Tuesday, June 30, 2009

What if the Feds fail to invest in Ottawa's transit plan?

Despite assurances from city councillors that federal and provincial funding pledges are sure to come, the fact that neither higher level of government has guaranteed to fund a third of Ottawa's $4B transit plan inevitably raises some red flags for Ottawa's citizens.When the City of Toronto failed to receive federal funding for a public transit project in that city, they decided the city would pay the extra amount. The City of Ottawa, already stretched to the budgetary limits, wouldn't likely be able to do that--so where are we today?

The City of Toronto had co-ordinated a $1.2B purchase of streetcars from Bombardier, and had budgeted one third of the ($400M) from the city to be matched by each of the federal and provincial governments. Although Queen's Park was quick to offer their financial support, the federal government were not so quick to match because, according to Infrastructure Minister John Baird, the deal didn't qualify under the government's infrastructure program. So Toronto,. facing a June 27 deadline to secure funding, doubled the city's contributions to pay for a full two-thirds of the streetcar deal.

The City of Ottawa's transit plan is even more long-term than Toronto's, which was rejected by the feds because it wouldn't create jobs within two years--and Ottawa's transit plan may not even break ground within that time frame. The $200M both the federal and provincial governments have pledged and re-pledged to Ottawa transit (leftover from the cancelled north-south rail line) won't go far when measured against the city's projected $4B price tag, which many critics are saying will inevitably climb as previously unknown costs surface.

When should citizens in Ottawa become truly concerned about securing funding partners? Are you concerned at the moment?

What recourse would the city, already so heavily invested in this significant transit plan, have should either level of government fail to invest the requested one-third?

Friday, June 19, 2009

Western light-rail study to include Carling

First, Carling Avenue wasn't an option for Ottawa's western light-rail corridor. Then Councillors Clive Doucet and Christine Leadman suggested it proceed as the option for that corridor. Then that idea was kiboshed by council. Then it was suggested that Carling may be a secondary corridor. Now, according to the Ottawa Citizen, the city staff's study into that western leg of the rail line will include Carling, as well as the Ottawa River Parkway and Byron Avenue--despite the fact that, almost a full year ago, Councillor Alex Cullen was already saying it was "too late" to make such a change.

From the Citizen:

City transit planning officials had originally planned to look only at the Ottawa River Parkway and a nearby former tramway corridor running along Byron Avenue as possible western rapid-transit link to the planned light rail system from Bayview to Baseline Station.

Carling Avenue was going to be looked at separately as a residential light-rail route.

However, after concern was raised on council and in the public over running trains along the parkway (concerns include the effect on nearby residents and whether the federal government will permit trains on the land it owns), the area to be studied was expanded to determine whether the Carling route could serve.

Don't let anyone tell you that your e-mail to and discussions with your councillor were for nothing.

The debate about whether to choose Carling over the Parkway has been one of the most heated aspects of the current transit plan discussions, second perhaps to Ottawa's downtown tunnel. Several months ago, we published an article regarding the merits of running light-rail along Carling Avenue, but the Ottawa River Parkway has merits of its own--most notably the cost. Should the city obtain permission from the National Capital Commission to run rail along the Parkway (far from a sure thing, at this point), that line would cost an estimated one-third of what rail along Carling Avenue would cost (EDIT: Referring to the initial construction costs, that is, not the associated operating costs of any finished rail line).

Which is your preferred option, Carling Avenue or the Ottawa River Parkway? Why?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Mandating civility: Give up your seat, or else

An interesting article came up on the New York Post's City Room blog, about the city's law regarding offering your seat to disabled passengers. The article reported on the (perceived or real) diminishing levels of civility on public transit, and how an "abled" individual (however you'd like to define it) may be levelled with a $50 fine if they refuse to give up their seat.

From the article:

There was a time — who knows if it really existed — when such civility was assumed. However, the new posters on subways and buses give riders an extra prod: “It’s not only polite, it’s the law.”

“It’s the first time we’ve really stressed this,” said Paul J. Fleuranges, vice president for corporate communications at New York City Transit, the largest arm of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Those who decline to give up a seat on request face up to a $50 fine, he said. (The new campaign also warns that “not all disabilities
are visible.”)
OC Transpo in Ottawa does have a 'priority seating' section, but I don't believe there are any mandated give-up-your-seat regulations within out city's transit utility.

Do any readers think our city needs to consider such a measure? Are there horror stories out there about your experienced difficulty in finding a seat while in need? Feel free to post your thoughts and feelings in the comments.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

How much can bus operators reasonably be expected to do?

