Friday, May 29, 2009

OC Transpo customers satisfied for 2008; what about 2009?

Customers are largely satisfied with the service they receive from OC Transpo, or at least they were in 2008, according to a report on 580 CFRA.

From the 580 CFRA story:
A customer satisfaction survey of the overall service found 82 per cent of transit users gave the transit service a positive rating, up from 70 per cent in 2007.

The survey also found 65 per cent of non-transit users had a positive view of the service.

The 2008 Transit Service annual performance report does show the number of complaints against bus drivers increased sharply last year to 36.8 complaints for every million passenger trips.
It will be interesting, however, to see what these numbers show for the 2009 customer satisfaction survey. Between the transit strike, the significant struggles getting service back to pre-strike levels, and a number of highly publicized service blunders, my expectation is that these numbers will get worse.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Preparing Tunney's Pasture for light-rail

The Ottawa Business Journal recently published an article on a report from the Department of Public Works and Government Services regarding their plans to renovate government building at Tunney's Pasture, a timely undertaking considering the fat that Ottawa's future light-rail line will have a terminus at the federal public service employment hub.

From OBJ:

Reconfiguring existing federal employment nodes such as Tunney's Pasture by rehabilitating old offices and constructing new buildings is one component of the federal government's ongoing review of its office space capacity in the National Capital Region, said Public Works spokesperson Lucie Brosseau.

"Tunney's Pasture will play a major role in accommodating federal employees over the next 25 years," she said, highlighting its "prime location" close to the Ottawa and Gatineau downtown cores and transit connections.

However, with municipal officials having already selected Tunney's Pasture as the preferred terminus of a future light-rail line, the city is relying on the federal government to redevelop the campus in a way that maximizes the rail link, observed Kitchissippi Coun. Christine Leadman, who represents the ward containing the federal complex.

Public Initiatives:

Attention cyclists in the Ottawa area, whether experienced or beginners: Ignore, an Ottawa-based cycling hub, at your own expense.

The website, managed by Michael McGoldrick, includes a huge number of links to local cycling resources, as well as a discussion forum and a few great rides folks in the Ottawa area can take--through Ottawa's east end, all the way out to Manotick, or for the more adventurous, even right out to Kingston.

Cycling is just another form of transit, and Ottawa's got some great paths which anyone can take advantage of.

EDIT: McGlodrick got back to me with a few notes on his website, and about his feelings about the state of cycling in Ottawa:

The basic goal of the web site is simply to get more people out on their bikes, whether it be for sport, recreation or transportation. It attempts to provide a context in which people can maximize the use of their bicycles and discover the pleasures and benefits of cycling. It is one thing to take a leisurely ride around the neighbourhood or to pedal few kilometres on the local bicycle path, but going out on a bike ride for a couple of hours usually takes a destination and a little planning. That’s where the articles and photos about what people can expect with various paths and routes comes in very handy.

It is worth pointing out that a 20 kilometre ride will seem like a lot for someone who is just starting off. However, most people quickly get used to riding such a distance, and before long they will be covering 30 kilometers, 40 kilometres, and so on. Once people are comfortable cycling 40 to 50 kilometres without giving it a second thought, it becomes a simple matter for them to start using their bikes to commute to work or to take vacations. (Organized bicycle tours for all ages is one of the faster growing segments of today’s travel industry.)

As for my opinion about cycling in Ottawa - it's true that the region is a great place for biking, mainly because of the excellent network of pathways that have been put in place by the NCC. To a limited extend, these are supplemented by multi-use paths established by the city. As a result, Ottawa likes to bill itself as "one of the best cities in North America for cycling". But I think it is living on its laurels .

For the most part, the City of Ottawa still treats cycling as a recreational activity. For example, the city makes almost no accommodations for people looking for a safe and convenient route for cycling into the downtown core. To see what's
possible, one only needs to look at what Montreal has done with its wide, well though out, and well signed bicycle lanes for moving a large number of cyclists through its downtown area. In Ottawa key bicycle paths remain snow covered
throughout the winter. Both Montreal and Toronto are committed to keep their main bicycle paths open during the winter. At one point in Montreal motorists started complaining that downtown bicycle lanes were being cleared faster than the roads. Needless to say, there are more examples of how Ottawa is quickly falling behind in sustaining itself as "one of the best cities in North America for cycling".

