Thursday, February 26, 2009

'Gods of Rock', another controversial OC ad campaign

Since Virgin Radio bought out The Bear radio station (106.9 fm) a few weeks ago, they've blitzed the city with their 'Gods of Rock' advertising campaign, featuring the slogan, "Lock up your daughters, the gods of rock are now in Ottawa' accompanied by photographs of pregnant young women. It's received its fair share of criticism.

Carleton University master's student Laura Sparling championed the campaign to have the ads pulled, stating her position in a letter to the editor of the Ottawa Citizen:
The city bus shelter ad originally drew my attention because I suspected it was promoting a social support service, with the photograph of a pregnant and troubled young woman between the ages of 16 and 22. Imagine my shock when I read the caption: "Lock up your daughters; the Gods of Rock are now in Ottawa." Excuse me.

While Virgin Radio attempts to create humour and irony by featuring ads of pregnant women, these ads are anything but funny. Through statements that openly promote female subjugation and condone the sexual objectification and ravaging of young women, this ad series sets the feminist struggle for ownership over our bodies and our choices back decades.
Sparling also started a Facebook group called 'Demand that Virgin Radio Remove Sexist Advertisements' to put pressure on the new radio station to pull their ads (although I can't seem to find the Facebook group), and she organized an online petition, which has just under 500 signatures as of writing, to demonstrate how citizens felt about the issue.

And apparently, the public pressure has worked. According to an article in the Citizen on Feb. 18, Virgin has voluntarily dropped their advertising campaign because, according to Pete Travers, program director at Virgin Radio Ottawa, "It was not our intention to offend anybody."

As recently as Monday, Feb. 23, there were still the ads on billboards on Sparks Street. Still, the decision by Virgin to pull the ads demonstrates that sometimes corporations will cave to public pressure.

What I want to know is how a radio station is going to impregnate my daughter.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Tunnel Open House: Feb. 26, 2009

On Thursday, Feb. 26, 2009, the City of Ottawa will be making a presentation regarding the planning of the Downtown Ottawa Transit Tunnel (DOTT). The presentation begins at 7 p.m. and is in City Hall (110 Laurier Ave. W) in Jean Piggot Hall.

Below is the City's description of the event. I would recommend you visit the City's website on the consultation to get a sneak peak at some of the documentation they will be presenting.
We want to hear from you!

The tunnel study is the first step in developing a world-class transit system that starts with a trip down an escalator. The tunnel will ultimately enhance how quickly and efficiently we move around Ottawa for generations. This is a groundbreaking project for Ottawa that will shape the city for generations to come and the City wants to hear from you.

All elements of this city-building project require careful consideration in order to
find the best possible solutions.

For that reason, we are looking for your input in developing the design of the Tunnel project.
  • Where do you think the stations should be and what should they look like?
  • How should the stations integrate into the surrounding area?
  • What design features - such as public art - are important to you?

Consultation venues will be offered throughout the duration of the Tunnel study. Outreach activities will include public consultations, agency and interest group meetings, as well as open houses and information will continue to be updated on

The study team will be available at the open house to discuss the study findings to date.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Some express routes among service resumption today

As some commuters may have noticed this morning, several green Express routes--the 27, 61, and 77--had service resume this morning (Feb. 23), as well as a number of local feeder routes. Check the official website for continued updates, but currently rush-hour service looks like this:
Starting Monday, February 23, the following routes will operate during peak periods.

* O-Train and Rapid transit routes 94, 95, 96, 97 and 98.
* Major routes 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 9, 12, 14, 16, 85, 86, 87, 101 (see below *), 102, 106, 111, 114, 117, 116 and 118
* Local feeder routes:
  • Routes: 124, 129, 148
  • In Gloucester North: Routes 140, 142, 143, 146 and 147
  • In Nepean Centre: 166 and 178
  • In central Ottawa: Routes 5, 18, 111, 112, 151, 152, 153, 154 and 156
  • In Nepean: 172 and 174
  • In OrlĂ©ans: Routes 127, 130, 135, 136, and 137
  • In Riverside South/Leitrim: Routes 144 and 145
  • In Kanata: Routes 160, 161, 164, 165, and 168
  • In Barrhaven: Routes 170, 171, 173 and 176
* Express Routes:
  • Routes 27, 61, and 77
* Peak-period routes 40, 102, 105, 182 and 184
* School service is operating
* Connexion 400 service is running to Senators hockey games and special events at Scotiabank Place.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Deadline for December pass refunds Feb. 21

Looking at the Ottawa Metro, looks like the last day for interested parties to receive a refund for their December bus passes. According to the story, riders may be better served getting their refunds, paying half-price far for the remainder of February, and then purchasing a regular-priced March bus pass:

But, as alert transit rider Chris Siu pointed out Thursday, getting a full refund on the December pass ($81), paying half-price fare until the end of the month ($10), then buying a March pass for full price results in a savings of $21.60 for passengers.

