Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Doucet black sheep in Council

A number of other councillors have been criticizing Capital Councillor Clive Doucet for his outspoken denunciation of Ottawa's approved transit plan, according to an article in the Ottawa Sun.

Doucet has been saying the plan does not include enough light-rail, will take too long for the light-rail included to be finalized, and will be prohibitively expensive--to the point of requiring a special transit tax.

Other councillors, including Alex Cullen and Rainer Bloess, have suggested that Doucet is still upset that the old North-South transit line was cancelled by council. Bloess, in the above-linked Sun article, said Doucet's criticisms were simply "sour grapes" and that Doucet is too quick to insult the new plan--which includes 70 km more light rail than the North-South line had.

On Wednesday, Doucet criticized the recent $4-billion, 25-year transit plan council voted 19-4 to adopt.

Doucet said the plan is nothing more than a "1970s bus plan," with some light rail planned for the future.

Bloess said he's tired of Doucet's "sour grapes" over the plan and criticized his colleague's statements that a downtown tunnel won't be built for 11 years and that taxpayers will be hit with a special tax to pay for it.

In another Sun article, Ottawa's deputy city manager for planning Nancy Schepers suggested that Doucet's claims of timelines for the plan--which he states will not be complete for 7 to 11 years--are speculative, and his suggestion of a tax is premature.

"We started planning this 10 years ago and we won't see light rail in the city for another 10 years," said Doucet.

Schepers said Doucet is speculating on both the tunnel time frame and the need for a special tax to pay for it, because council has yet to make important decisions concerning the project.

The Ottawa Citizen also printed an article about infighting in Council, noting duelling press conferences that Doucet held against a joint conference Cullen, Peggy Feltmate, and Peter Hume.

"This town wants us to move. This town is broken. This town is choking," said Mr. Cullen, who chairs council's transit committee. He said that while the total transit plan looks huge and expensive, so did the bus transitway plan, which was funded by the Ontario government more than 20 years and has served the city well.


At city hall, Mr. Doucet told reporters he's convinced the city's transit plan will be focused on buses at the expense of building rail.

"This plan is for buses and for buses only," he said.

In a later interview, Mr. Doucet rebutted an assertion by the deputy city manager responsible for transit that he was merely speculating about what the plan would entail.

"It will be set up so we don't have any choice," he said, predicting that the city will ultimately spend far more on buses than on rail in the new plan, and even have to impose a special transit levy to do it.

Doucet is certainly not pulling any punches about the new light-rail plan. His website, CliveDoucet.com, includes links to a press release he sent out stating, in his opinion, how misguided Option 4 is. He's also got a link to a story about speculation that Jon Baird killed the North-South line. No end to the drama in Ottawa's city council.

Rising gas moot for OC Transpo

According to a story in the Ottawa Citizen, Ottawa's public transit budget this year shouldn't be tremendously disturbed by rising gas prices. Despite an unexpected 20 per cent increase over budgeted prices for diesel fuel--roughly $8M more than was budgeted--an increase in paying riders is expected to roughly balance out that $8M expense. From the Citizen story:
[City of Ottawa treasurer Marian Simulik] said the city budgeted for 93 cents per litre of diesel this year, but on average, it looks like the municipality will spend about 20 per cent more for the roughly 39 million litres of diesel it uses to power public transit. This translates into about $8 million more than the transit fuel budget.

However, as fuel prices have shot up, more people have turned to public transit, with five per cent more riders compared to last year. If the trend holds until the end of the year, Ms. Simulik says, it should work out to about an $8-million increase in revenue for the transit company.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Naqvi, part six: Rail on the Parkway

Although the recently-approved transit plan includes light-rail along the Ottawa River Parkway, that provision is far from concrete. There are concerns as to whether or not the National Capital Commission (NCC) will even allow the city to develop the land, and even if they do, some residents of the area aren't very happy about fast trains in some of the city's prime greenspace. Yasir Naqvi has heard a lot of these concerns from constituents in his riding, and his office is only minutes from the Parkway.
There are some serious concerns from the community on the use of the parkway along the Ottawa River. A lot of members of my community have raised concerns about using that greenspace for that purposes. And again, it's the decision which the NCC and the City of Ottawa will be making. The point I have raised to the constituents, and we actually had a town hall meeting which primarily was on this particular issue along with Christine Leadman, who is the city councillor for the Kitchissippi ward, and Paul Dewar, who is the member of parliament for Ottawa Centre, as to what are the alternatives.

