Monday, March 30, 2009

STO expected to get extra transit funding from Quebec

The current rapid transit system in the works for Gatineau's Société de Transport de l’Outaouais (STO) has run roughly $38.5M ovre budget, but the Province of Quebec is expected to help cover the overage. The City of Gatineau and the federal government are also able to help out if need be. According to the Ottawa Citizen:

The Société de Transport de l’Outaouais revealed two weeks ago that between changes to the plans, inflation and rising construction costs, the originally projected $195-million Rapibus cross-city bus freeway would actually cost $233.5 million.

Quebec Transportation Minister Norman MacMillan is in discussions with STO to secure the extra Rapibus funding, said a department spokesman. MacMillan is also MNA for Papineau, a riding in the Outaouais.

“There shouldn’t be any problems with the additional amount,” said Stéphane Lauzon, adding he couldn’t confirm anything while they were still in talks.

It almost sounds like all three levels of government are clamouring to help the other city in the National Capital Region get their rapid bus transit system in place. Ottawa's got to figure out how to get that kind of arrangement... or at least get themselves organized to take advantage of public works money before it's dried up.

The Rapibus, which is essentially Gatineau's version of Ottawa's Transitway, was originally slated for completion in 2010 but has been delayed until 2011.

Maintenance problems slow return to full OC service

Apparently OC Transpo is having a hard time getting the necessary maintenance work done to meet service resumption benchmarks established after the city's 52-day transit strike. From the Ottawa Citizen:

This week there were supposed to be 770 OC Transpo buses on the roads of the city but there are only 745 available, according to a memo from transit general manager Alain Mercier.

The transit company is seeing several maintenance setbacks, including “unexpected design deficiencies” on new 60-foot and 40-foot New Flyer buses.

Transpo’s own maintenance staff is too busy to handle all of the work of getting the city’s fleet of 1,020 buses in shape and local garages cannot handle the surplus work, so the company is looking to garages in Montreal and Kingston to help out.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Agreement on work/rest rules reached, but not yet released

According to the Ottawa Citizen, the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 279 and City of Ottawa officials have agreed to an as-yet-unreleased resolution of scheduling disagreements, in particular federal work/rest regulations.

The deal was made after both sides agreed to have the arbitrator working on the grander file of an overall contract for the union to resolve the outstanding issue of work/rest regulations immediately.

With this resolution in tow, rumoured work-to-rule tactics by union members should hypothetically come to an end. There should also be closure on OC Transpo driver schedules, which union members had previously refused to book until the issue was resolved.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Transit-based Yes God/No god debate rages

According to the CBC, a Calgary-based religious organization callign themselves God Exists has purchased bus ads in response to the Atheist Bus Campaign's "There's probably no god, now stop worrying and enjoy your life" publicity campaign. From the CBC story:

A group calling itself "God Exists" has purchased its own bus ads to counter the message of an atheist campaign currently running on Calgary buses.

The ads will be running on eight buses and two C-Trains for a month, starting Monday. They will carry the message: "God cares for everyone … even for those who say He doesn't exist!"

God Exists is a group supported by believers from several religions, with a Calgary Imam representing the group as a spokesperson and many Christians donating to pay the advertising tab with Calgary Transit.

Ottawa City Council recently reversed a decision by city staff, and the "No god" ads are slated to run on Ottawa's OC Transpo buses. It is unclear if an Ottawa-based "Yes God" group will form to counter those advertisements similar to Calgary's God Exists.

Unexpected positives: More money for public transit, and inter-faith cooperation. If only those trends could be extrapolated globally...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

City requests $600M from province, feds

The City of Ottawa has officially made requests to the federal and provincial governments to each agree in principle to funding one-third of the first phase of the city's transit plan, estimated to be $1.83B in total. That would be about $600M from each level, plus about the same from the city itself. Transport Minister John Baird reiterated that the $200M in federal funding already promised for the city's now-cancelled north-south rail line is still on the table, and also said they'd double that amount to try and be a "major funding partner." The Ontario Government has also stated that the $200M they'd promised is also still available, but it's unclear whether or not each level is willing to ante up the full $600M for the City's plan.

