Saturday, November 22, 2014

Algonquin College students say yes to U-Pass

Algonquin College students have voted in favour of a universal student bus pass.

More than four years after the U-Pass was approved for students at the University of Ottawa and Carleton University, college students are getting in on the action thanks to a vote in which 83% of voters supported the mandatory pass, at a cost that will not exceed $199/semester.
The pass, however, remains controversial--just as it was four years ago for university students. The mandatory nature is the sticking point, since full-time students (with very few exceptions) who walk, cycle, or drive are required to pay for the U-Pass even if they don't use it. Although the Algonquin Students' Association is in favour of the pass (as were the student associations of both local universities), sectors of the student body are opposed.

For full-time Algonquin students who use transit, a $199/semester U-Pass will represent a 40-50% discount over standard passes depending on their age.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Burying transit, and the people who use it



In its shotgun announcement yesterday, the National Capital Commission laid down the law on Ottawa’s light-rail extension plans from Dominion to Bayview stations: A deep tunnel within the current alignment, or a path across Rochester Field leading Richmond Road—where it would, presumably, also head into a deep tunnel. The obvious commonality here is the complete burial of the light-rail line.

These options, which the NCC “invited” the city to consider, brought to mind an interesting point made to me during the 2013 Car-Free Day street party. A woman there discussed the city’s preferred alignment with me, and expressed her dismay that the beautiful scenery of the Sir John A. MacDonald Parkway was being taken away from transit users. Her point was that the users of transit, many of whom are lower-income residents of our city, were being buried underground in order to preserve the “experience” of private automobile drivers who use the Parkway.

The woman pointed out the fact that as buses today drive along the Parkway, riders are often visibly relieved by the vistas of trees, greenery, and the Ottawa River. Many look up from their phones, books, or magazines and out towards the Gatineau Hills, breathing more deeply and seemingly releasing tension from their daily activities. As a user of the line, this is an experience I can testify to; I often prefer to take an inside seat on the right side of the buses, where I can get a better view out the window.

The city’s preferred plan involves a partially buried line along the Parkway, and it takes our transit vehicles—and the people within then—and pushes them underground. The NCC’s two options would take it one step further, forcing them even deeper underground and out of sight.


One of the NCC’s conditions was that the city achieve “minimal visual impact” and maintain the “user experience” of the Parkway corridor. Their recommendations fail to acknowledge that OC Transpo riders are also users of the corridor, and they should be allowed to enjoy it as well. Although it’s easy to forget, there are people inside the OC Transpo vehicles. They are at least as entitled to the Parkway’s scenery as private automobiles that also use it—and perhaps more entitled, since drivers must remain focused on the road while riders are free to take in the sights.

Ottawa’s western light-rail extension needs to take ecological and community considerations into account. But it also needs to consider the desires of the riders of our transit system.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Name that line

2018 O-Train system

Update (September 17): At the Transit Commission meeting today, OC Transpo confirmed the line colours on the map will be used in wayfinding signage (via the Ottawa Sun):

The Confederation Line will apply to the east-west LRT currently under construction. It will also be referred to as the 1 Line and have red wayfinding signs.

The Trillium Line will become the existing north-south diesel train service (currently called the O-Train). It will be referred to as the 2 Line and wayfinding signs will be green.

There are only two lines, but an early adoption of a numeric system for public use is a good idea. One, the public may very well refer to the lines by their numeric names for simplicity. And two , when there are more lines in the future, it's a bit of a challenge to number them many years later, which was exactly what the TTC in Toronto did this year, and have the public learn what number is associated with which line. 

OC Transpo is currently using red and green to identify bus routes as regular fare peak-hour and premium fare "express" peak-hour, respectively. To distinguish the modes of transit services from each other, different colours may be needed for the rush-hour bus services. Red and green signs inside rail stations with bus connections are not particularly useful if the rush-hour bus service continues to use the same colour scheme.


OC Transpo's rail system in 2018 will be called "O-Train", according to a report to the Transit Commission. The two rail lines in the network will also have names. The report recommends that the project name "Confederation Line" to also be the name of the east-west line and "Trillium Line" to replace "O-Train" as the name for the existing north-south route. Currently, the "O-Train" name is typically used to identify the type of transit vehicle, rather than the rapid transit line.

The "Confederation Line" name seems to have had the public's support from the very beginning. One has to wonder if this was the name all along and it was floated out before construction started to see how the public would react to it.

Labeling lines with names is supposed to minimize confusion among passengers. Interestingly, the 2018 map of the rail system above shows the "Confederation" station name on the exiting north-south line. Confederation station on the Trillium Line is not a stop to transfer to the Confederation Line, but the stop name implies it does. A different name is needed.

The report states the new name of the north-south line has to be easy to read, pronounce in both English and French, and be clear and unambiguous. After city staff reviewed some candidates for the new name, they decided "Trillium Line" fit the bill. "Trillium Line" will be introduced into the OC Transpo lexicon sometime within the next four years.

In addition to the name identities, the map of the 2018 O-Train system labels the lines by number and colour. The presence of the number names on the map may be a hint that red 1's and green 2's will appear on other customer information such as wayfinding signage at stations, especially at Bayview, the only station where the two lines meet. On the other hand, there are still four years away from the opening of a second line, so the numbering system may turn out to be nothing more than an idea.

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.