Sunday, November 30, 2008

Cullen "will not support" OC route cuts

During a discussion as part of a Transportation Master Plan panel on Rogers TV's Talk Ottawa, the subject of the draft-budget's proposed OC Transpo route cuts was brought up by a caller in to the show. The cuts have been incredibly unpopular on this blog, generating more comments than any other subject, and have spawned some public initiatives, including Keep The 23. In response, Bay Councillor and Chair of the City's Transit Committee Alex Cullen said that the idea--which is only in the draft budget--was made with overall budget reductions in mind, but will not receive his support. Cullen predicted that Council would not support the majority of the proposed cuts:
“Excellent observation, these are cuts I will not support. Here we are trying to build our system; we not only have to build it to accommodate the record levels of ridership we have today, so that was part of the plan, and also deal with the suburban areas, but we also want to hit that 30 per cent of all transportation trips by transit, and so we accepted a marketing plan that does that. Unfortunately, Council--which seems to multitask at the same time--wanted to bring in a budget that would be modest in terms of its tax take and requires $35M in cuts to do so.

“What's our largest service? At over $300, [it] is transit. So we have these 42 routes that will be sliced back, 13 routes to be eliminated, and--you're right--that's a contradiction. Council will deal with that, my betting is that Council will not accept the majority of those cuts to major transit routes.”
A number of routes have been defended strongly, including numbers 23, 117, 166, 51, and 55 by commentors on this website alone. I encourage anyone who's interested to discuss the cuts, and the reactions to them, on this blog, and it is just as important to get involved with the City budget process by one of the city-recommended avenues, or contacting your councillor.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

New transit plan approved

After two days of debate, Ottawa City Councillors approved a $6.8B Transportation Master Plan (TMP)--including a $4.7B public transit vision--by a vote of 22-2 in Council on Friday, Nov. 28. The vote is the most recent in moving towards establishing light-rail transit in the city, and allows the City to proceed in making funding requests to the Federal and Provincial Governments.

Before passing the TMP, Council debated each component of the plan, including the transit portion's implementation priorities. That vote voted to accept the vision beginning with a downtown tunnel and then moving east to Blair and West to Tunney's Pasture (along the city-preferred corridor of the Ottawa River Parkway, but possibly one of Carling Avenue or Byron Avenue depending on a land-sharing decision of the National Capital Commission) by a vote of 19-5. According to the Ottawa Citizen [1], dissenting votes came from Councillors Steve Desroches, Diane Deans, Clive Doucet, Christine Leadman, and Georges Bédard. Doucet and Leadman had proposed an alternative transit plan, which they called Light Rail Now!, and had support from Bédard to give more thought to their plan.

The two councillors to vote against the TMP were Gloucester-South Nepean Councillor Desroches and Gloucester-Southgate Councillor Deans. The wards of both councillors stood to benefit more from cancelled plans to begin with a north-south line rather than east-west.

Mayor Larry O'Brien was excited for the supportive vote, and wrote in his blog about his eagerness to begin discussing funding options with the other levels of government and private enterprise:

"Council’s strong vote today helps us put our best foot forward to secure funding from the provincial and federal governments.

"My priority now is to obtain funding from other levels of government, as well as look at alternative forms of finances, such as working with the business community downtown to obtain private partnerships for the construction of the downtown tunnel."
The idea of forming partnerships with downtown businesses who stand to benefit from the tunnel running nearby or with stations in their buildings is another funding option, on top of government investment, that the city is exploring.

[1] "Councillors overwhelmingly back new transportation plan", Ottawa Citizen, Nov. 29, 2008, page A1.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

TransitOttawa on Rogers TV tonight

After having the first try cancelled last week due to the extended Transit and Transportation Committee meeting, TransitOttawa will be on Talk Ottawa this evening, on Rogers 22 in Ottawa at 9 p.m. In addition to myself (Peter Raaymakers) and Hume Rogers of the Downtown Coalition, Bay Councillor and Chair of the city's Transit Committee Alex Cullen will also be on the panel for the hour-long program.

Here's the official press release:
The odyssey continues as the future of Ottawa’s transit system is still in the spotlight at city hall. Don’t miss Talk Ottawa tonight at 9PM as the discussion surrounds what that future might look like.

Peter Raaymakers of Public Transit in Ottawa and Hume Rogers of the Downtown Coalition join James Hendricks in studio to consider the implications and take your calls.

Talk Ottawa – tonight at 9PM - exclusively on Rogers TV Cable 22.

Rogers TV is a one of a kind TV channel that is tailor-made for local audiences. Every year, our stations proudly produce over 15,000 hours of original, informative local programming, reinforcing Rogers Cable's commitment to the communities we serve. Rogers TV is a service available exclusively to cable customers as part of the basic service of Rogers Cable Communications Inc., Canada's largest cable company, delivering high quality entertainment, information and communication services to 2.2 million customers in Ontario, New Brunswick and Newfoundland.

For more information please contact:
Lisa Lafontaine, Publicity Officer
Rogers TV Cable 22

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

No EA for Carling Avenue, yet

In City Council on Wednesday evening, two separate motions were proposed regarding performing an Environmental Assessment (EA) on Carling Avenue during the first stage of EAs performed.

