Ontario government launches inquiry into how its rail system works

Transportation Minister says he’s confident that there will be ‘no surprises’ on the inquiry, scheduled to begin in mid-July

Ontario’s transport minister has announced that the province will launch a public inquiry into the problems with the city’s rail transit system.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, Ontario transportation minister Bill Mauro announced that he has asked for an inquiry to be held into the GO Transit system, the provincial commuter rail service that runs between Toronto and Ottawa.

“Despite our best efforts to mitigate, we are facing the challenge of getting GO Service back on track for the commuters of Ottawa and Kingston,” said Mauro. “The fact that GO has been unable to get its acts together presents us with the opportunity to determine if the GO operations structure as currently structured is fair and just for employees, the taxpayers and customers.”

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The inquiry is scheduled to begin in July and are likely to take about a year to complete.

According to a December 2017 report from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, GO Transit employees have had pay withheld because they “didn’t show up for work” on several occasions in 2017.

“The employees in question work for Alberta Transportation Services, the portion of our network managed by TransAlta,” said a TransAlta spokesman. “If the employees didn’t show up for work, they were subsequently downgraded and didn’t receive their regular pay.”

In May 2017, 18 new employees received pay reductions after they failed to show up at work for a day to promote GO transit in Ottawa.

“Employees have received letters from the company informing them that they will not be eligible for rest day pay or vacation pay on Mondays,” said a statement from the Confederation Bridge Company, which manages the bridge that links Ottawa and Gatineau. “For employees that didn’t work, such as those working from home on Mondays, there were varying amounts deducted from their pay cheques.”

According to a report in the Ottawa Citizen, some employees also have problems with their pay cheques, not knowing whether they had actually received pay.

On Wednesday, the Trillium Transport Riders Coalition (TTRC) launched a petition calling for an inquiry into the GO Transit system.

TTRC spokeswoman Rachel Vanderweer said she appreciated that the government was finally responding to the concerns raised by staff and commuters.

“Many of us were disappointed to learn that the province has moved so slowly on this matter, but it’s comforting to hear that the government is willing to move fairly quickly,” said Vanderweer. “I know there are questions about the timeline and that the government has only committed to doing this, but I hope this shows that there’s a decent chance of having some light at the end of the tunnel.”

In July 2016, Ottawa Transit received a Federal funding boost of $365m towards its $5.2bn LRT project. During the province’s summer cabinet meeting, premier Doug Ford announced that the province would not be covering the federal portion of the budgeted costs.

“The province won’t be paying any of the federal government’s money for this project,” said Ford in a press conference. “It’s unfortunate that they have been asking for money from us and we don’t think we can provide that.”

At the time, many residents said the LRT project had already suffered significant delays and had already been over budget.

This latest move has received positive feedback from some Ottawans.

“This is the fairest and simplest solution possible,” said Ottawa city councillor Riley Brockington. “This review will provide better and more fair compensation to our GO Transit employees, help with ongoing improvements at the Portage Avenue station and be done quickly and efficiently.”

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