Thursday, March 27, 2014

Powerful, heart-wrenching driver's perspective on tragic Sept. 18 bus crash

The September 18, 2013 collision of an OC Transpo bus and a VIA train affected everyone in Ottawa, and the dozens of injuries and six fatalities left us all shaken. I'd long wondered how bus operators made it through the day, and, thankfully, Drives In Circles has offered that perspective and published his account of the day on his website:
A regular passenger gets on my 122, puts an ominous hand on my shoulder, and says "Drive safe today, we're all thinking of you." 

I thought about that strange interaction all the way back to Place d'Orleans. I had no idea what had transpired in Barhaven. When I arrived at Orleans Station, I could see a group of drivers huddled around the front of a bus, one was crying. I parked, and picked up my phone. Twenty texts, all asking if I'm okay, who is it, what happened? I flipped over to Twitter, and I could not believe what I saw.
It's a powerful, personal, and emotional essay, and I'm thankful that Drives In Circles was willing to share it with us. Click here to read the entire post.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Updated: Survey results appear to be inconsistent

Update (March 24): I misinterpreted what "we report on the percentage of survey respondents who give a rating of 6 or higher" meant. It's not a subset of the sample, but it's exactly how it's described: a percentage of those who rated 6 or higher. So, yes, about half of females feel safe waiting for a bus late at night. As I looked through some of the summarized results sent to OC Transpo, which were made available today, from the survey research firm Core Strategies, some of the numbers regarding service weren't consistent with what OC had presented. A rating of 7.3 was given to route planning in OC Transpo presentation slides, but in the newly released document, a 6.7 rating was listed. Stats on safety appear to be consistent, so there's less concern with the results of safety questions now from what I can see. Summary tables of each survey question were published via the Sun's Jon Willing.

OC Transpo presented its 2013 survey results on customer satisfaction to the Transit Commission on Wednesday. The transit agency received a rating of at least "good" from 80% of transit users in a sample of 1525 transit and non-transit users in Ottawa. It's the highest proportion since 2008, when the winter strike began in December. The telephone survey, which has a margin of error of 2.5 percentage points overall and 4 percentage points for transit users, was conducted in November and December.

Ratings on various aspects of service quality rise compared to the past few years. Route planning increased by nearly a whole point in one year (from 6.4 in 2012 to 7.3 in 2013), even though there have been no major routing changes since "route optimization" in 2011. A 7.3 rating for planning, is in fact, the highest in any one year going back to 2008.

This year, OC Transpo has included more questions about safety, which they keep saying is their number one priority. The statistics on customer feelings towards safety are not based on the sample, but on a subset of it. Only those who gave OC Transpo a favourable rating on safety were counted: "We report on the percentage of survey respondents who give a rating of 6 or higher" (on slides 35, 40, 44). So, anyone reporting a "5" or less are inexplicably excluded. It means, for example, the proportion of female customers who feel safe waiting for a bus late at night is probably not 49% as stated. It's very likely to be much lower when the less satisfied respondents are included. Percentages in the high 90's are probably far away from the true values too.

A whole survey section is dedicated to safety and security and somehow, meaningful statistics are hidden from public viewing.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Where does unspent Presto Card money go?


An interesting story came out a few months ago in the New York Times, which revealed that New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) was able to claim over $500M of unspent balances on previously-purchased MetroCards:
Cards that are bought, never used but still valid are counted for bookkeeping purposes as a liability, because they might eventually be used. Outdated cards with pending balances become an asset after they expire, about two years from the date of sale. The balances are listed as revenue under the category of “fare media liability.”
Although Metrolinx (the Toronto-based provincial agency that manages Presto) isn't near the size of the MTA, there still must be the possibility that some amount of funds are occasionally left on Presto cards once they expire--which, for the record, happens after five years.

When this happens, where does this money go? Presumably it gets swallowed up into Metrolinx' bottom line, which doesn't seem fair for OC Transpo when it comes to money initially purchased for use in Ottawa. I'm not sure what happens, but it would be interesting to find out.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Video shows roadheader digging at the east portal

Came across this video uploaded by Councillor Mathieu Fleury of a roadheader digging away at the eastern LRT portal. The video appears to be shot in early November since the woman explaining the work of the roadheader is seen wearing a poppy. To see machines in action, skip ahead to about the 50-second mark.