From the Ottawa Sun:
The first phase of the city master transportation plan would include a downtown tunnel and LRT to Tunney's Pasture from Blair Station; a new bridge over the Rideau River that would link South Nepean to Riverside South; the Cumberland Transitway to Navan Rd. from Blair station; the west Transitway to Bayshore from Moodie; the southwest Transitway to the Barrhaven Town Centre from the Fallowfield park and ride.
On Rogers 22's Talk Ottawa on March 16, 2009, councillors Marianne Wilkinson and Alex Cullen suggested that if the other levels of government were unable or unwilling to cover the full one-third of the project cost, the city would look at cutting some parts of the first phase to ensure equal investment from the municipal, provincial, and federal governments. Both also suggested that some of the parts of the first phase, including the west Transitway from Moodie to Bayshore, may qualify for funding under the federal government's infrastructure investment package.

Monday, March 16, 2009

[Cancelled] TransitOttawa on Talk Ottawa tonight

[EDIT: TransitOttawa got bumped for the show, but it should still be some good Ottawa Transit talk, if you're planning on watching.]

Tonight (Monday March 16, 2009) at 7 p.m. Talk Ottawa focuses on the ongoing legal issues with Siemens surrounding the cancellation of the North-South light-rail line, as well as safety and scheduling issues between OC Transpo and the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 279.

Along with yours truly, Peter Raaymakers, from Public Transit in Ottawa, Bay Ward Councillor Alex Cullen as well as president of Transport 2000 Canada David Jeanes will be discussing the issues of the day with host James Hendricks.

As always, the show will be open to callers for public feedback and discussion, so feel free to tune in to Rogers Cable 22 from 7 to 8 p.m. tonight to join in the discussions.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Full OC Transpo service resumes March 15

As some readers who may have taken their usual public transit routes in to work Monday morning, full OC Transpo service--including all express and rural express routes--resumed to pre-strike levels on Monday, March 15.

Even with service resumed, though, some rural commuters aren't happy with their lot in the service resumption plan, according to the Ottawa Citizen:

Bruce Webster, president of the Richmond Village Association, said he wrote to Bay Councillor Alex Cullen, head of the city’s transit committee, suggesting that the committee consider providing partial OC Transpo service or hire school buses until full service could be undertaken. Webster said he never received a reply.

“We are definitely being treated like second-class citizens,” said Webster.

“There was no explanation through the whole return to service of why they felt Rideau Street needed to have 50 buses a day whereas Richmond should have none.”

Original service resumption plans had the OC Transpo returning to full pre-strike service on April 6, meaning that the transit utility is three full weeks ahead of their resumption schedule.

With the buses back in normal service, Ottawa Metro is reporting that downtown parking restrictions and discounts will be reverting to their pre-strike systems:

On-street metered parking rates will return to $3 per hour.

The temporary parking lots that opened during the transit strike will close, as will carpooling lots at city facilities and carpooling discounts at municipal lots will cease.

All-day, on-street parking at one-, two- and three-hour unmetered parking locations will no longer be permitted.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Feds to transit union: Obey work-to-rest rules

Transport minister John Baird has waded in to Ottawa labour relations with a move that is sure to upset the leadership of ATU 279. From a Canadian Press story:
The federal government is intervening again in an Ottawa municipal transit dispute by imposing federal hours-of-work rules on the city's bus drivers.
This comes after the transit union believed that issue -- limiting the length of drivers' shifts -- would be part of ongoing arbitration to settle outstanding issues left unresolved by the 53-day strike. More from the story:
[Baird] says such long shifts are clearly a safety issue and he can't see how people can object to a rule making 22 hours of work illegal.

"I've got an important responsibility to the safety not just of the travelling public, to the bus drivers themselves, other motorists, to pedestrians, to cyclists," he said.
The rules will take effect quite soon:

Baird said the new rules will be published in the Canada Gazette on Saturday and there will be 30 days for all sides to comment.

"We'll listen to what the parties and what the public has to say, but fatigue kills and I just simply in all good conscience couldn't sit by and do nothing," Baird said.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009 liveblogs City Council

On the liveblog, I suggested that 13 councillors had to vote to reconsider the U-Pass. I don't know why I used that number, but the real number was 16 (or three-quarters of council). Anyways, the vote count was 11-10 in favour, so the U-Pass was dropped from the agenda.

Students hit the streets

Today, representatives of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa took their campaign for a universal bus pass to the streets.

Standing outside of Place D'Orleans, the students petitioned commuters and other passers-by and urged them to show their support for the initiative by contacting their city councillor.

Even the school's mascot -- the Gee-Gee -- lent its encouragement.

NDP looks to protect transit operators

Throughout the transit strike, Public Transit in Ottawa strived to discourage any acts of violence against bus drivers when service resumed. Most readers agreed. Thankfully, there have been no serious reports of assault in the last few weeks.

Nevertheless, such acts do occur. And two MPs have introduced bills in the House of Commons this year that look to deal with them under the Criminal Code of Canada.