Something to think about for transit users.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Is council micro-managing public transit in Ottawa?

According to the Ottawa Citizen, Ottawa city councillors have taken issue with the decision of OC Transpo management that the Atheist Bus Campaign's advertisement was rejected (more about that here), and have decided to have a full debate on the decision in city council. The city's transit committee voted on the issue, but because the vote was a tie Bay Ward Councillor Alex Cullen vowed that he would bring the issue to full council vote next week.

Although the Atheist Bus Campaign is a controversial issue on its own, the decision by some councillors, including Cullen, to debate an issue of the day-to-day management of OC Transpo brings to mind a grander discussion of whether or not Ottawa city councillors are micro-managing the city's transit utility, OC Transpo.

Past decisions have also arguably bordered around micro-management from council. When dealing with transit plans, budget cuts, and virtually any decision made with regards to OC Transpo, councillors have seemingly debated everything from grander visions to the most minute details of implementation of the plan. This degree of political involvement does not only politicize the decisions made, but it also serves to frustrate citizens--myself included--trying to keep up-to-date on all the technical issues being debated by council, a phenomenon that's been referred to as 'transit fatigue'. While it's valuable for our elected officials to have input in the direction of OC Transpo, how much is too much involvement?

So I pose a few discussion questions to readers:

  1. Do you think councillors are micromanaging OC Transpo?
  2. How much council involvement is too much in OC Transpo?
  3. Could council's time be better spent dealing with larger issues, and leaving technicalities to OC Transpo staff?
  4. Would establishing an arm's-length transit commission solve this problem, if you do think it's a problem?

Please feel free to answer any or all of the questions in the 'comments' section.

Zero-fare public transit

Now that's a way to boost ridership.

Zero-fare public transit is a government-, taxation-, or business-sponsored transit service that doesn't require users to pay fees when boarding. The system could have a few possible benefits:

  • Reduced boarding times
  • Less fare-related aggression or disputes
  • Increased accessibility, especially for low-income residents
  • Community integration
  • Increased magnitude of regular transit's benefits
The administration and funding of such an undertaking would, naturally, be quite an undertaking. A few cities have city-wide free public transit, but none nearly as large as the City of Ottawa. Some cities, however, do have 'zero-fare zones', including Halifax and Calgary who both have free zones in the downtown core.

The system could also have some detriments, though. Not everyone would benefit equally from such an arrangement, but they may have to contribute equally if it's a tax-funded system. And fares are often used to shape traffic, encouraging people to spread out their use over peak and non-peak periods, such as is the case with Ottawa's express buses.

Would it work for Ottawa? Who knows. It may be worth thinking about, though, in the spirit of promoting the use of public transit in Ottawa. And especially with Free Public Transit Day coming up on March 7, 2009.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

If Toronto gets transit funding...

That's quite a bit of cash.

If you don't want to read all that, here is the story's lede:
The stimulus train rolled into Greater Toronto on Tuesday, as the federal and provincial governments announced they will pump about $500 million into transit projects, most notably by building parking lots at 12 commuter rail stations around the GTA.
Can Ottawa expect some sort of similar, if smaller-scale, announcement?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Another call for some form of transit privatization

Don Butler writes a feature in the Citizen that makes several arguments in favour of at least partial privatization of transit service in Ottawa.

Here is a quick breakdown of some of Butler's musings and conclusions about privatization...

- Cheaper to operate on the whole (wages for operators tend to be lower on average, and ceilings are lower and harder to reach)
- Theory that private-system operators are less likely to go on strike than public counterparts (many disagree with this assertion, including Ottawa transit committee chair and councillor Alex Cullen)

- Might fragment Ottawa's integrated transit system, which would lead to rough transition
- More costlier insurance and other costs avoided by public system

That's really just a glimpse into some of the arguments in the story. There are several reasons to take this article very seriously, and will no doubt have more to say about privatization issues in the future.

