OC Transpo’s Scientific Ridership Counting Methods


So your agent is doing his usual Bulldog rounds, you know walking the pooch and writing posts, when the phone rings.

I don’t get out much so phone calls are always appreciated.

But lo and behold who was on the phone? John Manconi, the commissar of OC Transpo. Uh oh. This could be an interesting one. For lil ole me? Rather left me wishing for a robocall instead.

Actually Manconi is very charming and helpful. We shared stories of people we both knew from years past.

I promised Manconi that I would print what he told me. And so here goes:

  1. Manconi says he does not have the first-quarter ridership figures because there aren’t any yet.
  2. There aren’t any yet because it takes about six weeks to formulate them.

As well Manconi promised that when he had the first-quarter stats he would personally give them to me. He said that when he uttered the statement to the media that the figures were down a little bit, he obtained those reckonings from the person who does the calculating. That person said ridership was down a little bit.

OK, now I’ve done my duty and said what he said. From now on in this post, you’ll be reading the words of your agent.

One learns a great deal speaking with Manconi who is very engaging. For example not all the buses are equipped with counters. That’s one of the reasons it takes six weeks to calculate the ridership. So if there are not counters on some of the buses, would not these scientific ridership figures be estimates rather than God’s truth? And oh yes. If it takes six weeks to estimate quarterly ridership figures, why is it that it is now about nine weeks since the first quarter ended and there are no figures yet?

Your agent has a gadget on the side of his golf bag that counts the number of strokes taken over 18 holes. I could lend this one and others to bus drivers who don’t have counters. If the score goes over a hundred, you have to mark that down and start on your second hundred. No doubt OC Transpo’s ridership is roughly the same as my golf score unless my match is called because of darkness at which point OC Transpo’s figures will be higher. This is no disrespect to OC Transpo ridership which is substantial. Rather it points out the state of your agent’s golf game.

Manconi said he inherited this lack-of-counters from his predecessor who your agent believes was the inventor of modern mathematics, the ancient Greek Pythagoras. Most of you will know him from that famous conjuring called the Pythagorean Theorem. When it comes to tally ridership figures, one has to believe the City of Ottawa abacus gets quite a workout. The steam-driven city pocket calculators are much more efficient if you can still get the coal for them. Pythagoras got the right triangle down amazingly accurately. One wonders why he let down the team on ridership figures.

You see the Ottawa Senators can tell you the attendance at a hockey game by the time the second or third period rolls around. Your humble agent knows in real time how many page views have been entered on the highly scientific Bulldog. But after six weeks, the city has an estimate of its quarterly ridership figures.

Flummoxed at not getting the figures on Monday, your agent called city manager Steve Kanellakos. One of his minions returned the call advising that your agent should call city clerk and solicitor Rick O’Connor to discover how to file an access-to-information request. Seven years covering Ottawa City Hall for the Citizen and somebody thinks your agent doesn’t know how to file an access request? (Please see the Bulldog post Don’t Treat Residents Like They Are Morons) Your agent was hoping to get the ridership figures quickly and avoid putting the access officers through a wasted exercise. No luck. Dead end.

Well not quite a dead end. O’Connor asked Manconi why he wouldn’t give Ken the ridership figures. After that, Manconi called Bulldog World Headquarters.

The rest is history.


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7 thoughts on “OC Transpo’s Scientific Ridership Counting Methods

  1. Are you sure the calculators are coal-fired? Same methods as projected ridership for the new and improved LRT system from the same folks at OC Transpo.

  2. They are planning to kill paper tickets and passes over the summer which means everyone will need a Presto card or cash. As more people use the Presto system, I would hope that the ridership numbers will be almost instantaneous. There has to be some kind of formula they can use to count riders on specific routes and extrapolate to get a relatively accurate ridership figure. They could also deploy the buses with counters on them in rotation through all the routes to capture a fairly accurate number.
    If their system is consistently inaccurate, those numbers can still be compared to each other to yield trends in ridership.

  3. “there aren’t any yet”

    “takes about six weeks”

    “not all the buses are equipped with counters”

    Six weeks, it would seems like he can’t count weeks either.

    So now, at the 68th day after March 31st, using my skill as an accountant and using all the modern equipment I have, I will give you the number.

    Put on my eye-shades, my arm bands, get out my pocket-protector – okay, I’m ready.

    Chincka, chuncka, wham = teenie-weenie.

  4. Had to add one more comment.

    Just saw the press release where the Mayor did not use the ” I ” word to death – good.
    Saw where Ken gave a tip-of-the-hat to a couple of improvements that the Mayor had made in his style – good.

    Then along comes Mr. Manconi to add insults to injury with a follow-up phone call.

    Ken, perhaps you could ADD a subtitle to the “City of Ottawa Screw-Up Page. Borrowing some words from Pete Seeger, “Oh, when will they ever learn ?”

  5. Where to start? There is so much wrong with what has been reported here that I truly struggle to figure out where to start.

    There is an old business adage: what get’s measured gets managed. One must reverse the adage to understand the business advice. Figure out what needs to be managed, and then measure it. With this in mind, let’s start with a simple recap of what we have learned from Ken’s discussion with the GM of OC Transpo.

    OC Transpo has not been able to even estimate its ridership on a timely basis, let alone measure it accurately. For how long? Ever? Management hasn’t bothered to allocate the resources to correcting this challenge. Is it fair to conclude that the management of WoeC Transpo doesn’t think it is important to manage ridership, that most precious of elements that generates their revenue, noting that their revenue only meets about half their operating budget? That most precious element, without which they would have no reason to operate?

    For this level of (in)competence, we the taxpayers provide WoeC Transpo with about 50 cents on their budget dollar. As a follow on to my theme of yesterday, that City Council continues to accept this is just another example of their woeful quality of governance.

    I would love to sell my shares in the Corporation of the City of Ottawa, but the entity isn’t publicly listed. Are any of the Bulldog’s readers willing to put up one dollar? I will offer a free cup of coffee as an inducement. On a related note, the second installment of our property taxes is due next week.

    1. Ron,
      I liked your rebranding of OC to “WoeC Transpo”.

      That made me think of “Woe is me” – a common quip,
      That made me think of “Woe, Is Me” – a band from a few years back,
      That made me think of their debut album – Numbers,
      That led me to look up a line from the song Our Numbers.

      While the song is not about accounting or management or buses – there is a line in that song that is appropriate to this discussion about how the WoeC released its statement and the subsequent, wonderfully complete explanation, telephone call to Ken and Ken’s follow-up with Mr. Kanellakos.

      This line should be part of the job description directive given to all civil servants:
      “Never speak to me like you are some kind
      of hidden prodigy. You’re wasting my time.”


  6. Having just paid my tax bill, let them use the same process for ensuring taxes are paid and apply it to OC Transpo ridership numbers.
    We are officially the Twilight Zone.


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