And I sort of asked the members of the community, I said, “I think we all agree that we need a transit system,” everybody agrees, “We all agree that light rail is the way to go,” everybody agrees. There is some disagreement as to whether we use Parkway or not, if so, then what are the alternatives? And so, I think ideas are most welcome, there's sort of a sign on the door, and that's where I think it lies right now. I'm trying to solicit, I'm sure same as Christine and Paul are doing, if not Parkway, then where, and how best to have that east-west access from west-end coming into the downtown core, and what pathways.
So, although there is far from a consensus on the issue, Naqvi is awaiting other options before stating that he's completely against rail on the Parkway.

One option that has come up recently is relocating the leg of the rail line that is slotted along the Parkway along Carling Avenue, as a letter in the Ottawa Citizen recently explored:

Councillor Alex Cullen, chair of the council's transit committee, thinks that consideration of the Carling Avenue option is "too late." He said city politicians have already made up their minds to proceed with the Parkway option. He also doesn't think the idea is good enough to convince the necessary three-quarters of council to approve reconsidering the issue.

The public needs to speak out about the Carling Avenue option and tell city hall that we want this route to be given a more thorough examination.

The benefits of Carling are not to be dismissed. Firstly, and obviously, it preserves the greenspace along the Parkway and avoids a negotiation with the NCC. Secondly, it moves a rail through a much more populous development; population density along Carling is, obviously, higher than that along the Parkway. With that, however, come some drawbacks. Below is a Google Maps map of the Parkway option (red), and what would likely be close to what a Carling option (blue) would look like:

The main benefit of the Carling option--that it would be closer to more residences--is also a deterrent, in that it would likely mean significantly more urban and commercial disturbances, and would severely limit traffic on an already-congested Carling Avenue (unless the plan was to go underground). It would likely have to stay along Carling until the Carling O-Train Station, as well, meaning that it would then likely climb Parkdale (more urban disturbance and road closures) to get to the downtown core.

As Naqvi mentioned, there is certainly a lot of factors that will have to be considered. More research can certainly be done into the Parkway option and any alternatives before making a hard-and-fast decision on which one we're going with.

Part six of Yasir Naqvi on Public Transit in Ottawa, a TransitOttawa.ca exclusive:

Part One: Introduction
Part Two: Effective Public Transit
Part Three: Provincial Funding
Part Four: The Cancelled North-South Line
Part Five: Subway is "a good idea"
Part Six: Rail on the Ottawa River Parkway
Part Seven: Bi-Provincial Partnerships

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Other Side, Toronto: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Photo courtesy jasonachiu.com

Toronto is taking one step forward and two steps back in public transit development. Several weeks ago the Toronto Star wrote that the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) failed to receive a "single qualified bidder" for a $1.25 billion dollar contract to replace the staple streetcar fleet in Toronto. Bombardier, widely considered to be the front-runner for the project, initially declined comment, but later a spokesperson described the rejection of their bid as a "surprise".

Bombardier's major competitor is TRAM power, of England, who also placed a bid for the billion-dollar contract. However, the UK-based transit company was rejected, along with Bombardier, due to the TTC's assessment of the company as "commercially non-compliant".

The primary reason for the rejection of Bombardier's bid is the TTC's concern that their prototype streetcars will not be able to climb or corner some of the steep turns and hills that make up Toronto's streetcar grid. The Star reported today that TRAM power is preparing another bid, and that the company is playing down reports of a their units catching fire in testing.

