John Manconi, who was long the face of public transportation in the city of Ottawa, will retire in September after a 32-year career in the municipality.
“Thank you for your 30+ year of service in the city – including his years as GM for Transportation Services,” Coun said. Allan Hubley tweeted Thursday afternoon, which is how many people first heard the news.
“Thank you for your hard work, guidance and friendship during my time as Chairman of the Transit Commission.”
Congratulations John Manconi on your upcoming retirement! Thank you for your 30+ year of service in the city – including his years as GM for transportation services. Thank you for your hard work, guidance & friendship during my time as Chairman of the Transit Commission. @OC_Transpo
A longtime municipal employee – his first job was to inspect backyard drainage in the pre-merged town of Nepean in 1989, when he was in his early 20s – Manconi worked on surface operations, including road maintenance and snow removal. Between 2007 and 2012, he was the City of Ottawa’s general manager of public works.
But Manconi, 54, is best known to the public in his role as head of OC Transpo, a job he took on nine years ago, just months before today’s council signed the contract for the first phase of LRT.
In July 2016, following a reorganization of the city’s management, Manconi’s role was expanded to include oversight of all of the city’s transportation services, not just transit.
According to Ontario’s Sunshine List, he earned $ 295,624 in 2020.
Despite his big paycheck, Manconi said his decision to retire in September – the earliest date on which he will be entitled to his full pension – “just feels right.”
By the fall, Manconi said, he hopes the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic will lie behind the city. The Confederation Line is much improved, he said, and the second phase of the city’s railroad expansion is well underway.
Face of LRT debacle
The head of a public transport agency is a relatively high-profile position in any big city. This was especially true for Manconi, as he both oversaw the huge disruption of the OC Transpo service during the construction of the East-West Confederation Line and has repeatedly been the bearer of bad news about the $ 2.1 billion LRT project.
Although it was Rideau Transit Group (RTG) that built and now maintains the light rail system, it often fell to Manconi to update the council on LRT’s progress and operation, i.a. many delays during construction and more problems after the line’s launch 18 months ago.
In a brief interview with the CBC, Manconi admitted that the pressure could take a toll.
It was uncomfortable for his children to hear him call names at public events, he said, and it was outrageous to receive death threats during the worst Confederate line debates.
“It’s very, very difficult to be the leader of this organization, in light of that. But it’s part of the job,” he said.
“You’re the leader of a transformative, historic urban development initiative. And with that, you better be prepared to take the criticism, the armchair’s quarterbacking, ‘It’s never good enough.’
“We have people who want a high standard and we have to deliver,” Manconi added. “Do we do it all the time? Absolutely not. Do we strive for it? Yes.”
While neither Manconi nor anyone at OC Transpo was held directly responsible for problems with LRT, some questioned whether the top executive kept politicians – and the public – properly informed.
For example, in early September 2018, Manconi told councilors that Confederation Line would not be ready until 2019instead of November as expected. Council members running for re-election had campaigned that summer on the understanding that LRT would come that fall, and some felt dazzled by the news of the delay.
In August 2019, after repeatedly telling councilors that RTG would have to deliver 17 double-decker trains – 15 for rush hour, plus two backup – Manconi suddenly changed his mind, saying Ottawa only needed 13 trains for peak hours.
Last year, Manconi apologized to the council for not having informed them properly that the city had paid RTG $ 4.5 million. ONE CBC history that reported the payment came as one shock to some city council members.
And in March, the CBC reported that SNC-Lavalin had told the city that it expects to be at least four months late in completing the expansion of the Trillium line – information is not shared with councilors.
Kudos from the city leaders
The city’s top leaders have been quick to thank Manconi for his decades of work, especially overseeing the LRT project.
In a statement, Mayor Jim Watson said Manconi “placed the safety and well-being of residents, customers and staff”
above all else, ”and praised him for maintaining a good relationship with the transit union.
“As we all know, John played a crucial role in the planning and delivery of Ottawa’s LRT system, our
the city’s most transformative project since the construction of the Rideau Canal, “Watson wrote.” He saw us through
the construction phase of the project, the commissioning and launch and a challenging first year of
troubleshooting the system. “
City manager Steve Kanellakos, who has worked closely with Manconi for many years, stated in a note to the council and the transit commission that he is “very happy for John when he moves on to the next chapter of his life.
“But I recognize that his departure will be felt by everyone in our organization. John is a dynamic, accomplished
driven leader who has borne the weight and burden of many leadership roles and over the last ten years. “
Kanellakos noted that Manconi has given the city almost five months notice of his departure, giving plenty of time to switch to a new senior manager. Kanellakos said he will soon have more details on the recruitment process.