Especially about Denver. That transit system consistently generates a lot of buzz, including within the above-linked story.

For now, though, we will superficially object to privatization because, well, this website's title would be made instantly obsolete by such a move.

"No God" bus ads rejected by OC Transpo

The Ottawa Citizen tells us that the bus-based atheist ad campaign that was on its way to Ottawa recently had its bid to place ads on buses turned down by OC Transpo.
The city has rejected a “no god” bus ad campaign, a move that organizers hope will serve as a rallying cry for proponents of free speech across the country.

“We need to get people as offended about censorship as they are by the ad,” said Justin Trottier, president of the Freethought Association of Canada.

Trottier's group was hoping to use Ottawa buses as part of a larger campaign to promote “principles of various world views.”

And why were the ads rejected?

The decision was made based on a subsection of the transit advertising policy which says that “religious advertising which promotes a specific ideology, ethic, point of view, policy or action, which in the opinion of the City might be deemed prejudicial to other religious groups or offensive to users of the transit system is not permitted. Religious advertising will be permitted if the information is designed to promote a specific meeting, gathering or event and the location, date and time of said event.”

No one from OC Transpo was available for comment Saturday.

So, readers ... Is rejecting the ads censorship?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Taxi drivers accused of inflating city-sponsored chits

According to a report on, some taxi drivers may be facing charges for inflating fares from taxi chits the city had offered select residents to get around the city. Some of those chits cashed in by drivers were for fares of double what was expected, according to city staff. From the story:
Some drivers, she said, repeatedly cashed in vouchers worth $60-$70 during the strike — double the price of an average fare.

The city is looking at charging 18 of Ottawa's taxi drivers.

"We actually have enforcement staff with taxi meters in their cars," said [the city's chief by-law officer, Susan] Jones. "We know what a fare should be."

She says that by-law officers realized there was a need to investigate when the taxi chits being handed in by some drivers were $30 or $40 higher than they should be.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Atheist Bus Campaign is Ottawa bound

The Atheist Bus Campaign, a public transit advertising initiative started in London that has been adopted by the Toronto-based Freethought Association of Canada, is hoping to come to OC Transpo buses, according to the Centretown News.

The Campaign, which we've discussed on before, purchases advertising on public transit with the slogan, "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and get on with your life." It already has ads on buses in Toronto and Calgary, but was rejected by Halifax's transit authority. It remains to be seen if this could be rejected by OC Transpo officials.

What do readers think about the possibility of the campaign coming to Ottawa?

Monday, February 9, 2009

Transit Strike Cost Watch

Provided here, initially without any context, is the estimate of the cost of the recent transit strike to the City, based on a report provided to council's transit committee:

$13.4 million
So far...

Sunday, February 8, 2009

EcoPass payroll deductions delayed until April or later

EcoPass bus passes, the employer-subsidized transit pass service deducted directly from the employee payroll and used largely by federal government employees, will not have their deductions resumed until late April, at the earliest, according to the OC Transpo official website:
ECOPASS payroll deductions have been stopped - ECOPASSES are valid on all
OC Transpo service. Payroll deductions will resume at the end of April.

One assumes this is because full service is not expected to resume until April 6, 2009, and EcoPass holders continued paying for their passes during the first few weeks of the strike. Express and Rural Express EcoPasses will not resume deductions until May 1, shortly after Express and Rural Express routes will have resumed.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Bus strike over, music sale on

End Hits, an indie record store at Rideau and Dalhousie, is celebrating the end of the transit strike with a pretty phenomenal sale.

The store is selling all merchandise (except tickets) at a discounted price of 25% off the sticker.

Pretty cool. It lasts until tomorrow at 5 p.m.

Strike could cost city big, councillor alludes

The chair of the City's transit committee, Alex Cullen, told the Ottawa Citizen that people might be in for a "shock" when they hear how expensive it will be to get OC Transpo's services running at full capacity.

The cost might soak up a lot of the City's "savings" earned during the strike -- reportedly about $3 million every week -- due to the demands of "mitigation measures such as free parking and advertising to keep Ottawans informed, as well as plans to attract riders back to the system."

As the strike neared an end, some observers wondered about those "savings". At least one group -- the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa -- has suggested that the City is now in a good position to absorb some of the costs of a $125 universal bus pass and sent a letter saying as much.