NDP MPs Peter Julian (Burnaby-New Westminster, B.C.) and Judy Wasylycia-Leis (Winnipeg North, Man.) have both introduced private member's bills during the current session of parliament to add provisions to the Criminal Code.

Julian introduced Bill C-314 (read here) and Wasylycia-Leis followed with Bill C-333 (read here).

Julian's bill amends subsections 231(4) by creating a new classification of first-degree murder that applies to offences committed against public transit operators. It also amends subsection 268(2) to strengthen the sentences in such cases.

Both Julian and Wasylycia-Leis want to add public-transit operators to subsection 270(1), which would provide for harsher sentences when operators are subject to aggravated assault.

Earlier today, Wasylycia-Leis was kind enough to offer us a few minutes of her time and her thoughts about the necessity of such bills.

"Members of the [Winnipeg transit workers] union -- and this goes back a number of years -- started coming to see me about the kind of incidents they were dealing with, and the growing number of assaults that bus drivers under Winnipeg transit were experiencing," she started.

"The numbers they gave to me continue to show the dire need for change. If you go back over the last 15 years, the number of assaults per month per year that are endured by Winnipeg transit operators has gone up significantly. It appears to be growing.

"In the last three years in Winnipeg, we were dealing with between 30 and 45 incidents per year. Bus drivers were experiencing this, and feeling nobody was paying attention. And transit drivers were treated differently than other, similar professions in the field -- like peace officers."

Her bill, she said, hopes to change the criminal code so that bus drivers are treated in a similar manner to peace offices.

"This will send a message to people who think it's open season on transit operators."

Julian read Bill C-314 into the record on Feb. 11, and Wasylycia-Leis followed with Bill C-333 on March 3. Below are their speeches to the House at their bills' respective first readings.

Julian on C-314:
Mr. Speaker, more and more serious incidents of violence toward transit workers are occurring across the country. We have seen incidents in Vancouver, Calgary, Mississauga, and Halifax. We have heard recently about a number of different incidents where bus drivers and transit workers have been assaulted.

This bill would create a new category within the Criminal Code that would ensure the protection of public transportation workers by creating a separate first degree murder offence and increasing the punishment for aggravated assault when a victim is a public transportation worker.

Every day the women and men who run our public transportation systems across the country do their utmost to make sure that Canadians arrive at work safely. We must ensure that their workplace is safe. That is why I am moving the bill today.
And Wasylycia-Leis on C-333:
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present this bill which aims to amend the Criminal Code so that those convicted of assaulting the operators of buses, street cars, rail and light rail vehicles and ferries would receive the same penalties as currently apply in the cases of assaults of pilots and peace officers.

We know that millions of Canadians depend upon the skill and protection of transit drivers each day and we value their service to our communities, yet as the law stands, these workers regularly endure threats and attacks.

Since 9/11 we have become increasingly aware of the targeting of mass transit vehicles and the vulnerability of their operators. This bill is in the spirit of trying to protect our public service workers who transport people in various ways and we want to ensure their safety.

Although this bill was written and introduced in the last session, prior to the tragic death of Tim McLean, who was beheaded on a bus coming from Edmonton to Winnipeg, and although we do not know whether this bill in fact would have any bearing on that case, we are reminded, each and every one of us, about the importance of safety on our public transit systems.
Julian is simply re-introducing a bill that he brought forward in 2007 (Bill C-473), and which he introduced to the House on Nov. 13 of that year. In that speech, he provides more statistics about the plight of bus operators:
Mr. Speaker, this is an act to amend the Criminal Code to protect public transit workers. A recent survey showed that 36% of bus drivers and transit operators have experienced some form of physical assault. In Vancouver and the Lower Mainland region of British Columbia there are about 240 physical attacks on drivers every year. In the greater Toronto region, it is more than one a day. The lives of Canadians are in their hands. The least that we could do is move to protect them.
Both active private member's bills have relatively poor chances of passing into law, but Wasylycia-Leis said that she hopes that parties across the House of Commons will support the their intent. Her hope is that the government will include the provisions in a major crime bill.

The Advocates: Leadership at City Council

On this inaugural edition of The Advocates, we are joined by the Ottawa Citizen's David Reevely and local transit activist Kalus Beltzner. Our question to them:

As transit service resumes, who on city council is the leading voice on public transit issues? Is there a leader?