A 29-year-old man was stabbed on an OC Transpo bus this past Friday, June 12, after a confrontation over bus seats escalated into criminal actions. The victim, who was left with a partially-collapsed lung, was sitting in the back end of an articulated bus when the conflict came up. In an Ottawa Citizen article published today, the victim's father suggested that the bus operator failed to recognize the gravity of the situation, and had the opportunity to prevent the stabbing. But realistically, how many tasks can we expect our bus operators to manage simultaneously?

Here's a run-down of the situation from the Citizen article, as well as the comments from the victim's father:
[Dan] McGlynn, wearing a large cast on his leg, said he had been sitting in the side-facing seats at the back of the bus, and had put his crutches over a forward-facing seat beside him because they kept falling down. The bus, McGlynn said, was “not full, but it definitely wasn’t empty.”

McGlynn, a construction worker, said an argument started after a female boarded the bus around Montreal Road and Carson’s Road and asked him to move his crutches, which were occupying both seats.

McGlynn said he moved the crutches over, clearing one seat, where the female’s friend sat, but she wanted both seats cleared.

The pair argued, McGlynn said. He said he told the female he couldn’t move the crutches further before she kicked his injured ankle.

They argued more and the female kicked his ankle twice more, he said.

McGlynn said he warned the female he would have to defend himself before she pulled out a knife and threatened to stab and kill him.

McGlynn said he remembered trying to grab the knife before feeling as though he had been punched in the ribs. He said he fell back in the seat and saw her coming at him again before he pushed her back with his foot.

Another man grabbed the female from behind, McGlynn said. By that time, the bus had stopped at Blair and Montreal Roads. The doors were open and the female fled, McGlynn said.


“This went from verbal to physical to near-death,” John McGlynn said, praising the work of emergency crews and hospital staff.

“Could this have been avoided? Not to place blame, but had the bus driver recognized this immediately — he’s human like anybody else — but if he’d stopped this bus, it could have. Would it? I don’t know, but it could have,” he said.

“We need to look at prevention.”
Definitely an unfortunate incident, and it would certainly be nice if there were enough eyes on a bus to nip incidents such as this in the bud. But it's worth thinking about exactly what we already ask of our operators, and whether or not it's reasonable or even feasible for them to monitor potentially violent confrontations and get involved in some way.

In this particular instance, the driver was operating on a 60-foot-long vehicle with a point of articulation between himself and the actual incident, with dozens of people riding it, through rush-hour traffic, while making scheduled stops and monitoring those who get on or off the bus through three doors to ensure proper fares are paid.

The length of time it took for this incident to escalate is not printed, so it's hard to know what time window the driver had since the voices were raised until the stabbing occured. But whether it was several minutes or a half an hour, few rational people would assume that a yelling match over a seat on the bus would escalate into a stabbing, so I can't personally fault the driver for not assuming the worst would happen. And even if the driver were to have stopped the bus, OC Transpo policy is--understandably--for the operator to stay seated and call for police response.

Ottawa's bus operators have been through some rough patches of late. But before we fault the operators for what may seem like preventable incidents, we need to consider exactly what we're expecting these individuals to handle.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Ottawa gets $102M in federal public transit funding

A recent federal funding announcement of $376M for the City of Ottawa includes about $102M for public transit improvements in the city, according to an Ottawa Citizen report. The bulk of the funding is going towards the Southwest Transitway Extension from the Fallowfield Park'N'Ride to the Chapman Mills Marketplace, but there are also significant promises for station structure improvements and parking lot resurfacing.

Of course, questions about whether or not the federal or provincial governments will be able or willing to contribute their 1/3 portions of the city's $4B light-rail transit plan remain unanswered.

Friday, June 12, 2009

LRT Technology Forum on June 20

The City of Ottawa will be hosting a Light-Rail Transit Technology Forum at City Hall on Saturday, June 20, 2009, at some undetermined time (there's no time noted on the city's website, ottawa.ca/lrt-forum). From what I understand, the forum will be an informational session which will discuss the city's options with regards to electricicty distribution through the line, choosing between a drivered or driverless train, and other technological decisions to be made.

From the City's website:

Ottawa City Council approved the Transportation Master Plan (TMP) in November 2008, including a vision for achieving an integrated, citywide transit solution to better serve communities across Ottawa. The specific type of technology needed to achieve this vision has yet to be identified.

To address the technology issue, the City of Ottawa is hosting an LRT Technology Forum on June 20, 2009 that will bring together transit experts, technology providers and key stakeholders to identify the best transit technology options for the City’s new LRT system.