LRT East Portal Update from Mathieu Fleury on Vimeo.


For those not on Twitter, here's a photo of the tunnel provided by the City of Ottawa last week, reminding us how big this project really is:

Friday, January 10, 2014

The other bus-rail crossings

Update (3:43pm): Thanks to Transit Ottawa reader @pinemud for adding routes 192, 232, 149 and ones on Fallowfield.


Update (3:08pm): The list below seems to consist of only half the number of level rail crossings used by OC Transpo buses. Apparently, there are more than 20 of them, the Citizen reports:
OC Transpo has bus routes using more than 20 level crossings, according to the city’s communications department. Of those crossings, 15 have lights and gates, four have only lights, and one has markings but neither lights nor gates.
Feel free to leave any crossings I've missed in the comment section.


Employment and Skills Development Canada has ordered the City to review all bus-rail crossings following the fatal September collision. The City will have to assess such crossings for any hazards, like "obstructed sightlines", an email to Council says.

The OC Transpo system map and Google Street View showed these bus routes traveling through an at-grade rail intersection:
  • Transitway, north of Fallowfield Station
  • 114 on Conroy
  • 192 on Michael Street 
  • 149 on Pleasant Park
  • 99 on Lester
  • 146 on McCarthy
  • 116, 176 on Merivale
  • 170 on Greenbank
  • 170, 173 on Jockvale
  • 170 on Strandherd
  • 70, 76, 170, 173 on Fallowfield
  • 181 on Herzberg
  • 60, 93, 181 on March
  • 232 on Rockdale
  • 232 on Boundary
  • 232 on Piperville
  • 232 on Anderson

Because it follows more than one routing, route 170 crosses train tracks once in a trip during the daytime on weekdays and three times on weekday evenings or weekends.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Construction update: Downtown tunnel eastern portal, Dec. 2013

On Boxing Day, I made my way to the University of Ottawa's Simard building to snap a few photos of the construction progress of the eastern portal of the downtown light-rail tunnel. Our last set of photos were taken in late October.




Wooden roof structures are in the process of being built. On the left, an additional piece lays on its side.




More skeletal roof.



It's not the best view, but a bit of the actual tunnel entrance can be seen. Also, construction crews will have to be careful of the pool of water.

That's all for now. For updates on the construction work, if you haven't already done so, check out the light-rail project website, ottawalightrail.ca.

Friday, December 13, 2013

OC Transpo Lost and Found to move in January

The OC Transpo Lost and Found centre will move from 153 Chapel Street to 404 McArthur Avenue in Vanier on January 2nd. The announcement on OC Transpo's special holiday webpage:

Lost & Found is Moving!

The OC Transpo Lost & Found, run by Heartwood House will be moving to 404 McArthur Avenue on Thursday, January 2. The new location is served by Route 14 on McArthur Avenue and Route 7 nearby on St. Laurent Blvd. Customers may call Lost & Found at 613-563-4011, vist their web site at heartwoodhouse.ca or send an e-mail to lostandfound@heartwoodhouse.ca.


The 153 Chapel St building (at Rideau Street), where Heartwood House was renting, was sold in November 2011, causing the charity organization to search for a new home. Heartwood House has been operating OC Transpo's Lost and Found centre since December 2001. Prior to contracting it out, the transit provider ran the service from their old Place de Ville office on Albert Street. Gone are the days when the Lost and Found was more easily accessible by transit.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Free New Year's Eve service without the New Year's Eve service

OC Transpo announced the return of free New Year's Eve service, starting at 8 p.m., according to the City press release. Service on the last day of the year will follow a reduced weekday schedule. Last year, free service ended at 4 a.m.