Klaus Beltzer:
A definition of "leadership" comes from Alan Keith of Genentech, who said: "Leadership is ultimately about creating a way for people to contribute to making something extraordinary happen." (SOURCE:

Based on that definition - the answer to your question is a resounding "NO ONE NOW", but there may be one who could in time.....

Let's look at the candidates:

1. Larry O'Brien - Mayor

Larry has consistently demonstrates a keen ability to over-promise and under-deliver, be divisive rather than bringing people together, spinning truth into fiction and being inclusive only when it comes to antagonizing most everyone, whether it be Council, Staff, the Province, the Feds, or the very people who voted him into office.

Larry claims to have "hit the reset" button on transit and has what exactly to show for it?
  • Lawsuits by those who had a signed contract with the City to build the NS LRT
  • A Transit Master Plan that was so well managed through the process that no comma changed despite hundreds of thousands of hours of input and advice from the public and transit advocates and experts; and, that resulted in a plan that provides no evidence of generating increased ridership, improved service reliability and ridership experience, reduced trip times, more transit destinations or improved operating efficiencies.
  • A "shovel-ready" list of transit projects submitted to the federal infrastructure program that amounts to an embarrassing $200 million when compared to Brampton's$1.7 billion list, Calgary's $2.0 billion list, Edmonton's $2.2 billion list, and Toronto's $2.5 billion list of transit projects.
  • A "we will wait them out" strategy to the City's disastrous transit strike that cost residents and business over $500 million and for what gain? Larry's leadership on that file was characterized by spinning truth into fiction, threatening the union and his own staff and repeatedly asking the federal government to get him out of his self-created mess.
2. Alex Cullen - Chair of Council's Transit Committee

Alex's first words to me after the last election were: " We will not see LRT for another 20- 30 years in Ottawa because we have no Transit leadership". And when I said that I thought (naively) he was suppose to provide that leadership, he replied " There is no political will to do anything on that file for the next 30 years because of the failed NS LRT project."

And, true to his word, he and Nancy Schepers have worked hard since day 1 to impose delays through an application of a tedious and torturous planning process that ensures Alex's preferred outcome of nothing happening for 20-30 years. Validation of this comes in the form of "controversy" over the western leg (parkway, Byron, Carling), the Hospital bypass corridor to allow continued bus operation while the eastern transitway is converted, the $185 million "transfer" station at Baseline, the $2 billion in new bus purchases in advance of LRT and validation on the expected start date via "official" statements for an operational Step 1 Phase 1 LRT line between Blair and Tunney's.

3. Clive Doucet - Member, Transit Committee

Clive has worked hard to move his vision for LRT forward, but has met stiff and hostile opposition from Staff and Council. With a very public recent exception, Clive mostly stands alone.

Clive was recently joined by Christine to work together and present their alternate transit master plan to the public for which they were soundly criticized by Staff and their valiant and professional efforts totally ignored by fellow Councillors.

4. Christine Leadman - Member, Transit Committee

Christine shows promise and is capable of bringing a "public good" vision to the transit file. She is handicapped by being a novice when it comes to leadership skills needed for the political game playing that goes on at Council.

There are no other candidates to consider; all other Councillors on the Transit Committee are primarily there to uphold their ward interests when it comes to transit (and transportation).

I wish I saw anything to make me more optimistic.
David Reevely:
I don't think there is -- certainly I don't think there's anybody on council who public transit users see as speaking for them anymore. The whole group was willing to stand by while the system was shut down for nearly two months, over a relatively small amount of money. Along the way, I think a lot of observers were left with the idea that councillors didn't even understand why OC Transpo's work-scheduling system works the way it does, meaning that they were willing to hurt riders very badly without even knowing what they were fighting over.

Only Clive Doucet broke with the party line in public. They had knock-down fights behind closed doors, of course but when the doors opened again, even Doucet was cowed. He did salvage something for himself, though. If you're a transit person, Doucet's always been a go-to guy for you, but now he's even more evidently the councillor who's willing to get in some trouble for the cause.

Unfortunately, breaking with council's solidarity at a tense time probably WON'T help him get things done at the level that matters most.

Mayor O'Brien, I think, lost quite a bit of credibility. I don't think most transit users and advocates saw in him a natural ally when he was first elected, particularly when one of his first acts was killing Bob Chiarelli's light-rail plan. Then a lot of people began to see him differently after he oversaw the creation of a bigger, longer-term plan -- without rehashing the debate over whether the current version does everything it could or ought to, there's no denying it's much more ambitious than the previous one. But then he took the lead on the file during the strike, being council's leader and only permitted spokesman, and that means he has to wear the results: a long and painful strike that didn't even lead to his side's getting what it wanted.