Friday, May 22, 2009

What makes a transit system effective?

Ricky Leong published an editorial in the Calgary Sun earlier in the week lamenting the inflexibility of Calgary's public transit system. Leong suggested that although the system gets commuters to and from work quickly and easily in mornings and evenings, it lacks the flexibility that enables citizens to build the system into their lives outside of work hours.

From the Calgary Sun:
Problem is, as much as we love our trains and buses, transit isn't really an integral part of our lives.

I don't have the resources to undertake a proper ridership survey, but I think it would be safe to say transit in Calgary is an effective means of delivering thousands of people to work (or school) and back, every weekday.

The rest of us either don't care for public transit or consider it an unacceptable transportation option.


Apart from having reliable and timely transit, it has to take you to all the places you want to go -- and I don't mean just work.

I mean to see friends, for groceries and clothes, a visit to your favourite bookseller, a trip to the movies or a night on the town.
Although Leong uses Ottawa as an example of a system Calgary could learn from ("Ottawa has an extensive network of bus lanes (kind of a poor man's LRT) reaching into all parts of the capital -- including its airport"), many Ottawans looking for a night on the town might disagree--in fact, some would surely suggest that a lot of Leong's criticisms could be easily applied onto Ottawa's systems.

This discussion raises a few questions for the transit-minded citizen:
  1. Is it worth connecting outer areas of the city with OC Transpo "ring routes"?
  2. If so, how can it be done?
  3. What roads should incorporate new transit routes?
  4. Why hasn't it been done to date?

Please, feel free to respond and discuss in the comments.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Fewer buses on Albert and Slater?

According to a 580 CFRA report, city staff have suggested that the volume of buses running down the downtown portion of Ottawa's Transitway along Albert and Slater streets is negatively affecting transit service in the city, and recommended that problem be addressed.

According to CFRA:

A report for the Transit Committee says ridership increases west of downtown has caused the volume of buses running west on Albert Street to reach 180 buses per hour in the afternoon peak period.

Proposed Transit Route Changes for the fall make a series of recommendations to remove several trips from both Albert and Slater Streets to allow reliable operations to continue.

Staff recommend the conversion of downtown trips of certain routes to frequent feeder services, including reducing direct-to-downtown trips on limited peak period Routes 51, 55, 124, 156, 172 and 178.

Which just underlines the necessity of building an underground tunnel, in some form, under the downtown leg, at the very least. The city is well on its way towards a light-rail tunnel, although some critics (most notably Andrew Haydon) have suggested a bus tunnel. Others agree with light-rail, but disagree on the route. The generally agreed-upon bottom line, though, is this: There are too many buses at street level on Albert and Slater, which is negatively affecting not only vehicular traffic on those streets, but also the comfort level of those walking, cycling, working, and living in the area.

It is also curious to see the recommendation of staff: That feeder routes transfer onto the major ones (such as the 95, 96, and 97) at the entrance into the downtown along the east and west ends. This is the arrangement most commuters will have to deal with once Ottawa's light-rail transit line is set up, switching from bus to rail when entering from east or west into the downtown core. This could be a transitional period, in a way, while commuters get used to transfers--aside from express routes, which some have suggested will continue running along downtown streets even once light rail is established.

Either way, it will be interesting to see how this may go if OC Transpo decides to move forward with this recommendation.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Transitway could go 24/7

A few days ago, CFRA shed light on a report that suggested higher-than-expected ridership levels on OC Transpo buses. Today, Metro reports more on that report:
This September, services on the Transitway will expand to 24 hours a day, seven days a week, if a transit report’s recommendations are followed.

That’s one of the many changes OC Transpo should be ringing in this fall, proposes a report coming to the city’s transit committee tomorrow.

