Wednesday, May 28, 2008

City approves Transit Plan 4, 19 in favour, 4 against

As expected, Ottawa City Council approved the $4B-transit plan recommended by the transportation and transit committees, previously referred to as 'Transit Option Four". The vote wasn't even close, with 19 for the yeas and 4 for the nays. The option would include bus and light-rail routes as per the diagram below (click to enlarge):

Ottawa Mayor Larry O'Brien was pleased with the decision, and especially pleased with the process. He said it met all four principles that he was striving for: honesty, long-term planning, value-added, and prudence. About the plan, O'Brien said that he is "glad that this city has decided to solve this city's transit problems from the core out."

Included in the decision are plans to set benchmarks for ridership and population density for suburban expansion of light-rail, as initially presented by Kanata North Councillor Marianne Wilkinson last week. Wilkinson voted in favour of the plan, encouraging other councillors to do so and move to get dialogue to continue and to have any "warts" the plan may have fixed in later discussions.

With regards to the benchmarks, Wilkinson told CBC Radio's All In A Day that they are ways to prove when it is fiscally responsible and justified to expand light-rail out to areas such as Kanata, Orleans, and Barrhaven. Kanata South Councillor Peggy Feltmate told the Ottawa Citizen that it might give the opportunity for expansion of light-rail to Kanata as soon as it becomes financially viable.

College Ward Councillor Rick Chiarelli voted against the motion, stating that he has yet to see proof as to whether or not the city can come close to paying for the plan. He cited concern over paying for the last plan, which was $900M, and wasn't certain how city would pay for this $4B plan. He made it clear he was not against the plan, necessarily, but that he needed more information before committing to it.

From here, City Council will move on to have continued dialogue about the timeline for the project, and how it will be funded. There should be discussion on these issues in the coming months.

Here's who voted in favour and against the transit plan, if you're interested:

YEA (19): Larry O'Brien, Peter Hume (Ward 18, Alta Vista), Rainer Bloess (Ward 2, Innes), Jacques Legendre (Ward 13, Rideau-Rockcliffe), Peggy Feltmate (Ward 23, Kanata South), Rob Jellett (Ward 19, Cumberland), Diane Holmes (Ward 14, Somerset), Steve Desroches (Ward 22, Gloucester-South Nepean), Michel Bellemare (Ward 11, Beacon Hill-Cyrville), Maria McRae (Ward 16, River), Eli El-Chantiry (Ward 5, West Carleton-March), Glenn Brooks (Ward 21, Rideau-Goulbourn), Georges Bedard (Ward 12, Rideau-Vanier), Gord Hunter (Ward 9, Knoxdale-Merivale), Diane Deans (Ward 10, Gloucester-Southgate), Marianne Wilkinson (Ward 4, Kanata North), Doug Thompson (Ward 20, Osgoode), Alex Cullen (Ward 7, Bay),
Bob Monette (Ward 1, Orleans)

NAY (4): Rick Chiarelli (Ward 8, College), Shad Qadri (Ward 6, Stittsville-Kanata West), Clive Doucet (Ward 17, Capital), Christine Leadman (Ward 15, Kitchissippi)

Jan Harder (Ward 7, Barrhaven) was not there for the vote.

EDIT: I previously had Harder in the YEA voting, but (as reported in the Ottawa Sun) she was not present for the vote. Which explains how it was a 19-4 vote. Correct information is now presented.

Live Blog: City Council Transportation Master Plan Update, 2008/05/28

I just got home from work, and I've begun watching the live telecast of the City Council discussion of the Transportation Master Plan. I'm going to live blog the remainder of the meeting, including the vote at the end of it. Some of the concerns expressed so far include the cost, and serving more areas.

5:15: Michel Bellemare, Ward 11 says: "Once this plan is approved, Mr. Mayor, the ball is going to be in the corner of the provincial and federal governments." I guess the gist of his thought process is that the city has to come up with a vision, and hope that the other levels of government will help us out.