It's in Toronto's interest to spend federal funding on urban infrastructure projects, but the TTC's righteous rejection of bids for a billion dollar contract will only delay, unnecessarily, what Torontonians need dearly--a fully functional and up to date public transit system.

Count on a lot of competition for the recently-announced $7.8B in provincial and federal funding between two provincial transit priorities, the TTC in Toronto as well as the new light-rail transit plan in Ottawa.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Pets on buses: The issues

The issue of allowing pets onto OC Transpo buses has been around for a while, but it really caught some steam when the Ottawa Sun published a story of a 2,000-signature petition from the local chapter of the Responsible Dog Owners of Canada (RDOC-Ott) which asked for six-month trial to allow small or crated animals on city buses. Chairwoman of the RDOC-Ott Candice O'Connell cited the fact that many other cities allow such measures, but Ottawa councillor Jan Harder was sceptical to the support such a motion would receive.

Last Friday the Ottawa Citizen published a story where Bay Councillor Alex Cullen, head of the city's transit committee, said that commuters with small, crated animals should be allowed to bring them on the bus--provided the animals are "not taking up any space".

Back to the Sun, earlier this week an editorial expressed apprehension around the issue, largely based on concern for the drivers' ability to concentrate while listening to pets and the potential (and likely) complaints of pet-unfriendly commuters. The story quoted Mayor Larry O'Brien and once again Cullen as supporters of the trail, councillor Maria McRae torn, and councillor Jan Harder completely against the idea. And, apparently, the city rejected this same idea in 1999 due to findings of Dr. Robert Cushman that pet dander could potentially be life-threatening to allergic or asthmatic riders.

In the Ottawa Metro this past week, Dr. David Algom expressed similar concerns to those of Cushman about allergies in a closed environment, and Dr. Antony Ham Pong mentioned that the risk might be greatest to a driver affected by allergies after a day of exposure.

To make the issue even more contentious, Frances Woodard wasn't allowed onto an OC Transpo bus due to her pet ferret, which she and her psychiatrist liken to a service animal, such as a guide dog, as reported on CBC.ca. However, because provincial law stipulates certified service animals are allowed on the bus, Woodard's ferret Gyno's bus pass will not be reinstated, as Canada.com reported. The issue remains contentious, however, as the president of the OC Transpo drivers' union Andre Cornellier suggested (in the above-linked Canada.com article) that he doesn't think a ferret qualifies as a service animal.

Most recently, CBC.ca quoted Cornellier once again, this time expressing strong concerns with allowing general pets (ferret and service animal issue aside) onto buses. The concerns are not only with possible allergies, but also the distractions if animals escape their cages.

Whoooo... quite the issue. More information about a resolution when it becomes available.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Naqvi, part five: Subway is "a good idea"

After reading David Chernushenko call the proposed tunnel in Ottawa's transit plans a "waste of money," don't think there's consensus on that. Ottawa Centre MPP Yasir Naqvi thinks that it is--potentially--a good idea.

Tunnel is a good idea, downtown streets are extremely congested, no doubt. But I think we have to wait until the environmental assessment [is completed] to see whether it's doable or not. I have been reading a lot of different things as to the kind of rock formations downtown is located [above], it's sort of elevated, we need to see that it's something that is doable. So it will be too premature to say “I like it” or “I don't like it” without knowing the full technical details and without knowing the bill associated with it.

Of course, Naqvi stipulates that the city needs to do its due diligence before investing time, money, and manpower in a tunnel, including an environmental assessment. According to National Resources Canada, the city of Ottawa's geology is a layer of gravel, sand, silt, and clay overtop of limestone, sandstone, and shale; tunnelling through such soft formations, especially when surrounded by large buildings, would likely not be easy (although I'm no geologist). I's sure a tunnel boring machine that satisfies Ottawa's geology can be found, however.

