Friday, March 21, 2008

Light-rail an improvement, but still has problems

Columnist Suzanne Korf of the Montreal Gazette wrote an interesting column yesterday about Montreal's rail-based public transit system, made a number of complaints similar to those which Ottawa public transit-users make even with a bus-based system, and about how she eventually succumbed to the allure of her own vehicle:

As I drove in from Pointe Claire on Highway 20, I encountered traffic (which was expected), but I was sitting down comfortably. I rarely get a seat on the train or the métro.

I was warm. On the train, my feet are usually cold from waiting outside for the trains, which are chronically late and not well heated.

And I could listen to my favourite radio station and catch up on the news. It is hard to read the paper on the train or the métro when you are crammed between a knapsack and a briefcase.

I looked at all the other people who take their cars to work and thought about how, next winter, I will probably reluctantly join the ranks of the car commuters. While I know that accidents, bad weather, rain and even sunshine slows down traffic, at least I know that I will get there eventually and I won't have to walk up an icy street that hasn't been cleared to get to work because the métro is on the fritz again.


If the transportation system was reliable, if the trains ran more frequently, if there was sufficient room for people to sit down, if they were heated in the winter and air conditioned in the summer, if there were more parking spaces at the train stations, more people would leave their cars at home.

In other words, build it and they will come.

With Ottawa's transit plans apparently using rail-based systems like that in Montreal as a guideline, it will only make sense to hear the complaints of Montreal commuters, and proactively address them. What this means is making sure to allow for accomodate for increasing volume, making sure adequate trains allow for a comfortable ride without excessive crowding, industry-leading technology to make sure that heating works, and general maintenance so the system doesn't become dilapidated--a common complaint about the Toronto Transit Commission's rail-based infrastructure.

Or maybe limiting our options to light-rail is shortsighted. There are a lot of transit technologies, and it's not a simple either/or choice between bus or rail. Automatic people-movers, like the Innova by Bombardier, are another option. Or a MagLev system, like ones in China, Japan, and the UK. Or monorails, or trams, or cable cars. Any number of options. If done properly, the system can add to Ottawa's position as a global leader in progressive planning.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think the reason most people would prefer moving to a light rail-based system is speed. I don't mind standing on a bus, but I DO mind standing on a bus for upwards of 40 minutes. So while I can understand where this particular Montrealer is coming from when grumbling about lack of seats, I'd still rather be in her shoes, cold feet and all.