5:21: Peggy Feltmate, Ward 23: Will be supporting the plan. She believes that it's the best decision we can make presently, and that we might be thanking ourselves 20 years from now (or, she warned, we might also be upset with ourselves). The decision is the best we can make, and it's based on our vision and concerns for climate change. Finally, to get the funding done, citizens are going to have to help council lobbying federal and provincial governments.

5:23: Rob Jellett, Ward 19: "By saying we haven't got the money is like saying, 'I might run out of money in 20 years, so I should stop eating now.' ... we'll die of starvation either way." Jellett plans on supporting the plan.

5:27: Marianne Wilkinson, Ward 4: After sneaking out to do an interview on CBC Radio's "All In A Day" (great show), Wilkinson snuck back to talk more about her idea to set guidelines for expansion of light-rail into the suburbs and including them in the plan that is voted on today. Will be supporting the plan, and encourages others to support it in anticipation of dialogue about fixing any "warts" that the plan might have.

5:30: Glenn Brooks, Ward 21: Is sick of talking about 'what-ifs', and wants to get a plan in place--the alternative is that we just continue putting it off forever. Wants a plan that will move very far outside the city, including Rockcliffe, Kemptville, and other areas. "We have to think beyond the city boundaries at this point in time. Let us see when we can make connections with those municipalities outside."

5:31: Larry O'Brien: Setting up the 'major decision' that council is about to make. Talks about the four principles of honesty, long-term thinking, value-added, and prudence, and extolls this decision-making process as one that has met them all. "I'm glad that this city has decided to solve this city's transit problems from the core out." Doesn't think the vote will be close at all, and is confident it will withstand changes in government. Will be supporting it.

5:37: THE PLAN GOES THROUGH! 19 yeas, 4 nays. That's the end of that discussion, and now they're talking about zoning for churches or something.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

If suburbs want light rail, they'll have to earn it

One day after the city's transit committee agreed to support the much-discussed Transit Option Four, they added a special note for any suburban constituents or councillors hoping for expansion of the light rail tracks outside the Greenbelt: you'll have to prove that it's a worthy investment by demonstrating greater demand and higher population density. Surprisingly enough, this was brought forward by Kanata North Councillor Marianne Wilkinson, as recommended by Deputy City Manager Nancy Schepers (from an Ottawa Citizen story):

"What it says is that if you are serious about intensification and get the numbers of people needed to make light-rail expansion work financially, you will get light rail. If not, you won't get it," said Ms. Schepers, who is responsible for the city's planning, transit and environment files. "It provides the incentive to embrace true smart-growth principles."
Very gutsy move by Wilkinson, but it's an obvious attempt to encourage forethought when making planning decisions--not just for transit, but also for zoning and future development.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Winnipeg considering Ottawa-style Transitway

A CP report says that Winnipeg is inching closer to developing a rapid-transit system. According to the story, the city is short on funding compared to other Canadian cities. But some stakeholders are looking at the nation's capital for tips.
Lacking the type of oil money that helped pay for light-rail services in Edmonton and Calgary, Winnipeg is eyeing a system similar to the Transitway bus service in Ottawa, where buses speed along dedicated roads in the outskirts and special bus-only lanes downtown.

Public transit in the headlines: 21 May 2008

The Ottawa Sun reports that two unions, both representing bus drivers, are trying to get the attention of City officials to express fairly urgent concerns about the condition of city buses.
[Union officials] told the Sun this morning that delays and service cancellations in OC Transpo's schedule are due to several buses that have failed to pass annual inspections and are not receiving much needed preventative maintenance.
A presentation put together by Amalgamated Transit Union Local 279 suggested that mechanics are using a band-aid approach to bus maintenance:
"Preventative maintenance, once a key focus of OC Transpo mechanics, is now being ignored as mechanics spend the vast majority of their time focusing simply on patching together the number of buses needed for that day."
According to the ATU:
Transit buses purchased in the late 1990s and expected to last up to 20 years are beginning to show premature signs of major corrosion. Air conditioning units on some articulated buses have rusted to the point that Freon gas is leaking from the units.
There was no comment from the City in the article.