The first motion, numbered 17, was proposed to perform an EA on Carling and Carling alone, without performing one on the other options for the Western Corridor of the transit system, including Byron Avenue and the Ottawa River Parkway. It was rejected by a vote of 16-8, after a number of councillors (including, naturally, Capital Councillor Clive Doucet and Kitchissippi Councillor Christine Leadman, but also College Councillor Rick Chiarelli, Rideau-Vanier Councillor Georges Bedard, and Somerset Councillor Diane Holmes) expressed some amenability to studying Carling.

Doucet and Leadman, who jointly presented an alternative to the staff-recommended transit plan which included re-routing rail onto Carling instead of the Parkway recently, both spoke out in favour of Carling taking priority as the Western corridor's route. They especially noted the fact that the National Capital Commission (NCC) owns the Parkway, and that federal organization has made a few requests in consideration of allowing rail along their land.

Doucet suggested that there were three objectives that the NCC was looking for if they were going to consider the city's request; that it doesn't disrupt existing greenspace; that it is cost-effective; and that it is open to increasing ridership. He went on to state that the Parkway does not satisfy these objectives, while Carling Avenue satisfies each one.

Leadman suggested that an EA of Carling would prove to the NCC that the city had performed due diligence. If the EA proved that Carling was a more productive decision then they city could move forward in that route, but if it proved that it was not feasible, the fact that the EA was performed would at least demonstrate to the NCC that the city was committed to proactively studying the options for the Western Corridor.

The second motion about Carling, numbered 18, debated was on studying Carling in addition to the EAs already being undertaken. After another debate, which included an unsuccesful call of the question by Osgoode Councillor Doug Thompson, the motion was eventually defeated by a vote of 15-9. Cumberland Councillor Rob Jellet, who had voted against Motion 17, voted in favour of Motion 18.

During the discussion of the motion, Bay Councillor Alex Cullen stated that he was not persuaded that the EA of Carling was necessary. He, and many others, brought up the fact that voting against this motion was not a vote against studying Carling; instead, it was a vote to move forward with the current plan, pending results of the EA of the Parkway as well as a response from the NCC regarding light-rail along Carling.

A number of differences of opinion on the commonly-held understandings of the feasibility of Carling Avenue. Cullen based many of his points on the $600M cost estimate that staff provided of rail along Carling, but Doucet countered that the staff-calculated figure included tunnels along the street, which he said is not necessary. Doucet stated that grade-separated light-rail combined with some degree of traffic-light coordination would require only three underpasses.

Further disagreement was with the time difference with regards to using the Parkway or Carling as the Western Corridor. Many of those supporting the motion suggested that the time difference is not significant, while those who didn't support the plan were of the belief that the time difference--estimates pegging the Carling option as slower than the Parkway option--would make transit less appealing to commuters and riders.

City Manager Nancy Schepers estimated the cost of an EA of Carling at somewhere between $2 and 2.5M. She also stated that no official request has been made to the NCC for rail on the Parkway.

How 'green' is public transit, really?

Slate e-Magazine's Green Lantern takes a look at environmental questions, and this week they took a look at just how environmentally-friendly public transit travel really is. At first glance it looks like a simple question, but when you factor in the infrastructure costs and the wasted resources for low-ridership (but still necessary) trips, it gets a little foggy. Here's part of what the Green Lantern had to say:

"A train produces more emissions per trip than any car, bus, or truck; it makes up for that fact environmentally because it carries a lot more people. It stands to reason, then, that if you ride in a full sedan on a day when the train is pretty empty—and, in particular, if you are in a fuel-efficient car—the car could conceivably be greener per passenger mile. (The study says a car would need to have about three passengers—double the average—to break even environmentally with the typical train.) The numbers are even more striking for buses, which can experience extreme variability in ridership between peak and nonpeak hours. At peak hours—with 40 riders onboard—the Berkeley researchers find that buses often look like the greenest option, producing fewer greenhouse-gas emissions than even the average train per passenger mile. At off-peak hours, a bus looks a lot worse, performing even more poorly than a gas-guzzling pickup truck.

"Does that mean we shouldn't run buses or trains during off-peak hours? No. If you want people to ride public transportation at rush hour, you need to make it possible for them to get around the rest of the day, too. (Not to mention the fact that some people—for either physical or economic reasons—simply can't drive.) And as long as those buses and trains are kept running, it's better—environmentally speaking—to take public transportation, since the marginal impact of your trip will be very low."

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Fireworks at the joint Transit and Transportation Committee meeting

I briefly mentioned some of the goings-on at the most recent Transit and Transportation Committees joint meeting on Nov. 19, but because of the interesting developments that happened, I figure I'll explore a little more what happened during the meeting. It is given more weight in light of the full City Council meeting this Wednesday (Nov. 26) where council will debate the city's Transportation Master Plan.