Geological questions aside, Naqvi does make a good point about bus congestion. Along the downtown leg of the Transitway, there is little to no room remaining for expanding bus service with the density of buses already present, and as ridership continues to rise more service becomes necessary. Ridership rose another 0.8% in 2007 according to OC Transpo statistics (.PDF) and another 4.4% in the first half of 2008, according to the Ottawa Citizen.

Is going underground the answer? Chernushenko thinks it's misguided and unwarranted. Naqvi thinks it's a good idea, as long as it's physically and financially reasonable. What do you think?

ADDENDUM: Further to the discussion about the subway's environmental assessment, the Ottawa Business Journal printed a story a few weeks back with information about Delcan Corporation, the firm selected to complete the process, which is expected to take roughly 20 months.

Part five of Yasir Naqvi on Public Transit in Ottawa, a TransitOttawa.ca exclusive:

Part One: Introduction
Part Two: Effective Public Transit
Part Three: Provincial Funding
Part Four: The Cancelled North-South Line
Part Five: Subway is "a good idea"
Part Six: Rail on the Ottawa River Parkway
Part Seven: Bi-Provincial Partnerships

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Chernushenko film screens again

As mentioned in an earlier post, David Chernushenko produced a film entitled Be the Change that screened at Carleton University last month. Well, the movie is back for another round. This announcement just came from the Chernushenko camp:


Tuesday July 29, 7pm, St. Paul University, 223 Main Street, Ottawa
Entry by donation (suggested amount of $10 or more) to the Living Lightly Project.
Producer-Director David Chernushenko will animate a post-screening discussion.
For more information about the film and to see the trailer http://www.livinglightly.ca/film

Chernushenko, part five: Subway is a "waste of money"

Ottawa's downtown core might soon brace itself for the construction of a tunnel that would accommodate the city's forthcoming light-rail system. Business support for the plan is high and many councillors are on board, but not all observers are on the same page.

One of Ottawa's leading green thinkers has doubts about the effectiveness of a downtown subway. David Chernushenko told Public Transit in Ottawa that there are better ways to approach light rail on downtown streets—even those as potentially cluttered as Albert and Slater streets.

"I think the subway alternative is a complete and utter waste of money. I think it’s the wrong approach, unless Ottawa is going to have a subway system—and I don’t believe we’re big enough to merit a subway system at the moment," he said.

Chernushenko added that although business support for the tunnel is currently high, the affected streets above ground are in for an overhaul that could affect revenue.

"It’s going to be one hell of a massive dig. It’s going to be a couple of years of major, major disruption. And I don’t think they thought through that," he said. "[Streets] are as blocked off above as they would be if it were entirely surface-length [rail] that was going in."

Businesses on Bank Street have complained about lower pedestrian traffic during the ongoing rehabilitation of that roadway. Albert and Slater are far less commercially intense, but those businesses that do exist on those arteries might be forced to weather some bad times.

Chernushenko cut the tunnel idea some slack and suggested that because a tunnel, if built, will be part of the larger light-rail project, it is still good news for Ottawa at the end of the day.

"Ultimately, whatever we do with our taxes and the inconvenience, we have to prepare ourselves to say it’s going to be a big inconvenience for a better future."


Part Four of David Chernushenko's Reflections on Ottawa Transit, a TransitOttawa.ca exclusive:

Part One: Introduction
Part Two: Cycling
Part Three: Inside the Greenbelt
Part Four: Serving the suburbs
Part Five: Ottawa's subway

Monday, July 14, 2008

Naqvi, part four: The Cancelled North-South Line

As all of us who've followed public transit planning in Ottawa remember, the current light-rail plans that City Council are moving forward with are not the first. Back in 2006, the city went as far as to award a contract to Siemens to construct an extension to the current O-Train track along a north-south line, from the University of Ottawa through downtown to the LeBreton Flats, Greenboro, all the way out to Barrhaven (see map below, from the City of Ottawa website). It was scheduled for completion by autumn 2009.

Looking back on it now, Ottawa Centre MPP Yasir Naqvi calls the now-cancelled North-South extension "visionary".