Public transit in the headlines: 21 May 2008

Media hits relating to Ottawa public transit:

Former Green Party deputy leader David Chernushenko, a local resident who ran in two elections in Ottawa Centre, writes in the Ottawa Citizen about the feasibility of "car-free" zones in Ottawa. Based on his daughter's fanciful illustrations of car-absent Venice, Italy, Chernushenko suggested Canada should at least consider the notion that we can move beyond cars.

Chernushenko pointed in particular to one of the city's most tourist-friendly districts as a potentially car-free zone.
The Byward Market district, on the other hand, could be a vibrant "people place" like Venice, with a car-free zone of eight to 12 blocks. Most of the ingredients are there: art galleries, museums, the Château Laurier and Parliament Buildings, food vendors, clothing stores, furniture sellers, bars, restaurants, and the famous outdoor produce stalls that bring such colour and flavour. There's even a canal nearby, and gelato.
Chernushenko blames the lack of non-car discourse on fear: "Fear that shoppers will flee to the suburbs and the free parking of the shopping mall and the big box store."

A pedestrian-only zone would work, he writes, if planners adhere to the following steps.
First, a fully integrated public transit system that is frequent, affordable and comfortable to board and ride. Second, a "critical mass" in terms of the size of the precinct and the range of offerings. Third, a mixed-use zoning and city planning policy that encourages the development of a community that incorporates residential with commerce and retail, and that encourages housing for a diverse blend of income levels. Expensive condo precincts do not make for lively street interaction.
There should definitely be a place for this kind of dialogue in local media. Chernushenko's idea has some merit. So long as he doesn't call for a car-free city, a la Venice, perhaps a car-free zone is an option.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Ottawa: City, or suburbs?

A great column in the Ottawa Citizen on Sunday by Randall Denley about using transit planning to build Ottawa into a functional city.
Ottawa city councillors' big decision next week on the future of transit is really more about planning than it is about transit. Or at least, it should be. The transit plan councillors recommend will determine what our city will be like in the future. Will it be a dense, urban city where people can live without cars, or is the goal to use commuter trains to enable even more suburban expansion?


Councillors who argue for rail to go all the way to their suburban wards are taking a stand guaranteed to please their constituents, but it would be poor planning. There just aren't enough people in the suburbs to justify the cost of bringing rail through the Greenbelt to reach them.

If Ottawa is to become a city, and not just a series of suburbs, making the right choice about transit is critical. It's unfortunate that the idea of a dense, vibrant, transit-dependent core has been so poorly sold by staff and politicians at City Hall.


The transit system we have now reflected its time. The big new thing then was the development of satellite cities connected to the core by a bus transitway. It was a plan to make suburbs a feasible place for downtown workers to live, and it did its job. Unfortunately, this suburban-driven plan never worried too much about all those buses converging on the downtown core. Now, we're focused on making the central part of our city more liveable. The rail and tunnel plan is a big step in that direction.
A very well-written column, all-in-all, and Denley makes a number of good points. If the city's plans put an emphasis on the core, "making the central part of our city more liveable", the suburbs get the shaft; what, then, was the point of amalgamation?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Temporary transitway saves Roman Avenue (temporarily)

According to an article in the Ottawa Citizen, the city has decided to take advantage of an offer from the province to use part of the Queensway from the Transitway to Pinecrest instead of expropriating about 25 homes on Roman Avenue. At least for the time being. The houses, indicated in the photo below this quote from the Citizen article by a yellow box, are far from secure in the long-term:

"Roman Avenue got a reprieve yesterday and their homes are safe for now. But you can't say that the homes are safe until 2020," [Bay ward Councillor Alex Cullen] said.

"The province has said it will allow us to use the Queensway as an interim measure, but they haven't said how long that will be. They haven't said we can use it until 2020 and we know that they need the space to widen the Queensway into four lanes."

This move represents a temporary savings of about $100M, the story says, but it's basically just putting it off for the sake of the residents of Roman Avenue (to give them some security and, if desired, sell their homes to the city). Under the plan, buses will probably be running along a bus-only lane once they enter onto or exit off of the Transitway. In the image below, eastbound is denoted in blue, westbound in red. Both images are from Google Maps, with my colour-additions.