The most surprising development came when, as the 14-hour long meeting was nearing its end, River Ward Councillor Maria McRae voted against the implementation scenario of the public transit plan, splitting the vote into a 5-5 deadlock, where a tying vote is treated as non-supportive. This was interesting because McRae was the chair of the Transportation Committee, who ushered in the implemenation scenario. It certainly caught many councillors, and Mayor Larry O'Brien, off guard. O'Brien, as quoted in the Ottawa Metro:
“It certainly took all of us by surprise that she made that shift,” said Mayor Larry O’Brien. “She’s the chairman of the transportation committee. She had been part of the program that brought this through ... I don’t know why she did what she did, but she’s got some explaining to do.”
That non-supporting vote from the Transportation Committee doesn't mean that the implementation is completely out, it simply means that Council will debate the scenario without the recommendation of the Committee. Kitchissippi Councillor Christine Leadman saw the lack of support in a positive light, as she suggested that the Light Rail Now! plan she and Capital Councillor Clive Doucet jointly proposed--after being rejected by the majority of the Committee--has a second chance when the discussion is opened in Council, according to the above-mentioned Metro article.

In the meeting, Doucet and Leadman had the support of Rideau-Vanier Councillor Georges Bédard, who felt the alternative deserved more scrutiny and proposed the Committee defer their decision until they had taken a closer look at Light Rail Now! proposition, according to the Ottawa Citizen. Although Bédard's motion failed, his no vote on the implementation combined with those of Doucet, Leadman, McRae, and Rideau-Rockcliffe Councillor Jacques Legendre to tie the vote.

According to another article in the Citizen, Transit Committee Chair and Bay Councillor Alex Cullen is confident the transit plan is supported despite the setback. Both he and O'Brien are confident the transit plan will be approved by a strong majority when it is debated in Council on Wednesday.

So it all comes down to the City Council meeting on Nov. 26, at 10:00 a.m., in Andrew S. Haydon Hall of City Hall. We will post information about the meeting as soon as possible, and you can tune in to Talk Ottawa on Rogers 22 (in Ottawa) at 9:00 p.m. on Thursday where Councillor Cullen, Co-ordinator of the Downtown Coalition Hume Rogers, and yours truly will discuss the results of the Council meeting and the Transportation Master Plan.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Light-rail a "billion-dollar boondoggle": Haydon

Andy Haydon, former mayor of the City of Nepean, came out today with a strong criticism of the prevalence of light-rail in the City of Ottawa's currently-favoured transit plan, according to a report in the Ottawa Citizen.

Rather than spending large amounts of money on rail, Haydon suggests that the city continue building up the bus-rapid transit system, including bus-only tunnels downtown to avoid congestion. The story was also in the Ottawa Sun, and Haydon went as far as to suggest that the proposal is a waste of taxpayers' money. From the Sun:

"The so called plan is a pathetic document," he [Haydon] said. "It's a destructive proposal. It flies in the face of reality and is flushing taxpayers' money down the toilet."

Haydon served as an advisor to Mayor Larry O'Brien early in O'Brien's tenure as mayor, but resigned as he felt his advice was being ignored in favour of light-rail. Although not directly in response to Haydon's criticism, O'Brien has been adamant about the feasibility of light-rail in the city, and in a recent blog post highlighted the scrutiny that the current plan has gone through:
"In fact we have had an unprecedented amount of public consultation. And even more impressive is that the new plan has been put to the test by an international expert panel, an operations review by OC Transpo as well as a risk and financial assessment by KPMG and others."
--Mayor Larry O'Brien
It remains to be seen if any Ottawa councilors agree with Haydon's criticisms, but there has been strong support of the plan in the past, including a Council-wide 19-4 vote back in May. Council will hold another vote on the transit plan, after hearing presentations from the Transit and Transportation Committees, on Wednesday, Nov. 26--ironically in Andrew S. Haydon Hall.

What do you think: Buses or trains?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Carling Avenue might be best option

During the joint press conference where councilors Christine Leadman and Clive Doucet presented their Light Rail Now! transit alternative, transportation consultant Morrison Renfrew offered significant credibility to the presentation by offering a feasibility report on using Carling Avenue as the city's westbound light-rail corridor. Although the Light Rail Now! alternative was rejected by the city's transportation and transit committees, Renfrew's analysis remains valid, and Carling remains a viable alternative to utilizing the Ottawa River Parkway as the westbound corridor.

To begin his presentation, Renfrew outlined some of the factors working in favour of Carling Avenue. These included:
  1. The priority that exists in developing Carling Avenue as a part of the City's transit network.
  2. The presence of all-day high-volume "activity centres", including significant emplyment, two major hospitals and a number of medical centres, three major shopping centres (Carlingwood Shopping Centre, Lincoln Heights Galleria, and Westgate Mall), and a concentration of high-rise apartments.
  3. The "street allowance" of the roadway, which is "compatible with a surface operation in a segregated median right-of-way."
  4. A large connection to the bus rapid-transit system at Lincoln Fields.
  5. A junction with the O-Train at Carling Station, which allows access to a possible rail yard at Bowesville.
  6. A large number of "feeder streets" to bring bus riders towards the rail line.
Renfrew also mentioned the positive effect that rail transit can shape development, meaning that utilizing Carling Avenue would revitalize the area and encourage further development. The City's current idea of using street-cars, according to Renfrew, is based on nostalgia, and would likely not be cost- or time-effective due to the significant traffic and the large number of intersections and station stops.