I have to tell you that I wish that original plan [of a North-South extension], which was agreed on by City Council, would have been going on right now because, if all the timelines would have been followed, we would have the trains running by spring of '09. And sitting in summer '08, with the gas price as it is, think about that. That would have been quite visionary at this time.

In late 2006, Council voted to go forward with the plan, but without service through downtown; the rail lines were to stop at LeBreton Flats. Both federal and provincial governments withdrew their funding--at least temporarily--in the face of this amendment, pending further review. Council then had to choose between three options:
  1. The original plan, extending through downtown, with an estimated price tag of almost $800M, half of which would be covered by provincial and federal governments.
  2. The amended plan, extending from Limebank to LeBreton Flat, at the risk of federal and provincial governments withdrawing financial support.
  3. Neither plan, and a decision to go back to the drawing board, at the risk of between $250-300M in lawsuits from Siemens.
The city went with the third option, which is why there is currently no light-rail extension under construction, and why council is now going forward with Transit Option Four, a much more ambitious, comprehensive, and--perhaps most important of all--costly plan than the previous one.

Despite the cancellation of the project, Naqvi made sure to re-affirm his commitment to a "good, solid plan" for public transit in Ottawa.

Unfortunately, again, politics came in the way, and no point in pointing fingers. The point being that provincial government has been there, and they're not the ones dragging their feet. And we will be there when there is a good, solid plan in place.
I'm sure all his constituents, and the rest of the citizens of Ottawa, are hoping that the province is right there with Council when a proactive plan is finally put forward.


Wikipedia.org, "3: Beyond the Pilot: Extension and Electrification", Ottawa O-Train, accessed: July 14, 2008. Available here.

CBC.ca, "Ottawa council kills light rail project". Accessed: July 14, 2008. Available here.

Part Three of Yasir Naqvi on Public Transit in Ottawa, a TransitOttawa.ca exclusive:

Part One: Introduction
Part Two: Effective Public Transit
Part Three: Provincial Funding
Part Four: The Cancelled North-South Line
Part Five: Subway is "a good idea"
Part Six: Rail on the Ottawa River Parkway
Part Seven: Bi-Provincial Partnerships

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Naqvi, part three: Provincial funding

For any transit plan in Ottawa, it's obvious that provincial and federal players have to support the municipality with proper funding. And, according to Yasir Naqvi, the provincial government is right there in the wings, waiting for City Council to present them with more specifics behind the much-heralded Option Four.

The provincial government, in the first go-around, was very much part-and-parcel of the whole scheme. As you know, the provincial government had given $200M to the city for the first system, which never happened. That money is still sitting on the table, and we are, the premier himself and other members as well, have been very clear in saying that we want to see a good public transit system in Ottawa. Let's come up with a good plan, see if it works, so that all three levels of government can work together and make sure that, from a financial point of view, it happens.

If the rumours of a $4B price tag for the current transit option are true, it's obvious that $200M from the province won't be enough to cover the costs. Should the price be split up three ways, the cost for each level of government would be roughy $1.3B, although much of it would be spread over the reported 20- to 25-year timeline. For Naqvi, the plan right now is to wait for more information.

We, obviously, are waiting for that plan and the costing of that plan, and as I understand from my conversations at City Hall, the next stage is going to be the phasing in approach to figuring out what the new system, Option Four, I guess, which has been agreed upon by the city, what phases of that system will go in. Because that will allow the city to then cost the price of each phase. That's, probably, the point where the provincial government will get more involved. You have to remember, the city has not made any, has not asked for anything yet, so we obviously have to wait for that. But that does not mean we are not engaging in dialogue, we are obviously be part-and-parcel of that conversation that is taking pace to ensure that there are no misunderstandings as we move forward.

We are all waiting anxiously for the costing-out of the phasing process. It should very well be the next step in the most important decision in the history of the City of Ottawa's transit infrastructure. According to Naqvi, the province is prepared to stand side-by-side with the city--as long as they can afford it.