Are there any readers who are or know residents of Roman Avenue, or of land that has been expropriated for transit construction? What are your feelings on the subject?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Transit options continue to build: The Leadman Option

The Ottawa Sun reported another transit option from a City Councillor today, this one from Kitchississpi Councillor Christine Leadman, who feels that the current favoured option (number four) fails to address the most pressing issues in the city. The Leadman Option follows the Wilkinson Option, as brought forward a few weeks ago by Kanata North Councillor Marianne Wilkinson for much the same reasons as Leadman brought hers about.

From the Sun story, here are a few of Leadman's motivating factors:
"I'm all for the big picture but we need to do something now," she said.

Leadman is also giving a thumbs-up to Barrhaven Coun. Jan Harder's idea to use an existing VIA rail corridor that travels from Barrhaven to Tremblay Rd.

"These are things we can do now," she said. "We need to get people moving now. These are inexpensive and doable options."


One aspect of the latest plan that Leadman isn't happy with is that it gives too much attention to buses and not enough to creating a light-rail network that will serve the entire city.

"There are a lot more buses there than should be," said Leadman.

She likes the idea of a light-rail tunnel under the downtown but that will take years before the first passenger travels through it.

These are all valid concerns. A point I've made before, however, is that it's folly to quickly get people from the outskirts without making preparations to take care of them once they're in the core. The long-term plan perhaps shouldn't focus on buses, but they are a great complement in the short-term while the light-rail is established. Transfers are an issue, yes, and I like that councillors are actually looking at things that matter.

Leadman also brought up the very valid point that even if OC puts transit into a tunnel, a lot of people come from Quebec on buses. There isn't room for them in the tunnel, so what happens then?

Another piece of the transit puzzle she said the city isn't giving enough consideration is what to do with the more than 120 public transit buses that come across the Quebec border into Ottawa's downtown every day.

"We need to look at the Quebec side as well. We have to address that," she said. The Sun reported recently that Ottawa was looking at the possibility of a second tunnel to deal specifically with Gatineau buses at a cost of about $630 million.

Leadman joins councillors Clive Doucet and Marianne Wilkinson who are not pleased with the current transit option and have released their own transit plans.
I must have missed the Doucet Option, but he's got all sorts of info about it on his website. He's basically unpleased because the plan doesn't involve contact with new commuters because it's run along existing transit lines.

The bottom line is that it is necessary that council come up with the best plan for Ottawa. It's great that councillors are looking critically at the ideas, and dialogue on presented options is tremendous. Dialogue is different than each councillor making their own transit plan, though. I can see where it will go: each one will have light-rail going straight from their ward downtown. The hard part is taking the concerns of each councillor's ward, and balancing those with the concerns of the rest of the city. Each councillor is, after all, not only responsible to their ward, but also to the city as a whole.

Monday, May 12, 2008

More riders, but no more Park'N'Ride spots released a story about the frustration of transit users in Ottawa last week, notably with the shortage of Park'N'Ride spots for our cities commuters. The story cites statistics stating that about 68 riders compete for every spot:

Many of the 350,000 people who ride public transit each day compete for 5,100 parking spaces at OC Transpo's 11 suburban lots before transferring to a bus.

The chair of the city's transit committee acknowledged that the jump in gas prices is making the crunch at the park-and-ride lots, which was already a problem, worse.

"We know the challenge is there," he said. "We're trying to accommodate as best we can. We have in our plan to provide more park-and-rides."

I can surely sympathize with everyone who's had problems parking. I often park at the Eagleson Park'N'Ride, but I was ticketed a few months ago so I've started driving an extra 5-10 minutes to the Terry Fox Park'N'Ride.

In large part, the system is reliant on transit hubs with transfers from personal automobile onto an OC Transpo bus. If there's no place to stash our cars without getting ticketed, though, why on earth would we run the risk of dropping $55 to take the bus? The only alternatives are waking up absurdly early to try and beat the rush, or fighting through local routes--which normally come every 20-30 minutes, sometimes require another transfer before getting to large runs, and their milk-run routes generally take 2-3 times as long as driving would.