As the map at the top of this article (which you can click for a larger, and clearer, version) shows, the leg of rail along Carling would begin at Lincoln Fields and run to the O-Train's Carling Station, with seven stops along the way: Lincoln Fields, Carlingwood, Maitland, Churchill, Merivale, Parkdale, and Preston (at the O-Train station). It would then curve up towards Bayview, running parallel to the O-Train. There are, naturally issues that would have to be addressed along Carling Avenue while building the rail corridor, but Renfrew suggested that they should be relatively simple for implementation.

The most difficult section would likely be at the intersection of Carling and Woodroffe, at the Carlingwood Mall. Due to the already chaotic nature of the intersection, Renfrew proposed that it be re-designed for better traffic flow, and at such time the implementation of the rail line could be determined.

After that would be passing under the Queensway, which Renfrew suggested would be pretty simple, using some embankment and likely requiring the westbound onramp being relocated further east. The image below, directly from Renfrew's presentation, shows somewhat how it would look:

At Lincoln Fields station, the track would utilize a platform, which Renfrew states could be accomodated with the available road width. The tracks would cross-over to enter and exit the platform:

There are a series of crossings near where the proposed Parkdale station would be, as a result of Island Park, Holland, and Parkdale crossings as well as the Civic Hospital, Royal Ottawa Hospital, and Westgate Shopping Centre. This could be addressed with an open-cut underpass to separate the rail track.

Finally, once the train nears Preston Avenue, Renfrew recommended a short tunnel underneath NCC greenspace that would allow the track to curve in preparation for the route towards Bayview. The NCC land would be restored after the tunnel was completed.

Other than these larger problems, most remaining "clusters of traffic signals" can potentially be circumvented by utilizing "co-ordinated, pre-emptive signal control", according to Renfrew.

There are, however, issues with running rail along Carling, not the least of which is the cost. Is Doucet and Leadman's estimation, it would be about three times as much as the Parkway, although KPMG suggested the cost would be around four times in their risk assessment for the city. I've outlined a series of pros and cons for the Parkway previously, and, although the list is not exhaustive, you can read it here--and feel free to add more to the list.

To end his presentation, Renfrew offered a short and confident declaration:
"In summary, there will be challenges in the detail but solutions for all of the critical areas in the Carling median alignment have been identified."
Editor's note: A big thank you to Morrison Renfrew for taking all that time to send me his presentation, it was much-appreciated.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Public initiatives: Keep The 23

In response to budgetary recommendations for OC Transpo route cuts, a group of interested individuals started up a website campaign to preserve the service of bus route #23.

The group, calling themselves Keep The 23 (, have launched an official website and are asking any sympathetic fellow riders to get involved by offering feedback to the city and/or distributing mini-flyers (which are available for download on the website) door-to-door in the neighbourhood.

Route 23 is an express-fare route that serves the communities of Chapel Hill South in the east end of Ottawa, bringing commuters directly through the downtown core. It is unknown whether or not the city would compensate for a cut of the 23 by re-directing another route through the area.

To get involved, visit the group's website to sign up for distributing flyers or offer encouragement, or offer your feedback directly to the city. For a map of Route 23, click here.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Verdict still out on gas prices' effect on transit use

It seems everyone is commenting on what effect gas prices coming back down to Earth is going to have on the recently-surged transit use, but there isn't much consensus on the issue. I've written about a New York Times article which explored with the issue (and another post can be found here), but it's come up a dozen or more times in the headlines since then.

First off, a few outlets that think people will stick around on buses, even if gas prices go down:

The Register Star article sounds like it would suggest riders in the Rock River Valley will be leaving transit, but it's not because of falling gas prices; rather, they fear service cuts might make people choose cars even while the economic downturn encourages them to stay on the bus. Here's an excerpt from that story:

"People started getting on the bus more as gasoline prices topped $3 a gallon last fall and $4 a gallon this summer. And even though prices have since fallen to near $2 a gallon, RMTD officials think the economic downturn kept cash-strapped residents on public transit.

"But that’s only if service doesn’t get cut. And with state officials late to pay $3.8 million — and counting — in subsidies to RMTD, local officials are considering route cuts, fewer buses or a fare hike. There’s even fear the district could suspend service by the end of the year."
And then, some articles suggesting that people are choosing their cars in favour of bussing:

The LA Times article cited mostly anecdotal evidence, and admitted that not all local transit agencies in the area had suffered ridership slips. Still, they quote plenty of commuters who've reverted to driving, as the following excerpt indicates:

Mass transit ridership among some -- but not all -- local transit agencies has slipped since the summer. Although it's not known how many commuters have returned to driving, there is some anecdotal evidence that not everyone who tried mass transit stuck with it.

"Now that gas prices are down, it's better to drive -- I hate to say it," said Pauline Buchanan, who started taking mass transit from Hollywood to work in Koreatown last spring as gas prices climbed.
To give a Canadian--and even Ottawa--perspective, here's a snippet of the National Post story:

David Jeanes, president of Ottawa-based transit advocacy group Transport 2000, was not surprised by the hike in ridership, but worries how long the trend will continue.

