry had come in on March 4 asking whether the firm had achieved the minimum technical standards in the evaluation process and Kanellakos briefed Watson about any planned response and impact on council’s vote the following day.
In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, Watson’s press secretary, Patrick Champagne, said the mayor was advised by his counsel that disclosing proprietary information about the procurement process prior to the vote could have put the city in legal jeopardy. Watson’s priority, according to the statement, was to get the fairness commissioner’s sign-off on the legitimacy of the procurement process to date, which he received.
Staff said they worked with SNC-Lavalin to remedy the technical failures before recommending the contractor as the preferred proponent to extend LRT to Ottawa’s south end.