That the city is not exactly flush despite the millions in weekly savings could be a sign that groups hoping to capitalize on that money might be out of luck.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Auditor General goes after transit tax credit

When the federal government announced a transit tax credit in its 2006 budget, it was not exactly heralded by environmentalists as the best way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But it was also not rejected out of hand, because it did encourage public-transit use. As well, some tax-relief advocates applauded its efforts to give taxpayers something there.

Yesterday, however, auditor general Sheila Fraser came down hard on the program as part of a larger condemnation of the government's action on the environment in a review of all programs aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

This is a lede from an Ottawa Sun story on Fraser's report:
The federal government hasn't got a clue if the billions it spends on green initiatives are working or where it's even being spent according to a sweeping report by Canada's environmental watchdog.
One of those initiatives, the 15.5-per-cent transit tax credit that was slated to cost $635 million in foregone tax revenue over two years, was roundly criticized for being ineffective. This is among the most relevant passages from her report (emphasis ours):
In its 2007 Climate Change Plan under the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act, Environment Canada stated that the Tax Credit is expected to result in emission reductions of 220,000 tonnes each year from 2008 through 2012. This was approximately double Finance Canada's estimate of the resulting emission reductions in its strategic environmental assessment. In its 2008 Plan, Environment Canada amended the figure for expected reductions to an average of 35,000 tonnes per year—about 16 percent of the original estimate. Given the lowered figure, the Tax Credit will have a negligible impact on Canada's greenhouse gas emissions.
And even if the program did have any measurable impact on cutting emissions, that impact would apparently be quite hard to quantify (again, emphasis ours):
Many factors influence public transit ridership, including the price of gasoline. The result is that it is almost impossible to measure actual greenhouse gas emission reductions attributable to the tax credit. With regard to other air emissions, Environment Canada could not provide any analysis to support the assertion that the Tax Credit would result in measurable impacts.
Do readers take advantage of this tax credit?

Province fast-tracks bus inspections

The Ottawa Sun and the Ottawa Citizen reports today that the Ontario government is doing what it can to get OC Transpo buses back on the road as soon as possible. From the Sun:

Premier Dalton McGuinty said 160 buses will be fast-tracked through the provincial inspections process to speed up the resumption of transit service following the 53-day strike.

More than 280 buses were in need of provincial safety certificates after the strike.


The Ontario Ministry of Transportation has modified the inspection cycle to speed up the process. Essential tests will be conducted before a bus is put back on the road, but the plan allows non-essential tests to be delayed. The first 60 extra buses should be running by Feb. 23.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Don't take the bus (says councillor)

"I'm telling people not to take the bus until full service is returned," said Barrhaven Coun. Jan Harder. "I am telling people not to take it unless they need to."

Harder said with the incremental roll out of buses over the next 10 weeks, riders aren't going to know when or where buses are going to be available.

"It's going to be chaos," she said.

Harder is recommending residents stay in their vehicles or continue carpooling.
So read a story in the Ottawa Sun where Gloucester-South Nepean councillor Steve Desroches agreed with Harder.
"I won't dissuade them from that," he said.
What do readers think of Harder and Desroches' message to commuters?

Sun reporter Derek Puddicombe also wrote about the return of commuters to the now-running O-Train. People are back on the rails, he reported:

During a briefing at yesterday's transit committee meeting, OC Transpo general manager Alain Mercier told councillors there has been a "healthy return" of riders to the O-Train since it started running Monday.

On the first day back, the O-Train carried 4,600 passengers and another 5,500 passengers Tuesday.

On an average day, it carries 9,000 passengers.

Whether or not O-Train ridership continues to rise as the days and weeks progress will be interesting to watch.

Bike-share program to be tested on Ottawa streets

Ottawa is about to embark upon a trial bike-share program, according to the Ottawa Citizen. From the story:

This summer’s project aims to pave the way for a permanent bike-sharing service in 2010, the commission said. “This project lays the groundwork for a broader, progressive initiative that will see both residents and visitors in Canada’s Capital Region travelling in an environmentally friendly way, at little cost,” said Marie Lemay, chief executive of the NCC, in a written statement.

A spokeswoman for the commission said the details of the trial project have not yet been determined, but a feasibility study is about to begin to establish the launch date, costs, rental locations and how the service will operate.

“We’d like to launch 45 to 50 bikes in the coming biking season,” said spokeswoman Kathryn Keyes.