Questioning Ottawa's downtown tunnel

On last Thursday, the Ottawa Citizen's Ken Gray wrote an editorial raising the significant number of questions surrounding the light-rail route recently approved by city council. The route, whose downtown portion is shown above in a map courtesy of The Ottawa Project, has raised some concerns from interested parties.
Many of these concerns were raised by Gray in his editorial:
  • Transport Canada believes the city's $550-million cost estimate is low
  • Minister John Baird isn't sold on Phase 1
  • Ottawa doesn't have permission from the Department of Public Works and Government Services Public Works to "drill beside the Langevin Block where Stephen Harper toils, or near the war memorial or the federal conference centre"
  • The National Capital Commission (NCC) is, according to Gray, "unlikely to permit rail to run down the Ottawa River Parkway"
  • Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty "is wary about rail"
  • That the depth of the tunnel, which will have to run below existing structural foundations, makes it less beneficial for business interests downtown to invest in the stations
  • As well, Ottawa's downtown business community had expressed preference for a different route
  • The route is, in Gray's words, "unlikely to garner many more riders because it travels much the same route as the Transitway"
  • There is little room for further development on route, particularly the Parkway (assuming the NCC gives permission to use that route)
  • And that Gray, and many other critics, argue "that tunnelling is financially and technically risky"
There are, certainly, plenty of positives to take from Ottawa building a transit line, but it seems to be the concerns which are dominating the news these days.

What are your opinions on the tunnel, and how it's progressed so far? Are you in favour of the route, or do you have problems with how it's going forward (or, if it's your belief, backward)?

Friday, May 15, 2009

Doucet and community leaders on a walkable city

I host a radio show on CHUO 89.1 FM called Around the Block, and today we welcomed councillor Clive Doucet into the studio. We talked about how to make Ottawa more friendly to walkers and cyclists and, as a case study, discussed the feasibility of a second footbridge across the Rideau Canal that would connect Fifth Avenue in the Glebe and Clegg Street in Ottawa East.

Below is the interview in its entirety.

We also spoke with Glebe Community Association president Bob Brocklebank and Ottawa East Community Association president Nick Masciantonio about the bridge and what it can do for both nearby residents and commuters from the suburbs.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Good news for OC Transpo ridership? Who'd have guessed...

Despite predictions of a tremendous fall in OC Transpo ridership after the 53-day winter 2009 transit strike, 580 CFRA is reporting that city staff are reporting higher than anticipated ridership numbers, which has resulted in a $4M surplus in the transit utility's budget.

From the 580 report:
Staff say revenues in the first quarter was "significantly higher than projected" due to fewer strike related refunds of December transit pass sales and higher ridership.

OC Transpo will continue to monitor the ridership numbers and will provide a further update on revenues this summer.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Name Ottawa's downtown tunnel

There's a great idea over on the OttawaStart blog to come up with names for Ottawa's far-off yet closer-than-ever downtown tunnel for light-rail transit. It seems city planners are moving forward with the "DOTT Train" (Downtown Ottawa Transit Tunnel), but I think we can do better.

So let's hear your ideas. We at PTIO will unilaterally adopt the best suggested name and move forward with it in future articles, so give us your best!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Integrating Ottawa and Gatineau transit: Looking for an intevprovincial strategy

Recently the National Capital Commission (NCC), City of Ottawa, and Société de transport de l’Outaouais (STO) launched a joint-sponsored website at The website was launched by a group of consultants solicited by the three above-mentioned groups to assemble public input into the future of transit across the provincial line in the national capital region.

According to the website, the site was launched with ambitious goals:

The Strategy was launched as a proactive step to improve interprovincial coordination and efficiencies within the STO and OC Transpo transit services in the downtown cores of Gatineau and Ottawa.
There are a number of key issues to consider, not the least of which is the needs of commuters from either side to the other. It is anticipated to come to an end in January 2010, at which point the data gathered will be assembled into a recommendation for the best possible solution for inter-provincial integration.

There is significantly more information available on the above-linked official website, including more background information on the undertaking as well as copies of associated documentation.

For those interested, the first two consultations, planned as "Café-style small group discussions", are scheduled for the following dates:

Thursday May 14 2009
3:30 to 9:00 p.m.
Ottawa City Hall – Jean Pigott Hall
110 Laurier Avenue West, Ottawa

Tuesday May 19 2009
4:30 to 9:00 p.m.
Gatineau Maison du Citoyen – Agora
25 Laurier Street, Gatineau

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Public relations blunders in OC Transpo

Hugh Adami's "The Public Citizen" column from this past weekend outlined a disturbing trend in strong-arm enforcement of OC Transpo rules and regulations recently, despite the obvious need to improve the transit utility's image after the public relations nightmare transit strike.

