City council may not want to hear it, but Sudbury Transit has been operating on minimal budgets for too long and it’s going to take more money and staff to make things right, city councillors were told Monday night.
While stopping short of calling the current situation unsafe, the company contracted to review transit operations found that more maintenance is needed on city buses to keep them operating safely. And at least five more people need to be added to ensure transit managers can do their job.
“Your staff has really been struggling to keep up,” said Chris Prentice, a senior associate with IBI Group, addressing the city’s Operations Committee. “That can only go on for so long before something catastrophic could happen. You don’t want to wait for that day.”
He compared it to seeing a duck calmly floating on a lake, while its legs are rotating madly under the water, trying to stay afloat.
“In essence, that is what has been going on in transit. That’s why we took pains to commend staff. We don’t normally do that in these sorts of reports.”
The report calls for more driver training, real-time monitoring of bus routes and a sweeping overhaul of the way the department is structured.
Prentice said key transit managers are forced to spend their time doing administrative and other duties, leaving them without enough time to properly manage their department and staff. Under IBI’s organizational review, the Transit and Fleet Services department would have four managers — one each for operations, administration, training and safety, and fleet and facilities — who would then report to the director.
The operational review was spurred by an audit of its operations by city auditor Brian Bigger. In addition to uncovering some financial irregularities currently being investigated by the OPP, Bigger made several procedural and administrative recommendations on how the department could operate more efficiently and improve its record keeping.
While Bigger’s report spurred the review, IBI was also asked to include the city’s decision to merge the maintenance of its 60 transit buses with its 650 vehicles into one facility on Lorne Street in its review, detailing how the merger would work and what organizational structure it would require.
In addition to talking to staff and reviewing local operations, IBI also compared Sudbury Transit to similar operations in other municipalities to get a sense of how well it performs by comparison.
The IBI review concluded that, compared to systems in other cities, Sudbury Transit is generally performing well and offers good bang for the buck. Transit staff “employs some innovative operating practices to minimize operating costs,” Prentice said.
Transit generates more revenue per driver than most cities, the report found, reflected in the fact the Sudbury Transit doesn’t have a spareboard – a list of drivers who are on call in case of illness or other issues.
“We found that there was no on-road supervision,” Prentice said. “Typically in transit systems, there are people out on the road monitoring and addressing any issues that arise.”
The five new staff would free up time for core managers to do their jobs, IBI concluded. Inspectors, for example, spend an extraordinary amount of time doing clerical work. The report also calls for more money for staff training, and more resources for transit as it adopts the wide-ranging changes the report recommends.
“One of the things that struck us, though, is that staff is very motivated, very capable and very positive and they work very hard to ensure the transit system runs well,” Prentice said.
The report called for increased maintenance of buses, saying they should be worked on every 10,000 kilometres, instead of the current 15,000. Bus shelters also need to be cleaned on a regular basis.
“There is a need for additional mechanical staff to help maintain the buses,” he said.
Prentice emphasized that the five new hires were crucial and the department could easily use more. Recognizing fiscal restraints, however, the report tried to keep hiring recommendations to a minimum.
“We’re at least saying start at that point.”
Ward 3 Coun. Claude Berthiaume said he was “disappointed” that IBI was calling for more hiring, when transit and fleet maintenance was being merged in an attempt to find efficiencies and eliminate duplication.
“We thought there would be some savings,” Berthiaume said. “And you’re calling for adding staff. I’m surprised.”
Prentice replied that while the merger realized some savings, they are offset by the need to make new investments in transit.
Ward 2 Coun. Jacques Barbeau, who chairs the committee, said they knew when they asked for the report that it could mean a call for more staff. However, he said IBI delivered exactly what they asked for.
“I personally believe this is a process we not only needed to do in transit, but in each and every department within our corporation,” Barbeau said. “So while we may need a minimum of five in transit, those numbers could be recovered in other places.”
Transit director Roger Sauve said he supports IBI’s report and the direction it takes his department.
“There are new risks out there every day for our operators,” Sauve said. “On-road supervision is something that is recognized in the industry and something our drivers have been asking for, which is very unusual ... But having some help out there, on the road, for our operators is something I think is a good idea.”
The report also calls for biannual reports on how well transit is performing, and major operational reviews to be conducted every five years.
The review of transit operations followed an audit by Bigger’s office last summer.
The audit revealed that transit management continued to renew contracts with 1211250 Ontario Inc., which operated the transit kiosk, the transit café and the airport café, despite the fact its debt with the city continued to grow year after year.
The city renewed its contract with the numbered company June 1, 2004, when it owed $262,206.
That contract ended January 31, 2006, at which point the company owed the city $340,845. The city then entered into a year-to-year contract with the company for three years.
The company owed $333,962, $504,252 and $824,025 respectively from 2007 to 2009. The contract was terminated Sept. 4, 2009, with the company still owing the city $866,537. At its peak, the company owed the city more than $1 million.
Bigger said management did not administer the contract according to its terms. The contract required that cash from all ticket sales be reconciled by the 25th day of each month and payment for these tickets be made to the city by the fifth day of each month, prior to the delivery of additional tickets; however, management repeatedly advanced tickets to the company without first obtaining payment for the previously advanced tickets.
In 2004, $22,500 of duplicate management fees were paid, and additional overpayments totalled $2,166 for invoices dated between January 2005 and January 2008.
And between January 2004 and September 2009, the majority of kiosk management fees (70 per cent) were paid personally to the director of the company, Tony Sharma.
The director was paid $533,506.
Additionally, where there was space to indicate the name of the person to whom the cheque should be made payable, the name Zio’s Cafe (owned and operated by the director of the numbered company) was crossed out by hand and in handwriting it was indicated that the cheque should be made payable to one of the directors of the company personally.
These cheques were even deposited directly into a personal bank account, rather than an account for the company. This meant the director received the benefit of the contract, rather than the contracting party.
The OPP is currently investigating those transactions, after a request from Greater Sudbury Police.
Posted By Darren MacDonald