Wednesday, August 27, 2008

OC Transpo SmartCards on their way

According to a story in the Ottawa Citizen, OC Transpo is going to have a SmartCard transit payment system in place by 2011. The system will also be fully integrated with that of STO's buses, which is such a smart idea. From the story:
The cards would store either transit passes or a cash value, with card readers on buses and O-Train platforms. They would be replenished online, by telephone, by pre-arranged direct debit, or at current OC Transpo sales offices and vendors. Enforcement officers would have portable smartcard readers to ensure proof of payment.
What a great idea--even if it will cost $21M. Considering expenses on bus tickets and passes currently must be very high, the SmartCard system might actually be a cost-savings. It'll be a lot easier for bus drivers, too, I can imagine.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Okay... Gyno the ferret WILL get a bus pass

Wow, this issue just won't end. Gyno, the much-maligned service-ferret, is apparently being given a special exemption by Ottawa city council to get a bus pass so his owner, who suffers from agoraphobia, can use OC Transpo.

Read about it from the Ottawa Citizen here or here.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Gyno the ferret won't get a bus pass

According to a story in the Ottawa Citizen, Gyno the ferret (read the background in a post from last month) will not be re-issued his service-animal bus pass from OC Transpo. From the Citizen story:
"In the specific case of Ms. Woodard's ferrets, none of them have been trained for the purpose of being a service animal as per the provisions of the [transit] bylaw," reads the memo, which was sent Wednesday by Nancy Schepers and is on the agenda for the Aug. 20 meeting of city council's transit committee.
I'm not really sure where I stand on this issue, personally. I suppose I agree that the ferret should require training to be certified as a recognized service animal, even if it is an animal that provides a service to its owner.

Any readers have thoughts on this issue? Feel free to post them in the 'comments' section.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Transit service in Ottawa getting better

A story in the Ottawa Citizen today talked about the increasing satisfaction OC Transpo riders are having with the bus service in the city. Readers might remember a post here a while back about the satisfaction rates plummeting; they've recovered pretty well since the winter.

OC Transpo reported Wednesday that satisfaction among transit users was at 70 per cent this spring. Satisfaction in public transit among all respondents in the survey, including people who don't use the service, was at 63 per cent this year. That's a big rebound from the 45 per cent who expressed satisfaction in 2007. In 2004, the satisfaction rate was 62 per cent.

--Ottawa Citizen

The story went on to mention that the winter, with equipment failures and a lot of snow, was particularly hard on OC Transpo. Councillor Alex Cullen suggested that people may also appreciate the fact that council is accepting responsibility for the failures and addressing them as quickly as they deem possible.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Council looks behind the scenes: Ottawa Sun

According to a story in the Ottawa Sun, city council is going to take a tour of the city's transit control centre tomorrow in order to get some insight into how our system works.

Most constituents knew that the last election was largely influenced by transit, and the recent fears of 'peak oil' have increased the importance of public transit in Ottawa. It makes sense for councillors to educate themselves as much as they can on the goings-on at OC Transpo.

More on the outcomes of the tour as it becomes available.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Take money from roads and invest in transit: Indy Star

An article in the Indiananapolis Star last week took the opposite stance that some US politicians are with regards to a budgetary shortfall in road repairs (see an old post about the idea here), advising that public funding earmarked for roads should instead be invested in mass transit.

The mindset is that is people aren't driving as much, but are taking buses instead, why not put the money where people need it? Here is an excerpt from the story:
Almost all transportation dollars are still targeted for maintaining old roads and building new ones. There's been almost no public discussion coming out of the halls of state government about what the shift in driving habits will mean when it comes to writing budgets and planning projects.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Robbing Peter (aka mass transit) to pay Paul (aka highway construction projects)

According to an article published last week in the New York Times, the US Federal Government may be taking a 'loan' from the mass transit account in order to pay for ongoing road projects. The problem, according to the story, is that with gas prices climbing higher and higher, less people are filling their cars and as a result gas taxes--typically used to pay for road and highway improvements--are plummeting.

The problem with this? People whop have stopped filling their tanks are using public transit instead, meaning that if there ever was a time the US mass transit account needed that money, that time would be now. And excerpt of the Times story:
WASHINGTON — Gasoline tax revenue is falling so fast that the federal government may not be able to meet its commitments to states for road projects already under way, the secretary of transportation said Monday.

The secretary, Mary E. Peters, said the short-term solution would be for the Highway Trust Fund’s highway account to borrow money from the fund’s mass transit account, a step that would balance the accounts as highway travel declines and use of mass transit increases. Both trends are being driven by the high price of gasoline and diesel fuel.