How much bigger should these lots get, though? The real estate spent already on parking lots could certainly be used more effectively as parkland or land for development, it doesn't make too much sense to expand 5,100 spaces to 20,000 or so to more fully accomodate Park'N'Ride users. But how else can we accomodate riders from the outskirts of the suburbs?

Do any readers have stories of good or bad experiences with Park'N'Ride service? Feel free to post in the Comments section.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Public transit growing by leaps and bounds

The headlines continue to pile up about rising gas prices pushing commuters out of their cars and onto public transit, and there doesn't seem to be an end to this in sight. For an introduction, check out my article from last month, or read some of the most recent headlines:

New York Times: "Gas Prices Send Surge of Riders to Mass Transit"

Mass transit systems around the country are seeing standing-room-only crowds on bus lines where seats were once easy to come by. Parking lots at many bus and light rail stations are suddenly overflowing, with commuters in some towns risking a ticket or tow by parking on nearby grassy areas and in vacant lots.

“In almost every transit system I talk to, we’re seeing very high rates of growth the last few months,” said William W. Millar, president of the American Public Transportation Association.

USAToday: "Interest in mass transit, carpools, scotters jumps"

Commuters across the USA, pushed to the wall by soaring gas prices, increasingly are turning to alternate means of getting to and from work:

Ridership on mass transit is up sharply in many cities, and the heftiest increases are on commuter rail lines. Transit officials say the increase is directly related to gas prices. Daily ridership on South Florida's Tri-Rail, which runs parallel to Interstate 95 from near West Palm Beach to Miami, was 28% higher last month than in April 2007, says Bonnie Arnold, spokeswoman for the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority.

United Press International: "Mass transit ridership surges"

Park-and-ride lots are overflowing and lines to board buses and trains are getting longer around the United States as commuters turn to long-neglected mass transit options to cope with soaring gas prices, The New York Times reported Saturday.
Ottawa's transit is growing, too. As the Ottawa Citizen recently reported, ridership in the nation's capital increased 4.15 per cent in 2007 over 2006, although numbers for 2008 were not available. Councillor Alex Cullen says that the city is running at capacity, and if ridership continues along its current growth, something radical will likely have to be done.

Ottawa is seeing a surge in public transit ridership as rising gasoline prices and increased congestion prompt residents to get on the bus.

Last fall saw a big jump in transit riders, with a 5.8-per-cent increase in October compared with October the previous year, a 6.9-per-cent increase in November and a 4.6-per-cent increase in December. In January, ridership went up 3.1 per cent, in February, it jumped 5.8 per cent and it climbed 1.2 per cent in March.

It's great to see so many people moving to transit, but we've got to make sure we keep the system growing along with ridership. We wouldn't want to have to deal with something like this here in Ottawa:

Public consultations unimpressive

Ottawa's recent round of six public consultations came and went with little fanfare, and few people even bothered to show up to most of the sessions. I feel a little guilty because I failed to get out to even one, but I simply didn't have the opportunity.

The final consultation was in Kanata at Holy Trinity High School, and the Ottawa Citizen says it was about par for the course with the other ones. Some people hated it, others liked it, but most people in the suburbs felt it wasn't fast enough. The main contention is that transfer from bus to train, which isn't going to be pleasant--especially in the dead of winter. There's also the price, which a lot see as a big issue, and it is. $4B is nothing to scoff at.

Click here for a synopsis of the second consultation at the OC Transpo headquarters, or here for one of the fifth one, at the Nepean Sportsplex.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Transit planning in Arkansas is a lot like Ottawa

Reading an article from the Northwest Arkansas Times from the weekend, I noticed a lot of parallels between the questions residents of that city are asking, and the big issues that people in Ottawa are thinking about during the planning stage of our next transit project.

Some area residents, including [Ron Goforth, president of Beta-Rubicon Inc., a firm that specializes in independent technology assessment services], argue that planning for light rail now only makes sense as Interstate 540 is consumed by increasing traffic and commercial development.