"We were predicting (the start of the school year) would be important, but that's a seasonal trend," Mr. Jeanes said. "What's piled on top of that is the massive shift to transit that resulted from fuel-price increases in the summer."

But, he warned, with the current decline in fuel prices, "we don't know if this will continue."

"People do change their habits fairly quickly based on gas prices. People tend to be reluctant to switch to transit until the price gets very high, but once they switch to transit, whether they switch back when the (gas) price goes down depends on the quality of transit they had."

He said that if people have complaints of overcrowding and unreliable service, they won't hesitate to go back to driving their own vehicles while gas prices remain low.
I would be interested to hear if any readers, whether in Ottawa or elsewhere, will be (or have heard from people who will be) leaving public transit in favour of their cars now that gas prices are back down--or with transit infrastructure stretched to its limits.

EDIT: And earlier today, The New York Times' Green Inc. blog wrote about the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) system seeing a decline in the "transit hysteria" that resulted from $4/gallon gas.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Throne speech sets the stage for transit funding

As Governor General Michaëlle Jean read the incoming government's Speech from the Throne, entitled "Protecting Canada's Future", it became evident that now is the time to lobby the federal government for funding of public transit infrastructure projects--like the City of Ottawa's. The Speech highlighted the need to invest in infrastructure to invest in job-generation presently, and also for the future, and the need to continue along with the Building Canada plan.

"Public infrastructure is vital not only to create jobs for today, but also to create the links between communities and regions to help generate jobs for the future. Our Government is committed to expediting our Building Canada plan to ensure that projects are delivered as quickly as possible."

The Building Canada plan, for the record, is intended to provide "stable, flexible and predictable funding to Canadian municipalities." It is an initiative of Infrastructure Canada, which may benefit the Ottawa because Ottawa West-Nepean MPP John Baird is the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure, and Communities, and as a result would have some sway over the projects funded under the Building Canada umbrella.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Light Rail Now! alternative soundly quashed

Councillors Clive Doucet and Christine Leadman presented their Light Rail Now! amendment to the joint meeting of the Transit and Transportation Committees Wednesday afternoon, and it was given a resounding no as only Doucet and Leadman were in favour of the idea.

Minutes for the joint meeting are unavailable at the moment, but I will offer an update on the discussion when they are available.

To editorialize on the decision for the moment, I have one major point to make: If the Light Rail Now! option was going to provide everything it said (rail to every end of the City and Gatineau) for the cost it outlined ($3.541B) in the timeline presented (within 10 years), then it would have been significantly more proactive and positive for the city than the staff-recommended plan. Although that is certainly a big 'if', I think it would likely have benefitted from more deliberation and study from council.

TransitOttawa on Rogers TV tonight UPDATE: Show cancelled

Tune in to Rogers Community Television (cable 22 in Ottawa) from 9:00 to 10:00 p.m. tonight (Wednesday) for a panel discussion of the city's Transportation Master Plan, as well as a discussion of the recently-proposed Light Rail Now! alternative transit option.

The appearance will be on Talk Ottawa, a show about municipal issues of the day hosted by James Hendricks. Also on the panel will be Kitchissippi Ward Councillor Christine Leadman as well as sustainable transport consultant and retired University of Ottawa professor Barry Wellar. There will be an opportunity for viewers to call in with questions for the panel, so tune in to discuss issues surrounding the transportation master plan and the Doucet/Leadman Light Rail Now! transit alternative, as well as any other transit issues that come up.

UPDATE: Because the Doucet/Leadman Light Rail Now! proposition (which was to be the panel's main talking point for the show) was soundly defeated in committee Wednesday afternoon, the transit-focussed episode of Talk Ottawa was cancelled. Sorry to anyone who was planning on tuning in (or did tune in), but there will likely be another transit panel on in the future, so I will keep you posted.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Light Rail Now! transit alternative unveiled

At the Gladstone Theatre Monday morning, Capital Councillor Clive Doucet and Kitchissippi Councillor Christine Leadman presented their amended transit plan in front of around 250 people. The plan focuses on building light rail transit through more of the city (out to the suburbs) on a much shorter timeline (within 10 years) than in the city's current plan, and proposes using Carling Avenue as the western corridor of the transitway rather than the Ottawa River Parkway. Also present was transportation consultant Morrison Renfrew, who has been outspoken in his support of running light rail down Carling Avenue and presented a feasibility report of the idea. According to Doucet, the entire plan, including rail to the suburbs, could be completed within ten years.

As the top image (which you can click on for a larger version) indicates, the plan is broken down into two phases, one within the first five years and the other within ten years. The first phase, which Doucet states could be completed within five years, would include:
  1. A tunnel under downtown.
  2. A western corridor from Bayview to Carling and down Carling to Lincoln Fields, which would turn south to Baseline.
  3. An eastern corridor through Hurdman and St. Laurent to Blair.
  4. A southern corridor from Hurdman through South Keys towards a rail yard in Leitrim.
  5. An extension of the O-Train across the Prince of Wales bridge into Quebec.
Doucet stated that the logical starting point would be along Carling Avenue, while environmental assessments are being completed as necessary for the downtown tunnel. This would allow construction to begin immediately, rather than having to wait for the results of any environmental assessments.

