Dec 9, 2006

Transit drivers skip school route

About 175 Ottawa high school students waited in high winds, snow and freezing rain for public transit buses that never came on Dec. 1, a school board official said.

OC Transpo temporarily cut off service to Louis Riel high school last Friday afternoon when a bus driver reported that youths mocked his accent, pelted him with slush balls and broke the front panel on the door of his bus while it was stopped in front of the school.

Bus driver Ravinder Singh Jande called OC Transpo for help during the incident, which made his bus unfit to take passengers. A supervisor decided to cancel the remaining three buses on the route that were scheduled to serve the school that day.

School board spokeswoman Lucie Boileau said OC Transpo overreacted to the incident, which took place the same day a violent winter storm cut off power to thousands of homes in eastern Ontario and suspended school bus service in Ottawa.

"A hundred and seventy-five students were left standing in the rain and the snow … because of one incident that involved maybe one or two students," Boileau said.

"We don't think that it was acceptable."

But a spokesman for the union that represents transit supervisors and security personnel said passengers who get on at the school have caused problems for drivers since September.

"We are having seats slashed, windows broken, we are having operators assaulted, threats," said Wayne Watts of the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

OC Transpo spokeswoman Helen Gault defended the decision to cut off service.

"Obviously we have to be concerned about the safety of our operators," said Gault, OC Transpo's acting director of transit services. "We really want to provide a good service, but customers have an obligation also to show respect and restraint."

Gault said students were not informed that bus service to the school had been cancelled for the rest of the day, but many should have known because they were there when the incident took place.

Service to the school was restored Monday.

Officials from the school, the French public school board and OC Transpo were scheduled to meet Friday to discuss the incident.

Gault said she hoped the meeting would generate guidelines to prevent similar situations in the future.

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