Alex Cullen suffers, too. He's generally been seen as a transit guy, but during the strike he was in the awkward position of chairing council's transit committee, meaning he was the alternative spokesman for the management side and shares some of the blame for how it all turned out. I suspect what he was hoping for was to gain some credibility for fiscal rectitude -- that's something Alex Munter had among those who paid attention, while still definitely being on council's left wing -- but because of the way it all turned out, I don't think that's how his role will be remembered.
Readers: What do you think? Who is leading council on transit issues?

Monday, March 9, 2009

The U-Pass: One more shot at council

The Student Federation of the University of Ottawa is planning something to promote its latest effort to secure a Universal Bus Pass for its students.

Check back here for details ...

UPDATE: For a primer on recent U-Pass news, check out this story in the Ottawa Citizen. The coverage is quite positive for the University of Ottawa, beginning with the headline ("U-Pass proposal gains speed").
The University of Ottawa — the city’s showpiece community for public transit — has seen a decline in transit use over the last six years, says the university co-ordinator in charge of transportation.
That coordinator is, of course, U of O transportation demand management program coordinator Danny Albert.

Both Albert and SFUO transit advocate Ted Horton - who was also recently elected to the student-union executive - were quoted and paraphrased at length in the story, which also consulted a couple of transit-friendly councillors in Alex Cullen and Clive Doucet.

The Citizen piece gives the impression that the U-Pass apparently has more momentum than in past months. But none of the plan's detractors are quoted, so it's still unclear how easy it will be for the U-Pass to be approved at the student-approved price of $125. presents: The Advocates

Public Transit in Ottawa is unveiling a new feature here at bright and early tomorrow morning. We're calling it The Advocates, and it's purpose is just what you are likely thinking as you read the title.

Throughout the ever-depressing transit strike, there emerged several voices that kept the public calm. They were a voice of reason in a lot of ways, and anyone with Internet access could listen to them - or read their words, more accurately. They were columnists, concerned citizens, and long-standing transit advocates who appeared on blogs, in the news, and at public meetings.

We thought we might try to bring them together to contribute to the post-strike transit discussion. After all, there is much to discuss. Faithful transit users and news followers will know that.

Tomorrow, the first in a semi-regular series of discussions will appear here at We are operating the discussion in a fashion similar to that of the Ottawa Citizen's BlackBerry roundtable, wherein participants contribute to the debate on a "reply-all" basis to the group over a short-ish period of time.

Thanks for reading the site, and we hope you enjoy The Advocates.
(Oh, and many thanks to the roundtable's participants, too!)

Friday, March 6, 2009

U-Pass approved, fare hike deferred

A bus ticket fare hike of 15 per cent originally scheduled for April 2009 has been deferred three months until July 2009, according to the Ottawa Citizen:
City councillors voted Wednesday to defer a planned fare increase for public transit users from April to July. Council’s transit committee decided to delay a 15-per-cent increase in ticket prices. Committee chairman Alex Cullen said many of the people affected are the working poor and it’s wrong to hit them with a big increase just two weeks after OC Transpo service is back to normal.

City staff were already recommending that a fare increase for pass holders be delayed until July, which is expected to cost the city $1 million in lost revenues. Delaying the increase in the price of tickets for the same three months will cost an additional $1.1 million.
The same article also outlined a U-Pass pilot project that was approved for University of Ottawa students, something that has been discussed on Public Transit in Ottawa before:
The committee also approved a pilot project for a university pass for 22,374 undergraduate students at the University of Ottawa who live in Ontario. Each student will pay a levy of $125 per semester for the pass, which was approved in a student referendum. The committee approved the pass unanimously on the understanding that it will not result in any increase in costs to property taxpayers in the city.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Anticipated ridership loss means less bus purchases

According to the Ottawa Metro, OC Transpo staff have recommended that the city delay new bus acquisitions in order to offset some of the costs of the recent strike. By not buying the 25 buses, the city would save $16.3M, according to the report.

Staff are expecting 80.1M passenger trips this year, which is 24.4M fewer passenger trips than the 104.5M target established before the strike. Reasons for the ridership dip include the strike (estimated to cost 17.5 passenger trips) and the slowing economy. It won't be cheap, according to the report:
Those 24.3 million [stet] fewer trips translate into a $31.4-million loss of revenue, on top of what has already been lost through the free week and free weekends offered in February and the discounts for March passes.

The revenue loss could reach as high as $38 million, if the city decides to postpone a proposed 7.5 per cent fare increase scheduled for April until June.