There is, naturally, a slight amount of concern expressed with this reactive, short-sighted measure. Including the thoughts of the president of the American Public Transportation Association (as quoted in that same Times article):
“Robbing Peter to pay Paul is not the way to go,” said the president of the American Public Transportation Association, William W. Millar. “The administration proposal is shortsighted and would mean that the mass transit account would be reduced to the point where there would not be enough money to fund the federal transit program in 2010, even at the current level.”
This news was originally brought to my attention by Grist, a blog on environmental news and commentary, who came up with this gem of sarcasm:
High gas prices are shifting people from cars into mass transit. The only appropriate response, clearly, is to rob the mass transit accounts to pay for highway projects.
So it goes. It is, however, a difficult decision. These repairs, in some instances, are already in progress, and halting at this point due to a budgetary deficit would simply leave incomplete projects on hiatus. I don't envy the next president, or whoever is going to have to make the decision. I hope that, if he does take a 'loan', it doesn't become a permanent one, however.

EDIT: A little more information, this from an editorial in The Washington Post:
Ms. Peters has proposed borrowing money from the Highway Trust Fund's mass transit account to cover a projected $3.1 billion shortfall in highway maintenance and construction. It is unclear, though, whether Ms. Peters could borrow the money without harming mass transit capital projects such as the purchase of subway cars and construction of bus garages. Transportation groups also worry that repaying the money could be difficult if gas tax revenue continues to decline. The proposal is a shortsighted solution that would take money away from mass transit at the wrong time.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The time is right for transit plan funding

It's as if there's a hilarious role-reversal going on in Ontario right now: the federal and provincial government is here, cheques in hand, and all they need are good ideas to spend it on. For the city of Ottawa, the pressure is on to get a funding request in good order if there is any hope of securing some of that money for public transit in Ottawa.

An article in the Toronto Star went over the interesting situation, and underlined the urgency cities need to think about with regards to infrastructure projects if they want to take advantage of this undoubtedly temporary generosity.

What's important, now, is to move as quickly as possible on getting shovels in the ground. With Ontario's economy battered by a high Canadian dollar, overheated fuel prices, a weakening U.S. economy and tough competition from countries such as China, the province needs an injection of job-creating construction projects.


Under the federal Building Canada Fund, Ottawa will spend $3 billion over seven years toward public transit, roads, bridges and other infrastructure in Ontario, with the province making a matching contribution.

An additional $3 billion is going to cities through a sharing of the federal tax on gasoline, also announced by Flaherty earlier. Also en route is $175 million in federal cash for special priorities such as waste-water infrastructure.

Obviously, rushing the planning and assessment processes at the expense of quality and thoroughness would be a mistake, but there is a definite urgency in the process right now. Contrary to what Mayor Larry O'Brien might think (or hope), this money is not going to be handed out based on demographics. It's going to be spent on projects that will have the most bang for their buck, and Ottawa is going to have to step it up if we want any significant amount of it.

The article from the Star ended with some words of wisdom with regards to infrastructure planning, which Ottawa's city council should heed if they are to approach transit planning with the right mindset:
It is the nature of big bureaucracies to move slowly. But economy-reviving construction projects and modern urban infrastructure are sorely needed now. Ideally, they should have been started years ago.

Naqvi, part seven: Bi-provincial partnerships

One of the most interesting obstacles that faces public transit in Ottawa is the proximity and, in many ways, inseparability between the actual city of Ottawa and the National Capital Region, which includes our neighbours across the river in Quebec. Any transit infrastructure that Ottawa and Ontario fund must necessarily incorporate the needs of commuters from Quebec, incorporating another set of municipal and provincial governments into the discussion.

Yasir Naqvi, as the member of provincial parliament for Ottawa Centre, is in a strong position to comment on the relationship between Ontario and Quebec. In an exclusive interview with, he expressed his faith that the two central Canadian provinces are willing and eager to work together on transit issues.

We have a good working relationship with the government of Quebec, and I think dialogue obviously fosters that. One of the things the two governments are looking at is the speed rail in the Quebec-Windsor corridor, I think something which a lot of people have been expecting for some time. Those conversations are taking place, the feasibility studies, so that's a step in the right direction.

Naqvi went on to describe the somewhat unique challenges Ottawa faces when making transit plans, and how to appease all levels of government--including the National Capital Commission (NCC)--when making the big decisions.

I think the challenge lies that we are, in the case of Ottawa, always have to be mindful that not only are we looking at three levels of government—you've got the federal government in terms of the NCC, the provincial government in terms of the financing element, and you've got the municipal government, the custodian, the operator of the transit system—but you've got the other level, which is dealing with the provincial government on the other side. But I think there is a lot of goodwill, I think there is a lot of recognition that something needs to be done keeping in mind the long-term vision of the growth of the region.

One of the main reasons for Ottawa's current transit plan, especially with regards to the downtown tunnel, is to get bus congestion off the roads so our downtown streets are more conducive to pedestrian and bicycle traffic. If, however, commuters from the other side of the river come in on Société de transport de l'Outaouais (STO) buses, then the objectives are not fully met. What it amounts to is yet another challenge facing transit planners: ensuring that OC Transpo buses aren't the only ones that our transit plans take into consideration.


Part seven of Yasir Naqvi on Public Transit in Ottawa, a 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