Part Three of Yasir Naqvi on Public Transit in Ottawa, a TransitOttawa.ca exclusive:

Part One: Introduction
Part Two: Effective Public Transit
Part Three: Provincial Funding
Part Four: The Cancelled North-South Line
Part Five: Subway is "a good idea"
Part Six: Rail on the Ottawa River Parkway
Part Seven: Bi-Provincial Partnerships

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Naqvi, part two: Effective Public Transit

When formulating a public transit vision, the first question planners must face is how to make it effective. In order to measure effectiveness, it must first be defined.

In Yasir Naqvi's platform for the 2007 provincial elections, he stated that one of his main goals was advocating for an effective public transit system in Ottawa. The first question I asked him in our interview was what, to him, determines such a qualifier. He stated that the most important thing is getting people on the bus or train:

What I think that makes it effective is a couple of components. One is that it really enhances ridership—we want a system which people actually use—and number two, that is accessible in its effectiveness; that it's convenient for people to use it. Now, I do believe that if you build it they will come, type of logic. Especially with the climate we're living in right now, with higher gas prices, there is an appetite for people to use an effective public transit system. We need to ensure that it is a system which results in enhanced ridership.

If people are on the bus (or train), then it's been successful in its goal of promoting use.

Naqvi went on to discuss the realities of commuting in the City of Ottawa, which is that people generally move into the downtown core--his riding--from four directions (three in this city, one across the river in Gatineau). To be truly efficint, Naqvi says, the transit system has to allow people to travel without having to use their cars.

The federal government is the largest employer, and they are primarily located in the downtown core. So we are bringing people from all four directions into the downtown core. I think those of us who live in this community [of Ottawa Centre], what we would like to see is that if we can create a transit system, or enhance our existing transit system, then more and more of those people [from the suburbs] can leave their cars behind. Hop on a bus, or hop on a train, to get downtown. So we maintain the sustainable nature of this community, and ensure that everybody has that convenience of coming to the hub of the economy that is the downtown core.

What the city needs to look at in a transit plan, according to Naqvi, is one that will encourage people to use the system in order to arrive downtown, without having to bring cars into the core.

Under the current option, rail spurs extend only to the outside of the core, and not into the suburbs. This would require commuters to get into the core before using rail, preferably by bus, but it might be more realistic to think quite a few will drive into the train stations. It remains to be seen, then, how "effective", under Naqvi's definition, this option would be.


Part Two of Yasir Naqvi on Public Transit in Ottawa, a TransitOttawa.ca exclusive:

Part One: Introduction
Part Two: Effective Public Transit
Part Three: Provincial Funding
Part Four: The Cancelled North-South Line
Part Five: Subway is "a good idea"
Part Six: Rail on the Ottawa River Parkway
Part Seven: Bi-Provincial Partnerships

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Yasir Naqvi on Public Transit in Ottawa: Part One

Yasir Naqvi is a fan of alternative transit in Ottawa. As the MPP for Ottawa Centre, he's excited about the "liveable, walkable, and bikeable" nature of our community.

This past Monday, July 7, I sat down with Naqvi to discuss the most pressing issues that Ottawa is facing with regards to public transit. In the coming days and weeks, I'll be posting parts of the interview, including his thoughts on what makes a public transit system effective, a possible tunnel under downtown, light rail along the Ottawa River Parkway, provincial funding, cooperation with the Province of Quebec, and the now-cancelled North-South light-rail extension.

Naqvi had some very interesting things to say, so keep visiting TransitOttawa.ca or subscribe to the RSS feed (see the link at the top of the left bar). I'm also hoping to broadcast and podcast parts of the interview, and I'll offer more details of that as they come along.


Part One of Yasir Naqvi on Public Transit in Ottawa, a TransitOttawa.ca exclusive:

Part One: Introduction
Part Two: Effective Public Transit
Part Three: Provincial Funding
Part Four: The Cancelled North-South Line
Part Five: Subway is "a good idea"
Part Six: Rail on the Ottawa River Parkway
Part Seven: Bi-Provincial Partnerships