The second phase of the project would bring light rail to the suburbs, and would be completed within ten years, according to Doucet. It would include:
  1. A western rail extension from Lincoln Fields through Bayshore and the Kanata Town Centre to Scotiabank Place.
  2. An eastern rail extension from Blair to Orleans.
  3. A southern rail extension from Baseline through Fallowfield and into Barrhaven Town Centre.
  4. Another southern rail extension from Leitrim to Riverside South.
According to Doucet, the new plan is not an alternative to the current plan; rather, it is an amendment that falls within the parameters outlined under current council directions. As a result, it would require a simple majority of Council's vote to be passed, rather than the 3/4 necessary to begin in a new direction.

Councillor Leadman led the discussion on the economics of the plan. She suggested that by redirecting funding from other areas that would become unneccessary under a light-rail infrastructure (i.e. bus garages, new buses), the Light Rail Now! plan could actually provide over $1.3B in savings over the current transit plan.

As for the alternative of running the western corridor along Carling Avenue rather than the Parkway, Renfrew was very optimistic that it was not only feasible, but more beneficial than the Parkway. He highlighted the "multiplicity of activity centres" which would make it a 24-hour transit line, rather than simply a commuter line--as he suggested rail along the Parkway would be. Renfrew proposed a series of measures to allow light-rail to run at grade, rather than underground, along Carling Avenue from Lincoln Fields to the Carling O-Train station, and then following the O-Train line to Bayview Station and heading downtown. Renfrew's biggest concern was with the intersection of Carling and Woodroffe, at Carlingwood Mall. He suggested that the intersection is poorly planned as it is, and recommended that it should be re-designed to allow for better traffic flow--during this re-design, the specifics of running LRT through the intersection could be determined.

Several concerns with the plan were raised during the question-and-answer period. One came from Bay Councillor Alex Cullen, who questioned the financial data that was presented and whether or not the Carling option was as realistic as it was presented. Another concern came from Ottawa Sun reporter Derek Puddicombe, who questioned the ability of Doucet and Leadman to prove to more than half of their fellow councillors that this plan is far better than the current one, and is also feasible.

All in all, the presentation offered another option to consider when Council makes their monumental decision this coming Wednesday. Much of the documentation is available on Doucet's website, and I've contacted Renfrew with a request for more information on his part of the presentation--which I will make available should he return my e-mail. What do readers think of the idea?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A case for transit funding

With economic uncertainty looming, governments are faced with hard decisions on how best to stimulate the country's economy. Although Ottawa is believed to be somewhat insulated thanks to the federal government, there is still some degree of uneasiness. So what is best to 'prime the pump', so to speak? Well, according to a study done by economic forecasting firm Informetrica Inc. for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the best way to generate new jobs is infrastructure spending, rather than tax cuts. As published in the Toronto Star:

The study, done for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities by the economic forecasting firm Informetrica Ltd., has found that government spending of $1 billion on roads, bridges and water mains provides twice as much economic stimulus as a tax cut.

Specifically, the study's authors estimate that $1 billion spent on infrastructure projects would create 11,500 jobs in the first full year. The same amount dispensed in the form of a personal tax cut would net just 5,700 jobs. Why? Given a tax break, many Canadians would simply save the money to weather hard times. Others might spend it on imported goods, creating jobs elsewhere.

By contrast, spending tax dollars on upgrading this country's crumbling infrastructure would provide direct employment to tens of thousands, especially in the construction sector. And the badly needed new roads, transit systems and other public facilities would boost our long-term economic productivity.

With the City of Ottawa poised to request millions of dollars in funding for its recently-approved transit plan, both federal and provincial governments have an opportunity to invest in the city's infrastructure and recharge the economy, as well. And given some recent expressions of cautious optimism by some politicians, we can be cautiously optimistic, as well.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

LRT will go east-west first

After presenting four possible implementation scenarios for public consultation, Ottawa city staff have decided to pursue a slightly amended version of Implementation Scenario Three in going forward with Ottawa's transit plans. It breaks the construction of the city's ambitious light-rail plan into three phases, which I will copy from the official website:
The first increment of investment – totalling about $1.7 billion includes a total of 12 kilometres of new LRT track, 10 kilometres of BRT and a further nine kilometres of bus supplementary transit. Specific projects include:
  • A tunnel through the downtown
  • LRT east to Blair Station and west to Tunney's Pasture
  • Key pieces of BRT that will expand the current Transitway in the west, east and south of the City
  • Transit related infrastructure for Strandherd-Armstrong bridge
The second increment of investment – totalling about $0.9 billion, consists of the construction of LRT south to South Keys station, and west to Baseline Station. In total, increment two includes 18 kilometres of new LRT track.

The third increment of investment – totalling $0.4 billion includes completion of the LRT line south from South Keys to Riverside Town Centre, as well as the construction of two important pieces of BRT to complete the Transitway in the west and east. This third increment includes 10 kilometres of LRT and 14 kilometres of BRT.
Although the draft plan still has to be approved by City Council, and the first phase will still take years, and the final ones will still be decades, these are exciting times for transit enthusiasts in the city.

