Four months into a 30-year contract with Rideau Transit Maintenance to keep the Confederation Line running smoothly, some city officials say the relationship is already faltering.
One outspoken transit commissioner is even calling for the city to break the $1 billion long-term deal, and bring the maintenance of the trains in-house.
“Because clearly, holding back the money is not enough incentive for them to do their job,” said Sarah Wright-Gilbert, one of the commission’s four appointed citizen members.
Since the Confederation Line launched in mid-September, the city hasn’t paid Rideau Transit a cent. Its monthly payments are supposed to be $4.5 to $5 million, so the group is currently out up to $20 million.
Rideau Transit Maintenance (RTM) is an arm of Rideau Transit Group (RTG), the partnership between ACS Infrastructure, SNC-Lavalin and Ellis Don that built Ottawa’s $2.1-billion Confederation Line.
RTM is in charge of maintaining the entire LRT system, including the Alstom Citadis Spirit light rail vehicles. RTM actually subcontracts the maintenance of the trains themselves to France-based Alstom, which did not respond to questions Tuesday.
Not yet the ‘last straw’
In the last week alone, one train somehow pulled down 80 metres of overhead electrical cable, and other trains had issues with their wheels, causing them to skid and smoke. Switch issues over the weekend caused hours of delay.
When RTG handed over control of the LRT to the city last August, the system was supposed to come with 17 double-car, fully tested and commissioned trains. It’s now unclear whether all 17 ever worked.
These last few days, so many trains have had issues that, at times, only eight or nine have been available to carry passengers.
Transit chair Coun. Allan Hubley pinned the recent problems on RTM not meeting the city’s expectations for maintaining trains and dealing with winter-related issues.
Hubley and his colleagues will be looking for answers from Rideau Transit CEO Peter Lauch, who is set to appear at an emergency transit commission called for Thursday afternoon.
But unlike Wright-Gilbert, Hubley doesn’t believe the LRT’s issues have become so dire that the city should go through the complicated legal process of breaking from RTM.
“That’s bad news if we have to go that route. To me, that’s the last straw [when] we’re absolutely convinced they don’t have the expertise to do what they’re supposed to do.”
Mayor Jim Watson agreed that it is too early to be talking about the possibility of pulling out of the maintenance contract.
“I think most members of the public want us to deal with getting the damn trains fixed, first and foremost, and then deal with repercussions with the consortium,” said Watson, adding he has had no discussions about possible litigation.
O-Train Line 1: Afternoon peak services normally use 13 trains for a train every 4 minutes. RTM has provided 10 trains. Trains will run approximately every 5 minutes. <a href=”https://t.co/dHTT4UcS2c”>https://t.co/dHTT4UcS2c</a>
City blaming Rideau Transit
In recent days, the city has made a point of emphasizing how it’s RTG that is failing commuters, and not the city.
It appears OC Transpo boss John Manconi is less willing to speak for RTG — at the news conference last Thursday to address the collapsed 80 metres of electrical cable, Manconi stood at the back, behind reporters. At the next day’s news conference, Manconi sat at the table with other officials, but said little.
Instead, it appears that the city is insisting that Rideau Transit’s Lauch, who has rarely spoken to the media over the years of this project, be on hand to answer questions.
While city officials are at pains to focus the blame for the problems on RTM, it is difficult to see what the city can do at this point to improve the system other than holding back maintenance payments — a strategy that doesn’t seem to be fixing the trains any faster.
As Hubley said: “It’s big money. Wouldn’t you love to be making $5 million to do a job? Get to work and do the job.”
Watson is still confident that withholding payments is effective leverage because it hits RTM “in the pocketbook and also hurts their credibility and reputation both nationally and worldwide.
“But my concern and my preoccupation and that of our staff has been to get these problems resolved find the root causes of some of the problems that continue to happen.”
Tesla adds another recall to a ‘Total Recall’ year
Tesla issues a recall on 80,000 cars in China adding another one to a year with a lot of recalls, but most of them are easily fixed with software updates.
Earlier this year, NHTSA issued a series of recalls on Tesla vehicles that were highly reported in the media.
What was less reported, though, is that almost all of those recalls were fairly simple software issues that Tesla has been able to fix through over-the-air software updates.
Whenever there’s a safety-related issue, NHTSA has to issue a “safety recall,” even if the automaker doesn’t have to physically recall any vehicle, which leads to some confusion.
Again last month, a Tesla recall of “1 million vehicles” made many headlines when the recall simply consisted of Tesla changing how its software handled window operations. These instances have led Tesla CEO Elon Musk to complain about the term “recall” and how it is used against Tesla by the media.
Today, Tesla also announced more recalls in China on about 80,000 vehicles.
According to Chinese authorities, the recall includes 67,698 imported Model S and Model X vehicles with a software problem related to the battery pack. Again, the fix is a simple software update.
However, this time there’s also a physical recall due to a seat belt issue on about 13,000 Model 3 vehicles: 2,736 imported and 10,127 made in China.
With now over 20 recalls in 2022, it has been a “Total Recall” year for Tesla – pun intended:
But Tesla is not the only automaker affected by large recalls this year. Ford just confirmed that it is recalling another half a million vehicles due to a fire risk, and many automakers have also recalled millions of vehicles this year.
If anything, the fact that the large majority of Tesla’s recalls are quickly fixed with over-the-air software updates – rather than having to bring the cars back to the dealership like other automakers – shows that Tesla’s level of connectivity in its vehicles is a major advantage in the industry.
It makes for an easier experience for the customers, and it is much cheaper and more efficient for Tesla.