Two weeks ago, I told the story of three Algonquin College students who were charged with trespassing after they were found near the transitway, snapping photos of the buses-only road. That led to two confrontations with a Transpo special constable. When one of the students, Nicole Thompson-Walker, stopped answering questions about her identity and address, she was arrested and handcuffed -- a silly and unnecessary use of force and authority.

But Transpo doesn't think so.

Then there was the story a few days later of Jackson Adeney, a 16-year-old cyclist who collided with a bus. He was still trying to understand how the operator could drive off, leaving him by a Barrhaven roadside with a separated shoulder. Was he offered an apology? They don't seem to do that at Transpo. But the city agreed Friday to pay for a new bike and some accessories.

And now there's Bryan Cook. He's a regular rider who was left wondering why he takes the bus after the treatment he received from fare-enforcement officers. As he was riding the bus to work on April 21, two officers approached him, one looked at his bus pass and then "told his buddy to, 'Come deal with Bryan'," says Cook.

The second constable took his pass and ordered him off the bus at the St. Laurent Transitway stop. He asked to see Cook's driver's licence, and then gave him a $150 ticket.

Monday, May 4, 2009

An economic analysis of light rail: Is it feasible?

Ross Prusakowski is on his way to a master's degree in economics at the University of Ottawa. He maintains a blog where he comments on -- no surprise here -- issues of the day from an economist's point of view.

Most recently, Ross wrote about the case for light rail in Ottawa based on the conclusions of a paper entitled, “The Effects of New Urban Rail Transit: Evidence from Five Cities” [PDF].

Go ahead and read all of Ross' analysis, but if you want his conclusions -- keep reading.
In a broad sense, the paper and it’s framework make it clear to me that if you were to ignore the environmental and city density benefits of that could result from the development of urban light rail, there is still a compelling economic case for it to be built. Especially in cities like Ottawa where there is no (or almost no) light rail in existence and the benefits of reducing (or eliminating) congestion costs could be quite large in their own regard.
The reason I refer to Ross by his first name, by the way, is because I sit at the same table as him at least once a month on the Fulcrum's Board of Directors.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Funding transit plans: Transport Canada "neutral" on tunnel

The Ottawa Sun got its hands on a Transport Canada report from April 24 that suggests that a downtown transit tunnel in Ottawa will cost more than the $600-million estimate put forward by city staff.

The report also recommends taking caution when considering how much funding the Ottawa project deserves, the Sun reports.
Transport Canada is supportive of the transit plan, but officials who are engaged in talks with the city should take a "neutral stance with regards to the downtown tunnel alignment and station locations..."

"While the federal government has been supportive of Ottawa's efforts to develop a rapid transit strategy, the federal government should not commit to an agreement in principle to fund the entirety of phase one of the rapid transit plan."

Transport minister John Baird's office, though, says discussions with the city about funding are going well.

The federal government currently has $200 million on the table for Ottawa's long-term transit priorities and Transport Minister John Baird says he is committed to adding to that.

"We are working well with the city and the province to deliver for Ottawa on this important priority," said Baird's press secretary, Chris Day.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Will businesses reduce their support for a downtown tunnel?

When the idea of a tunnel was presented to Ottawans in its current incarnation, businesses largely supported the idea. But as an article in the Citizen yesterday pointed out, now that the route has been proposed by staff, some businesses aren't so gung-ho.

The city’s downtown train subway should run farther south than city planners have plotted, said Hume Rogers, of the Downtown Coalition. He said the city’s proposed route, gradually turning north beginning at Kent Street, takes the commuter rail line too far north downtown too early. Rogers says the Downtown Coalition property owners believe a better route is to continue under Albert Street for another three blocks, then turn north at Metcalfe Street.

Rogers said the problem with veering northward at Kent Street is that it will reduce the rail line’s future potential ridership because there will be new development on streets like Slater and Laurier Avenue, rather than farther north on Queen and Sparks. Rogers said that by staying farther south, the city would be able to include buildings such as the Bell Canada tower within reasonable walking distance of the subway.
Bay councillor Alex Cullen, the chair of the city's transit committee, told us in an email that he isn't shocked by the concerns raised by Rogers:
Downtown businesses are pleased to see progress on the downtown tunnel, but want to see it serve their properties (Here! No, here! No, over here!). No surprise here.
Whether or not businesses will accept whichever tunnel route is ultimately selected is, of course, unknown at this point. But we'll see how much council wants to appease the concerns as the public consultation unfolds.