Here at, we spoke to renowned local environmentalist David Chernushenko about such a program a few months ago.

Chernushenko cautioned that if a bike-share system were to work properly, simply implementing a program is not enough.

In order for [a bike-share program] to work, however, the proper infrastructure must be built. Chernushenko suggested that if the City commenced work immediately, it would take 10 years to complete Ottawa's transformation into a bike-friendly city.

"We would start by saying every time a street or a sidewalk needs repair, we can seize that opportunity not just to replace the sewer infrastructure and the telecom cables and everything else that’s there. We’re actually going to redesign that street," he says, suggesting that residents from Nepean to Beacon Hill could conceivably cycle to work on a daily basis.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Councillors want input on transit resumption plan

The Ottawa Sun reports that come councillors are upset about the City's plan to roll out buses because they charge that council didn't have enough input.

Some city councillors are "infuriated" that staff are telling them they can't make any further changes to the plan to restore transit service.

The councillors were reacting to an e-mail from deputy city manager Nancy Schepers sent this morning. The e-mail said in order to schedule drivers for the selected routes "this plan cannot be adjusted at committee on Wednesday."

The transit and transportation committees are meeting at City Hall beginning tomorrow morning to discuss the revised roll-out plan for buses announced yesterday.

Which councillors are frustrated, according to the Sun?

  • Kanata North councillor Marianne Wilkinson - "I find this infuriating."
  • River councillor Maria McRae - "I begin to wonder why we have to take all the blame when service is lacking and are being told we can't change anything!"
  • Knoxville-Merivale councillor Gord Hunter - "I still believe the damn Transitway routes could and should be running by Wednesday but I guess that opportunity has slipped."

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Winners and losers? Let's just move on

This morning's Citizen takes a look at the transit strike's winners and losers. The story concludes that ATU 279 is sort of a winner by default, and the reporter consults several local experts in relevant fields, including:
  • Former transit commission chair Al Loney
  • Carleton University political scientist Katherine Graham
  • University of Ottawa Labour law expert John Manwaring
  • University of Ottawa political scientist Caroline Andrew
I don't want to devalue the opinions expressed by these people. It's an interesting story, and it's inevitable that this city and its citizens will try to identify winners and losers after such an intense and drawn-out battle.

But my question is: Who cares?

Some of the experts expressed a similar opinion to the Citizen, according to the story's lede (emphasis ours):
After the heavyweight clash that was the 51-day Ottawa transit strike, many experts are declaring it a bruising draw, with the city and union battered and bloodied.

They say the question is not so much who won or lost, because in a strike as damaging and costly as this one, there are no winners -- especially since both sides capitulated in the face of back-to-work legislation, without getting what they really wanted.
Agreed. There are no winners. But the scads of people in this city who suffered were definitely the strike's biggest losers. And as far as commuters are concerned, whichever side won or lost has no tangible effect on their daily usage of the system. Besides, as Andrew points out towards the end of the article, we probably won't know who "won" until arbitration concludes, anyway -- and that could take months.

In the mean time, let's just take the bus. It serves the same valuable function that it did before the strike when, as most readers likely know, ridership was at an all-time high.

Buses back ahead of (rather arbitrary) schedule

The Ottawa Citizen tells us today that OC Transpo buses will be back earlier than next Monday. Indeed, they will be running as early as this Saturday. Apparently, enough buses will be tuned up to "meet the demands of [OC Transpo's] normal weekend schedule."

Read further in that story (or here, at the OC Transpo page) for a breakdown of when your bus route will be back. Weekday service will be reduced when commuters line up next Monday and it will take until the first week in April for all routes to be back running at full capacity.

Also in the news, the Sun reports on the small group of protesters that met mayor Larry O'Brien and OC Transpo general manager Alain Mercier when they greeted commuters on the O-Train as it revved up yesterday.

Finally, Mercier explains the service resumption plan to Sun Media:

Sunday, February 1, 2009 on CBC's Ottawa Morning will appear on CBC Radio One's Ottawa Morning this coming Monday, February 2 some time after 7:30 a.m.

We will be discussing the aftermath of the 51-day transit strike that many observers say will adversely affect ridership, which had been at an all-time high before the strike began.

Listen live here or at 91.5 FM.

UPDATE: Local transit blogger Ken Yam also appeared on the segment, which we will link to as soon as a clip is available.

UPDATE TWO: Here is the clip.