"If you have an opportunity to anticipate future problems and pre-empt them or reduce their negative impact by taking early action, it seems prudent to think ahead," he said. "It's fast, it's cheap, it's comfortable. It's where the future needs to be."

Others say Northwest Arkansas doesn't have enough population density to support light rail and it is far too expensive.

"I think everybody would be in favor of light transit if need could be demonstrated and if it was feasible and practical and cost effective," Jeff Hawkins, director of the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission, said. "But we haven't got to that point yet."

Here's an interesting question that is appropriate for Ottawa to ask when thinking of the extension to Bowesville after hitting up the airport:

[Steve Luoni, director of the University of Arkansas Community Design Center] maintains rail lines influence land use. He said, as it has in other cities, rail would become a catalyst for creating denser, urban land uses around the train stations.

"If we wait another five or 10 or 15 years, our current trends are to spread out, to create low density, and that's going to make mass transit really unfeasible. We can use mass transit now to get to the kind of land use we want to see," he said.

"Does transportation create land use or does the land use necessitate a certain level of transportation?" [Jeff Hawkins, director of the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission] asked.

Access to mass transit is a huge factor in determining the liveability of a certain area. It follows that a relatively undeveloped area would quickly become developed if a light-rail line runs through it. There is something to be said about taking the opposite approach, and limiting transit development to where the population warrants it. The eternal question in transit planning, I suppose.

One issue that Ottawa's ahead of Arkansas, by the tone of the story, is in a bus system that complements a possible rail system:
"You can't build light rail then expect to fix the bus system afterwards. You've got to have a bus system that's vibrant and meeting the community's needs," [Phil Pumphrey, executive director of Ozark Regional Transit] said.
Ottawa has that bus system. It's not perfect, but if light-rail takes over the grunt routes and buses just have to get people to the trains, it could be even better.
Luoni countered that light rail is not just a cost, it is also a benefit because it encourages economic development. He said rail transportation offers peoples a choice in transit, the opportunity to reduce the environmental footprint, helps neighborhood-based merchants and is a way to revitalize communities by encouraging a denser urbanism rather than sprawl.

Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART ) is a good example, Goforth said.

"Where they have put in hub stations, it has been an enormous economic development driver and revitalization of weak areas. So, there is a big upside," he said.

Goforth said the cost is not either build light rail or improve the highways.

"We're going to have to have both," he said, adding that a feeder system, such as a bus system, is also necessary.

Goforth said the short term solution for immediate demand would be working on getting bus rapid transit (BRT ), but there are very, very different economics in the two concepts.

"They are cheaper and faster on the front end, but much more expensive and less contributors to economic development on the back end," he said.

Because BRT is not a fixed asset like rail would be, developers of commercial complexes don't cluster around a bus station, Goforth said.

[Phil Pumphrey, executive director of Ozark Regional Transit] said that's its advantage.

"One of the advantages buses have over rail is that if the demographics change and you have to move a rail it's very expensive. But a bus is just a short planning session," he said.

So there are a lot of things to consider. We're not the only ones dealing with these problems, though.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Funding Ottawa's transit plans, part five: Privatisation

The recent strikes of the Toronto Transit Commission has once again raised the idea of at least partial privatisation of the Torontonian transit system, according to the Globe and Mail. Would it be prudent for Ottawa to look into such a possibility? The story lays out the background, and runs over a few of the pros and cons:

Advocates say privatization will cut costs and improve services across the city. Detractors warn that it could lead to a mish-mash of companies servicing only the most popular routes, leading to poorer overall service, less central cohesion and no significant savings for the city.

“For thousands of Torontonians, the TTC is critical to their lives. They'll be very careful about changing the status quo,” Ward 34 councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong said. “Just selling the TTC outright to a private company and putting a ‘for sale' sign outside the doors of the TTC is unacceptable to the public, because it's so important to them.” So what is there to gain or lose by whittling down the TTC?

Despite regular commuter gripes about late service, the TTC is one of the most efficient transit systems in the world, in terms of operations, according to a TTC-commissioned study in 2003.


He [former Toronto budget chief David Soknacki] argues that it's vastly outdated: People no longer simply live in the suburbs and commute to the core. They need flexible service.