Flair flight from Vancouver overshoots Ontario runway
Vancouver couple Charissa Landicho and Mac Bradley just wanted a quick and cheap getaway, but a turbulent landing was not on their itinerary.
“I was definitely in shock because it was an overnight flight. I woke up, just, ‘What’s going on?'” Landicho said.
“We touched down and we could hear a loud thud. And it lifted up and it (went) down again,” she recalled.
It was a frightening experience for the 134 passengers on the Flair Airlines Boeing 737, which went off the runway just before 6:30 a.m. Friday morning in southern Ontario.
The flight from Vancouver was landing at the Kitchener-Waterloo airport when it overshot the runway and ended up in the grass.
“To me, it felt like we pulled right and then next thing you know, we’re off the tarmac, in the field pretty much, bouncing around, smacking around,” said Bradley.
“We probably went like 50 to 100 metres off the runway,” he continued.
He said their plane tickets cost about $100 each, roundtrip, potentially saving them hundreds by going with the budget airline.
With no announcement or warning, the couple said they were only told to stay put and waited an hour to finally get off the plane.
“It was a little bit questionable because it seemed like nobody really knew what to do on the plane other than just trying to keep calm. So that was a little bit unnerving,” said Bradley.
“And the fact that we just got an automated text after asking us to leave a Google review on our experience was a little satirical,” he added.
In a statement, Flair Airlines said there were no reported injuries and passengers were taken to the terminal by bus.
There is no word on what caused the aircraft to overshoot the runway, but the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) has been deployed to investigate.
Black Friday impacted by changing shopping habits
When Shopify Inc.’s Harley Finkelstein surveys November’s retail landscape, he finds it hard to see where Black Friday stops and Cyber Monday begins.
The annual pre-holiday sales blitzes meant to encourage customers to drop cash on discounted goods have bled together in recent years, with stores extending Black Friday promotions beyond a single day and online retailers offering Cyber Monday deals all week — or all month.
“Black Friday/Cyber Monday used to be a weekend, now it’s more of a season,” said the president of the Ottawa e-commerce giant.
Many in the retail industry feel the divisions will be even more hazy this Cyber Monday as the COVID-19 health crisis continues to reshape shopping habits.
During the pandemic, which saw stores temporarily close and people retreat inside their homes, there was a surge in online shopping.
As measures meant to quell the virus eased, many kept shopping online — but not at the rate some brands anticipated.
“Online shopping grew in popularity, obviously, through the pandemic, but it’s actually fallen off now because people are returning back to the store,” said Lisa Hutcheson, managing partner at J.C. Williams Group, a consulting firm.
“E-commerce spending is actually down year-to-date 11.5 per cent.”
The consumer shift back to brick-and-mortar stores blindsided Shopify, which had banked on online shopping continuing to accelerate at pandemic rates.
“It’s now clear that bet didn’t pay off,” chief executive Tobi Lutke said in a July statement announcing the company was laying off 10 per cent of staff as a result of the misjudgment.
The company’s stock traded for as high as $212 in the past year but has averaged closer to $50 in recent days.
So there’s a lot riding on the Black Friday/Cyber Monday weekend.
“Black Friday/Cyber Monday is sort of our Super Bowl,” said Finkelstein. “The culture and the energy at the company is really high right now.”
A survey his company conducted with 24,000 consumers and 9,000 small and medium businesses around the world found 59 per cent of Canadians planned to spend the same amount as or more than last year on Black Friday and Cyber Monday weekend. That figure rose to 74 per cent for those between the age of 25 and 34.
Finkelstein finds it hard to predict how the weekend will go, though he suspects it will be very different from last year, when the country was consumed with product shortages and the Omicron wave of COVID-19.
“This Black Friday/Cyber Monday seems far less frantic than last year,” he said. “There are less supply chain issues, more physical stores are open, there’s more inventory. There’s better capacity planning at the shipping companies.”
However, there is a new problem: inflation remains stubbornly high.
Michelle Wasylyshen of the Retail Council of Canada says “consumers tightened their belts a little” in recent months but still plan to spend the same as they did last holiday season, roughly $790.
“The difference this year is that they will be looking for more meaningful or practical gifts,” she wrote in an email. “They might also decrease the number of people they buy for or will give fewer gifts per person, but they do plan to shop.”
Finkelstein also foresees a more measured approach.
“They may not buy five things they have mediocre love for. They may buy two things they deeply want,” said Finkelstein.
“And they may also be thoughtful about how they buy … Is there a discount coming? I’ll wait until Thursday night or until Cyber Monday.”
The term Cyber Monday was coined in 2005 by the National Retail Federation, which noticed the Monday after Black Friday had delivered a big spike for online sales and traffic in the prior two years.
“We won’t be seeing quite the same spike that we have in the past,” Hutcheson predicted.
Some of that forecast comes from the stretched shopping window but also because some people are going to stick with their pandemic habits of online shopping.
Moneris is predicting Cyber Monday will be the busiest online shopping day, following a trend set in 2019 and 2020. However, Black Friday is still expected to be the busiest day in terms of total transaction count and dollars spent across all mediums.
Hutcheson said the week will play out as an “omnichannel view.”
Omnichannel is an industry term referring to making shopping seamless across online and mobile platforms as well as brick-and-mortar stores.
Finkelstein likes the term because the retail industry “is no longer online versus offline.”
“Saying omnichannel is a strategy will soon be akin to saying colour TV,” he said. “It is the norm and so consumers are shopping everywhere and everywhere.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 25, 2022.
Companies in this story: (TSX:SHOP)
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