To read coverage of the news in mainstream media, click any of the following links:

Monday, November 10, 2008

Guest column: Student riders

Femi Fasoyinu, a part-time student at Algonquin College, contacted me last week about writing a guest column about the issues surrounding student bus passes. According to OC Transpo regulations, discounted student bus passes are available only to full-time post-secondary students, which means that Femi, and other part-time students, are required to pay full fare for an adult bus pass. The following is Femi's opinion, and does not necessarily reflect that of
Since I began taking classes at Algonquin College in 2006, I’ve been taking the bus to campus. Up until this year, I’ve been a full-time student riding with a discounted student bus pass. When I switched my course load to part-time this year, I expected to continue using this student pass.

My expectations proved wrong. It turns out part-time students don’t qualify for the student bus pass discount. In fact, part-time students face quite a different challenge when it comes to public transit, something I would soon find out.

As a part-time student, we are required to pay $81—the price of an adult bus pass—instead of the $62.65 price of a student bus pass. With this policy, OC Transpo is not providing service which accurately reflects the part-time student population in Ottawa.

For the close to 36,000 part-time students at Algonquin, many registered for at least one semester, and thousands more at Carleton University and the University of Ottawa, there should be a pass which reflects our needs.

Many part-time students, myself included, are registered for at least one semester taking at least one course per week. Just like full-time students, we have made a commitment to go to school in an effort to raise our knowledge in a particular subject area we deem important to our future endeavours and career path. And also like full-time students, we’ve sacrificed some financial gains to pursue this—a sacrifice which is somewhat offset for full-time students with a discounted buss pass fee. So why are part-time students ineligible for this discount?
Femi makes some interesting points. Do you feel it is fair for part-time students to be ineligible for student discounts on bus passes? Please feel free to post your comments on this issue in the 'comments' section below.

Anyone interested in writing a guest column on issues surrounding public transit in Ottawa is encouraged to contact me at

Friday, November 7, 2008

LRT expected to head east first

According to a report on, city staff are recommending that light rail begin along east-west routes rather than the north-south line previously favoured by Mayor Larry O'Brien and some staff. The first-phase recommendation sounds a lot like Implementation Scenario One, which features light rail from Tunney's Pasture in the west to Blair Station in the east, a tunnel downtown, an extension of the O-Train to the south, and bus rapid transit improvements in Kanata and Barrhaven.

According to Ottawa Citizen columnist Randall Denley, the city finally has it right. In Denley's column today:
The decision to go east-west is strongly supported by the numbers. It would attract the most riders, five million a year more than the earlier east-south plan. It would also bring in far more fare revenue, easing the subsidy burden on homeowners.

East-west has a 50-per-cent lower capital cost per passenger kilometre. It also generates $90 million a year in operating cost savings because it takes more buses off the street. The east-west plan would remove 90 per cent of buses from Albert and Slater streets, twice as many as east-south.

Environmentally, east-west wins again. Because it relies more on electric rail, it produces nearly 50 per cent more greenhouse-gas reductions. The east-west line also fits within the city's goal of delivering the high-cost rail service inside the Greenbelt, where most of the riders live.
According to the Ottawa Sun, the change in priority was in large part because of feedback from public meetings, where many said that the east-west route should take precedence. The Sun presented some numbers to explain the change, as well, stating that there are 159,000 all-day east-west riders, compared to only 11,800 all-day riders travelling south.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Park'N'Ride lots insufficient

There was a story in the Ottawa Citizen last weekend about a local transit user who was given a $65 ticket for parking illegally in a Park'N'Ride lot in Barrhaven. I know how she feels; I was ticketed for the same thing at the Eagleson Park'N'Ride just a year ago.

The issue at hand for the transit user is that the city is encouraging people to use public transit, and especially to use Park'N'Ride lots to ease bus service. And ticketing people who use the service isn't a way to encourage its use. Which is true; no one likes paying $65 because you there aren't enough parking spots.

A few days after I had received the ticket, I was going to my car (which was legally parked this time), and spotted one of the transit constables writing and issuing tickets. What he told me was that every fall, there is a ticketing blitz to get people--those who have been parking illegally all summer--to stop parking in unmarked spots. The reason for this, I was told, was because snow removal is next to impossible if cars are parked in every square inch of the lot. Which, to me, is a fair point. It sucks, especially for those who have to pay $65 or who can't find a parking spot, but that's how it is--at least for now.

Logically, the city needs to find a solution to this problem. If the service can't support everyone who wants to use it, then it needs to improve. There is already an onus on commuters to get to buses, rather than buses getting to commuters. Express buses provide some relief by going through suburban developments, but they don't serve everyone. There are planning problems with huge swaths of parking spots for Park'N'Rides, though, because it's not a tremendously positive use of space.

And ultimately, there is a way for concerned transit users to avoid paying for tickets. These may not be as convenient as parking illegally, but the story outlines at four possible solutions from a few sources, including author Hugh Adami and manager of OC Transpo transit service design Pat Scrimgeour:
  • Park at the rarely full Strandherd Park'N'Ride, rather than Fallowfield
  • Buy a $42 reserved parking pass
  • Plan your ride in advance, using OC Transpo's 560-1000 service so you're not scrambling to find a spot
  • Wake up earlier, to get to a spot before the lot is full
As I said, not as convenient as parking illegally, but there is one final (and undesirable) option: Drive all the way down. If that's not amenable, you might have to work around what Scrimgeour calls the city's "fiscal prudence, our responsibility to keep our expenditures in control and to work within the budget we're given."