But outright privatization, he warns, could lead to private enterprise “cherry-picking” the most profitable services – and leaving the taxpayers to fund the rest. Instead, Mr. Soknacki suggests something in between: Split the TTC into specialty divisions and create one controlling body to oversee it and other Greater Toronto Area service providers.

“The administration has the choice of making fundamental changes to the TTC or watching those changes being made for it,” he said. “It's a shame, because the TTC could be leading [transit provision] instead of following.”

The story went on to talk about the city of London, England, where privatisation of public transit was done with mixed results:

London is held aloft by both camps as an example of the pros and cons of privatization. Those trumpeting the cons include TTC chair Adam Giambrone, who points to the failed privatization of London's iconic Underground as a cautionary tale. Contractors were paid to maintain and renew the Tube network while the government agency Transport for London (TfL) retained ownership of tracks, trains and stations.

But last year the five-corporation body called Metronet Rail BCV Ltd. that took on two of the three $34-billion contracts incurred debts of at least $4-billion, leaving TfL and the City of London to cover the loss. “There are no other major centres [outside London] that run privatized operations. There's a reason,” Mr. Giambrone said.

Above ground, however, London's bus reform is a glowing privatization success story, said Ben Dachis, a policy analyst for public-policy think tank the C.D. Howe Institute.

“The bus services in the U.K. after privatization are just off-the-charts better than they were before,” he said. “Prices are way down, service is way up. … The best way to get around London these days is on the bus. No one takes the Underground.”

I know Ottawa has tried some P3 (public/private partnership) experiments and, I'm no expert, but I don't think they've been either glowing successes or abysmal failures. The biggest problem for me would be ensuring some level of co-operation between various organizations, but the City of Ottawa already has to do so between OC Transpo and STO (Société de transport de l'Outaouais, the transit authority across the river).

Anyway, it's another option to think about.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Ottawa's not alone in transit planning dilemmas

Although Ottawa's had our share of problems and setbacks while looking into implementing a light rail system, we're not alone. The City of Edmonton began their light rail system in 1978 for the Commonwealth Games, and has been having trouble since then working on it getting more done, as Kerry Diotte's column in the Edmonton Sun explained.

It's time to get a grip on a serious and realistic overall plan for Light Rail Transit (LRT) in Edmonton.

Mayor Stephen Mandel this week blasted a city administration scheme that would see a new LRT line run along 87 Avenue and across the North Saskatchewan River to near the University of Alberta campus.


Truth be told, Edmonton was the smallest city in North America to build a mass transit light rail system and we are still at or near the bottom of the barrel when it comes to ridership.

Our existing 12.9 km north-south line carries only about 42,000 passengers daily.
When our southern LRT route to 23 Avenue opens in 2010 we'll have spent about $1 billion on the system, the same amount Calgary put out for its C-Train that features 42 km of lines in three directions serving 248,000 riders daily.

Given the current state of high oil prices, though, it's a no-brainer to fast-track mass transit. But citizens are right to wonder if anyone at City Hall is looking at the big picture and truly figuring out the best routes for LRT. Is there an overall vision?

Thursday, May 1, 2008

More mixed transit feedback

The most recent public consultation, this on at the Nepean Sportsplex, resulted in more mixed views on the City Council's recommended transit plan (number four), according to the Ottawa Citizen.

Some attendees were heavily in favour:

Another resident, Hector Ewing, said the proposal was better than what Ottawa currently has and said "no plan is 100-per-cent perfect. I think this plan is feasible in the foreseeable future."

Leslie Shand was also a fan of the plan, saying Baseline Station would only be a four-minute walk from his home.

"It would be perfect for me."

While some weren't so optimistic:
"Barrhaven, Kanata and Orléans are where most of the riders originate. The rail doesn't provide any connection for them, and Kanata is left out in the boondocks," Ottawa resident Vic Johnson said at the consultation that attracted more than 20 people to the Nepean Sportsplex.

The next--and final--public consultation is for the Kanata area on May 6, 2008, at Holy Trinity High School. It runs from 7 to 9 p.m.