A year ago, Sparks Street held its first outdoor New Year's Eve party, where thousands were anticipated to attend and they did. The combination of free transit service and a highly publicized downtown outdoor event boosts ridership, especially late at night. Increasing bus service in downtown to meet demand for the last night of the year should be the most logical thing to do, but it hasn't happened for whatever reason. Neither in this year's nor in last year's press release was there any mention of supplementary transit service after midnight. We usually know well in advance from OC Transpo about any additional bus service for large events, like Canada Day or Bluesfest.

I didn't attend the Sparks Street event last year, but I remember reading through people's tweets about full buses and wait times of over half an hour. That hardly sounds like a pleasant experience for anyone getting back home on public transit. Similar to last year's, bus schedules for the last day of 2013 indicate headways of 20-30 minutes after midnight for some of the popular routes like the 12, 95, 96. and 97. It's the kind of service you expect on a late Tuesday night, not on New Year's Eve.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Fare-paid zones proposed for major transfer stations

On Monday, the Transit Commission will be presented with the new fare strategy, proposed by OC Transpo, for Confederation and O-Train lines. The report suggests fare gates or turnstiles, fare vending machines, and electronic customer service boxes to be installed at rail station entrances.

As part of the fare plan, OC Transpo wants to implement fare-paid zones at major transfer and terminus stations. A fare-paid zone is an area where customers have already paid and are not required to further validate their fare in the station. The idea behind fare-paid zones is to make bus-rail connections as smooth as possible with minimal transfer delays for passengers. It means all-door boarding on buses, even on regular-sized 40-foot buses. Fare-paid zones are similar to the current POP areas at O-Train stations except that passengers won't be asked for proof of payment.

The proposed stations to have the fare-paid areas are Tunney's Pasture, Bayview, Greenboro, Hurdman, and Blair. A case could be made to include St. Laurent on that list since the station would already be designed to easily allow a fare-paid zone. The only pedestrian access on the upper level is the crosswalk to the shopping mall, which can controlled by fare barriers. Unless OC Transpo wants to keep the St. Laurent sales centre open, there's really no reason not to have a fare-paid zone.

For those walking off the street to take the bus at one of these stations, they will have to pay at a fare barrier before stepping onto a bus platform. When fare payments are being made outside the bus, in theory, boarding times should be reduced.

The City's concept diagram of the future Tunney's Pasture LRT station shows bus platforms as being part of the fare-paid zone:



There are a few other things to note about the proposed revamped fare system. The current time-based transfer system would still be applied to all rail stations. Barcodes on transfers are suggested to make transfers readable to fare machines. Presto cards will continue to be used. In the document, the City provides this quick-reference table on how each fare method will be used across the transit system:


Saturday, December 7, 2013

Canadians want to live, work, and play near public transit



Building on my post yesterday about Ottawa's $72M investment in transit-oriented development, it's interesting to see that more and more Canadians are choosing proximity to transit--and especially rail-based transit--as a key factor in deciding where they'd like to live.

As documented in a Globe and Mail article, consultancy firm PwC (formerly PricewaterhouseCoopers) recently published a report entitled "Emerging Trends in Real Estate 2014." A partner at PwC told the Globe that more and more Canadians are seeing access to transit as a legitimate and foremost consideration when house-shopping:
"With challenging infrastructure in all major Canadian centres coupled with the urbanization trend, there will be a continued demand for retail, office and residential space in our urban centres where there is easy access to mass transit."
In fact, Ottawa's investment in transit and cycling infrastructure also falls in line with the lifestyle preferences of generation Y residents, according to the report:
"Gen Y takes transit, walks, and bikes. Of all the generations, generation Y is the most likely to use transit daily, or at least once per week."
Although Ottawa's decision to move towards rail-based high speed transit is overdue, the city's well-placed to take advantage of these demographics and lifestyle preferences. There's ample room for intensification within Ottawa's Greenbelt, including around the rail stations that will be found along the Confederation Line and, in the future, near the further-out stations along the Stage 2 phase of the light-rail system.

In an ideal world, these preferences will lead to a reinvigoration of those parts of downtown near the Central Business District, including Sparks Street Mall, which seem like dead zones outside of the business hours. Hopefully PWGSC and the NCC are able to recognize the opportunities presented by a more lively downtown and invest some resources to enable a transition towards multi-use development in the core.