The purpose of this document is to provide residents with the correct information on the City’s Winter Maintenance activities in light of a communiqué that, we understand, was recently circulated to several residents by a private property snow plow contractor. Unfortunately, the communiqué distributed misinformation regarding the City’s residential snow plowing activities.
In essence, the communiqué alleged that residential streets are plowed by privately owned contractors that are paid by the hour without contractual obligations for service standards or deployment; and without any strategic or monitoring practices in place. The author expressed frustration with the City’s maintenance schedules (or perceived lack thereof) because of the impact to private property snow plow contractors, and encouraged residents to communicate these alleged concerns with respective City Councillors. Operationally, we can appreciate a certain level of frustration, given the fact that Ottawa has already received 148.3 cm of snow – over half of our typical annual snow fall. This winter season has been further complicated by the 75.5 mm of mixed rain and freezing rain that we have received to date.
Operational staff from the Public Works & Environmental Services Department (PWES) have scheduled a meeting with the author of the communiqué (the private property snow plow contractor) on January 11, 2017, in an effort to clarify this misinformation and to allay the contractor’s concerns. We would like to take this opportunity to briefly clarify some of the misinformation regarding residential snow plowing operations.
Residential Plowing Model
Residential streets are plowed by a combination of both City and contracted snow plows at a ratio of approximately 52% City and 48% contracted. Contractors are retained through the City’s procurement process and are required to abide by the terms and conditions of their agreements including the City’s expectations respecting the Council-approved Maintenance Quality Standards (MQS). Accordingly, contractors are monitored by PWES Supervisors through ongoing road patrol and the analysis of global positioning system (GPS) data. Both City and contractor plows are equipped with GPS devices that provide detailed information about which streets have been completed and real time data on their completion.
In accordance with the MQS, residential streets are plowed once the City has received a minimum of 7 cm of snow accumulation and the beats are designed to be completed within 10 hours of the end of the accumulation. Contractors are paid by the hour and expected to complete their assigned routes within that timeframe; ongoing monitoring ensures that plow routes are completed within established timelines. In the event that either GPS data or Supervisor road patrol indicates that a contractor is not meeting expected timelines, the incident is immediately addressed with the Contractor. PWES Managers and Supervisors determine the deployment of equipment, under no circumstance are contractors left to decide when to deploy on City streets.
PWES Managers and Supervisors across all Wards are in regular contact during winter events to better ensure consistency in winter maintenance activities City-wide. It is important to note that the unique geography of the Ottawa region often results in varied weather patterns and snow accumulation from one area of the City to another. As such, ultimate maintenance activity planning remains with the respective PWES Managers and Supervisors to be carried out in consultation with the Management Team and in accordance with the MQS. As a result, is not operationally feasible to schedule residential street plowing at a specific time as deployment can occur at any time of the day or night depending on the start, duration and intensity of the winter event.
Quality of Service Monitoring
GPS devices provide detailed information about the progress of maintenance activities throughout the winter event. This technology significantly reduces the risk of duplicating or missing streets from maintenance beats. There may be instances where streets may be cleared twice due to parked cars or other encumbrances and in some cases streets may be skipped because they cannot be accessed for the same reasons. However, despite best efforts, there may still be instances when an operator mistakenly misses a street. In those rare cases we urge residents to contact 3-1-1 so that a PWES Supervisors can address the issues as soon as possible.
GPS devices have the additional benefit of highlighting downtime. As discussed above, there are clear timelines for both City staff and contractors to complete their routes. However, it should be noted that operators are entitled to breaks as prescribed by applicable workplace legislation. Downtime may also result from equipment or vehicle breakdowns. In the case of equipment repairs, contractors are not paid for the duration of the breakdown and could lose payment for the entire snow event depending on the duration of the breakdown.
Allegations that a City employee or contractor is abusing the terms of employment/contract are serious circumstances and treated with the highest level of concern by PWES. City staff and contractors alike are reminded of the City’s responsibility for ethical operating practices and that consideration may be given to the Auditor General’s Fraud & Waste Hotline at https://www.ottawa.fraudwaste-fraudeabus.ca/ or 1-866-959-9309.
On January 11, 2016, PWES Operational staff are scheduled to meet with the private property snow plow contractor representatives including the author of the subject communiqué. We endeavor to clarify the misunderstandings around our residential snow plowing activities and hopefully provide some guidance on how to better align the contractors’ schedules with the City’s MQS.
Finally, additional details on the City’s MQS can be found at http://ottawa.ca/en/residents/transportation-and-parking/road-and-sidewalk-maintenance/winter-maintenance