Thursday, November 26, 2009

Winter strike cost OC Transpo $5.9M

According to the City of Ottawa's Auditor General Lalonde, the winter 2008-09 transit strike ended up costing the city about $5.9M in direct costs. While the city saved $21.5M in expenses over the course of the 53-day transit strike, they lost $27.4M in revenue, resulting in a net loss to the city.
According to the Ottawa Citizen:

The audit report found that wage and fuel savings were more than offset by lost pass and ticket revenue. City council gave transit riders generous deals to entice them back to transit after the 58-day stoppage of service.

But the city also had increased costs, such as $558,000 for increased snow removal, $362,000 for increased security and $400,000 to compensate colleges and universities to operate shuttle services.
The $5.9M estimate, however, doesn't likely come close to measuring the cost incurred by average citizens and businesses whose income was negatively impacted by the 58 days of no service.

For more reading:

Friday, November 20, 2009

Two minutes late is right on time

Earlier this week, the Ottawa Citizen published an article about OC Transpo's new efforts to get buses arriving at their stops with more reliability. The story was deceptively headlined "Too punctual, OC Transpo drivers told to show up late", although punctuality wasn't the issue; the crux of the policies, according to OC Transpo General Manager Alain Mercier, is that it's better for a bus to be a couple of minutes late than a couple of minutes early. As Mercier said, from that Citizen article:

“We’re in a major campaign to break the psychology of trying to be always on the zero mark because it’s impossible to be on the zero mark all the time.

“We’d rather them run two minutes late.”
From a rider's perspective, it's definitely better for the bus to be late--at least if it's not too late--than early. There's nothing more frustrating than arriving at your bus stop right on time (or even a minute or two early) only to find that you've missed your route because it was by early. Public transit is one of the few services where being early isn't a good thing, and it's better to be (slightly) late if you can't be on time.

Monday, November 9, 2009

A new organizational structure for OC Transpo

In the Ottawa Citizen this past weekend, columnist Randall Denley penned an opinion piece opining the politicians responsible for managing our city's transit authority. In short:
"In the perfect world, the bus company called OC Transpo would be run by a board of directors consisting of people who know something about transit and something about business. Instead, we have city councillors whose business experience is negligible to non-existent and who think their job is to be hands-on managers of the bus company, even though they're not qualified for the job."
Denley went on to describe why, exactly, he feels that "These people simply can't run a bus company": Councillors aren't qualified transit planners; they fail to see the big picture, because they have short mandates; they base decisions on political considerations, such as the routes that run in their wards, rather than efficiency and economy; they sometimes (perhaps often) disregard the input of their staff. Although not all councillors are guilty of these weaknesses, some can be, and that inhibits the decisions made for OC Transpo.

Denley's recommendation is certainly interesting, and timely, but he's not the first to make the suggestion. In Moving Ottawa: The Mayor's Task Force on Transportation, which was commissioned by Larry O'Brien after the cancellation of the city's north-south light rail project and delivered on June 1, 2007, one of the chief recommendations of the task force was "to set up an arm’s-length operating company, in most cases reporting to an independent board of directors appointed by the City Council." The argument presented is convincing:
"Public transportation in cities is one of the major challenges of urban life and as such deserves a dedicated entity within the City government—as opposed to a division of a City department that is dependent on many other departments to achieve performance. OC Transpo is currently a department of City government reporting to Council via the City Manager. This arrangement is not optimal. OC Transpo staff and management complain that bureaucratic obstacles, caused by the fragmentation of management and operational functions, reduce their ability to serve the interest of citizens. An independent governance model incorporating OC Transpo would help ameliorate current problems associated with cumbersome decision-making, cost control, supply of services, union relations and operational decisions relating to route planning."
Most important, however, was that the task force declared re-organizing the management structure of OC Transpo as one of the most important recommendations, suggesting it be complete within 6-12 months. Although that may have been an ambitious timeline, it has been over two years and four months since the report was delivered, and there has been no indication of political will or urgency to institute what the mayor's task force--which Mayor O'Brien has been vocally proud of--recommended with such urgency.

On this website, I've asked before whether or not city council is micro-managing public transit in the city. It looks like some, at least Denley and the Mayor's task force, are concluding that it is, and that something has to be done to get public transit run more efficiently and effectively in Ottawa.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Toronto looking to raise fares, too

Similar to OC Transpo's proposed fare hikes for the upcoming year, the Toronto Transit Commission is looking at raising fares across the board for Toronto transit users, according to the Globe and Mail.

The specifics of Toronto's fare hike will come later (Ottawa's is an average of 7.5 percent), but a couple of numbers mentioned are $126 for a regular adult monthly pass (compared to the proposed $91.50 for OC Transpo) and $3 for a cash fare (compared to the $3.25 cash fare for OC Transpo). If someone's willing to pre-purchase tickets in Ottawa, it would cost $2.50, meaning that OC Transpo compares favourably in both regards to the TTC (although comparing the service provided for either utilities might be a different story).

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Council to vote on proposed fare hike

According to a report in the Ottawa Sun, OC Transpo management is recommending a series of fare hikes in order to try and balance the amount the transit utility collects from fares with the amount it receives from the city's tax base. According to the report, the average fare hike will be 7.5 percent, but isn't evenly distributed across the different fare and pass types, with the percentage raise in brackets (numbers from the Sun):
  • Regular Adult Pass: $91.50 (8.0%)
  • Express Adult Pass: $114.00 (7.5%)
  • Rural Adult Pass: $141.75 (7.6%)
  • Regular Student Pass: $73.25 (12.3%)
  • Express Student Pass: $85.50 (11.8%)
  • Regular Student Semester Pass: $250.00 (3.3%)
  • Express Student Semester Pass: $290.00 (2.3%)
  • Rural Student Pass: $110.75 (7.5%)
  • Senior Pass: $36.00 (13.4%)
  • Day Pass: $7.50 (7.1%)
  • Cash Adult: $3.25 (8.3%)
  • Cash Express Route: $4.25 (6.3%)
  • Cash Rural Express: $5.25 (5.0%)
  • Cash Child (6-11 yrs.): $1.60 (6.7%)
  • Ticket Adult: $2.50 (8.7%)
  • Ticket Express Route: $3.75 (8.7%)
  • Ticket Rural Express: $5.00 (8.7%)
  • Ticket Child (6-11 yrs): $1.25 (8.7%)
  • Regular Student Annual Pass: $650.00 (3.8%)
  • Express Student Annual Pass: $762.00 (3.8%)
  • Senior Annual Pass: $395.00 (3.7%)
  • Adult Regular Annual Pass: $930.00 (3.9%)
  • Adult Express Annual Pass: $1,164.00 (4.0%)
  • Adult Regular Ecopass: $80.52 (8.0%)
  • Adult Express Ecopass: $100.32 (7.5%)
  • Rural Ecopass: $124.74 (7.6%)
  • Senior Ecopass: $31.68 (13.4%)
  • Community Pass: $32.00 (5.3%)
  • O-Train fare: $2.75 (10.0%)
Ottawa's bus fares were comparable to other major cities in Canada recently, but these consistent hikes will certainly affect that. On July 1, 2009, most fares went up fairly significantly; this proposed fare hike for July 1, 2010 compounds that.