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

2009 Budgetary recommendation for transit released

A 2009 draft budget (click here for a .PDF) for the City of Ottawa was submitted to City Council today, featuring a number of service changes, including both increases and cuts.

The changes were made with the council-directed objective of increasing the amount of transit costs recovered through user fees to 55 per cent, rather than the current 50 per cent. To do so, a number of "lowest ridership per dollar of operating cost" routes were cut, in some instances severely, and in some instances entirely. According to the draft budget:
These possible transit service reductions have been identified as the way to reduce the transit budget with the least possible impact on transit customers, transit ridership levels, and revenue from transit customers’ fares. Under these options, the tax requirement to fund transit services would stay constant at 2008 levels. Implementation of these options, as described in greater detail in Table 1, would generate net savings for 2009 of $6.99 million and $3.03 million in 2010.
The budget also included provisions for increasing existing service overall service by 5 per cent, and increasing Para Transpo service by 1 per cent. Service improvements, taken directly from the draft budget, include the following:
* Opening of the West Transitway between Pinecrest and Bayshore,
* Opening of new Park and Ride lots at Millennium, Chapel Hill, Leitrim, and Riverview,
* 24-hour service on the Transitway on Route 95, and earlier and later service to the airport on Route 97,
* Reliable 15-minute service at busy times on major routes such as Routes 86, 101, 106, and 118,
* More frequent service on busy routes at peak times, and
* Service to the new RCMP headquarters in Barrhaven.
That 24-hour service for route 95 is a very positive, and much-anticipated, change.

These changes should, according to the budget, increase overall ridership by 6 per cent and costs by 8.4 per cent. And, as a result of fare increases and higher-ridership on existing buses, revenue from customer fares should increase by 15.5 per cent.

Reduced-service routes would those numbered be as follows: 5, 6, 16, 18, 87, 97, 101, 105, 116, 127, 128, 131, 136, 137, 141, 142, 146, 147, 149, 151, 152, 154, 156, 165, 166, 171, 173, 174, 178.

And the routes cut entirely would be: 23, 25, 43, 51, 55, 102, 117, 153, 167, 169, 181, 193, 306.

You can see the full reasoning behind those route cuts in the original document, which can be found here. How do you feel the service changes will affect your transit experience in Ottawa?

(via LiveJournal's OC Transpo Community)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Letter from Dalton McGuinty on transit in Ottawa

I received a letter from Ottawa South MPP and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty late last week, in which McGuinty discussed this portal, and took the time to outline some of the recent provincial funding projects for public transit. I present the letter, a TransitOttawa exclusive, in its entirety below; please feel free to discuss it in the 'Comments' section:
Dear Mr. Raaymakers:

Congratulations on the online success of the Public Transit in Ottawa Portal. I appreciate you taking the time to make me aware of this educational and interactive website. I am sure Ottawa residents will benefit from the updated informationyou provide on your site.

Having lived in Ottawa for most of my life, I have seen Ottawa Transit evolve over the years and am pleased when I hear about Ottawa residents like yourself who are dedicated to its success.

Our government is constantly endeavouring to improve the quality of Ontario's transportation systems and roadways. Since October 2003, our government has committed $452.6 milliontoward transit for the City of Ottawa of which $200 million has been allocated to fund a new rapid transit system, a vital project for the citizens of Ottawa. In December 2005, we also provided a one-time grant of $10 million towards the city's transitway project.

You may know that we finalized an agreement with the city to provide up to $19.7 million in transit expansion funding through the Ontario Transit Technology and Infrastructure Program in March, 2006. This funding commitment supports bus fleet expansion, construction of new station and park-and-ride lots, as well as implementing various technology projects.

Mr. Raaymakers, thanks again for writing to me. I can assure you that my colleagues and I remain committed to enhancing Ottawa's transportation systems and welcome your comments and suggestions. Please accept my best wishes.

Yours truly,
Dalton McGuinty,MPP
Ottawa South
McGuinty mentions a few different funding projects that Ontario has given the City of Ottawa to improve our public transit infrastructure. If we are to modernize the system and move forward with the most recent transit plans, we will certainly need more cooperation from McGuinty and other members of provincial parliament.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Gas down, driving up (and bussing down?)

Following up on a post earlier in the week about what falling gas prices will mean for public-transit use, an article in the New York Times explored the fact that with gas prices going down, driving is going up--similar to the trend that saw driving go down (and public-transit use up) as gas prices were rising. From the Times article:
The sharp decline in gasoline use earlier this year — with volume down nearly 10 percent in some weeks — suggested to many people, including the automobile companies, that a permanent change in American habits might be at hand. But with gasoline prices falling drastically in recent weeks, some American drivers are returning to their old ways.
It is an interesting trend, which is certainly rational if not optimal (at least not for public transit proponents and companies and environmental advocates). We will have to wait for statistics from OC Transpo to find out what effect, if any, this has had locally.