Residents are invited to take part in the Forum on Saturday, June 20. Presentations by staff and technology providers will be followed by small group discussions. There will also be an opportunity to visit displays and engage with other participants and technology providers.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

$17.9M from Queen's Park for Ottawa's hybrid buses

The City of Ottawa is set to receive $17.9M in provincial funding to help pay for OC Transpo's new hybrid buses under a provincial bus replacement program known as the Ontario Bus Replacement Program (and may I be the first to say it's a terrifically-named program). The hybrid buses are part of OC Transpo's fleet updates and modernization.

From the Ottawa Metro:
Ottawa is getting $17.9 million from the province's Ontario Bus Replacement Program, Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Jim Watson announced Thursday.

That should help pay for around 68 new Orion VII hybrid buses, with the city and the federal governments also contributing one third each to the total.

Baird rescinds OC's work/rest exemption

Federal Transport Minister and Ottawa West-Nepean Conservative MP John Baird has "decreed" that the exemption given to transit operators under federal jurisdiction no longer stands.

The work/rest rules were part of the City of Ottawa's rationale for changing scheduling conventions for OC Transpo during the city's 53-day transit strike, and was a serious sticking point for drivers. This announcement marks the beginning of the final resolution of the dispute, which is still awaiting the results of binding arbitration on the terms of the final contract.

From the Ottawa Citizen:
Twenty years ago, the handful of municipalities whose transit systems are regulated by the federal government requested exemptions from rules that cover commercial drivers, like truckers. The rules set a maximum of 14 hours of driving and eight hours of rest per day and require at least one day off every 14 days.

The exemption was given, but as a result, a small number of drivers, including at OC Transpo took advantage of the situation to work very long hours with little rest for weeks at a time.


... the federal transport minister and Ottawa West-Nepean Conservative MP John Baird promised to review the exemption, which was in affect in Ottawa, Gatineau and Windsor.

After a two-month examination of the issue, Baird decreed the changes Wednesday.

See also: Ottawa Metro

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Transit Talk on Talk Ottawa, June 9, 2009

Public transit in Ottawa will once again be a topic of discussion on Rogers Cable 22's Talk Ottawa tonight, as Bay Ward Councillor Alex Cullen, Traffic Chair of Hintonburg Community Association Dickson Davidson, and Executive Director of Public Transit in Ottawa Peter Raaymakers will be discussing the issues of the day--including recent federal announcements of infrastructure funding, as well as the debate surrounding the west-end terminus of Ottawa's light-rail transit line.

The program runs from 7-8 p.m. tonight on cable 22 in Ottawa, and of course the panel will be taking calls from anyone with something to say on the issues.

Cullen moves to sanitize hands on OC Transpo

Hygiene--identified as an issue for Ottawa's transit utility to improve--goes well beyond food wrappers on buses, I guess. A few days after OC Transpo management said they're looking at a possible food and drink ban on buses, Bay Ward Councillor Alex Cullen has proposed the city look into installing the alcohol-based sanitizers on all buses, according to the Ottawa Citizen.

From the Citizen:
The councillor for Bay ward and declared 2010 mayoral candidate says it's in the interest of public health to have the cleansers, which are usually rubbing-alcohol based, available to OC Transpo passengers.

"People get on, they touch the bar or the handrail, they touch their noses, they can get sick," Cullen said.

He says that at a city council transit committee meeting on June 17, he hopes his fellow councillors will agree to ask city staff to look into the idea in more detail.

Feel really strongly about the subject? You can, of course, make your comments known right here on Public Transit in Ottawa, but there's also a Facebook group called 'Sanitizers 4 OC Transpo' which you can join or comment on, if you'd like.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Should OC Transpo impose a food and drink ban?

According to reports in the Ottawa Sun, hygiene of the city's buses has been identified as an issue to be addressed by OC Transpo brass, and a potential food ban has been mulled to go over the issue. Alain Mercier, general manager of the transit utility, suggested that a possible ban would bring Ottawa in line with most other cities (who, Mercier suggested, have similar bans) and would also reduce costs surrounding the maintenance and cleaning of the fleet.

Would a food and drink ban be practical, though? For some commuters, their ride is a long one; bus users taking a 40-minute ride would not likely appreciate restrictions on their morning coffee or snack on the bus. Also, if the onus would fall on bus operators to uphold the ban, we're simply giving these individuals another possible distraction.

In my experience, though, Ottawa buses have a much greater problem than food and drink wrappers on buses: Discarded dailies, such as Metro and 24 Hours, are often left behind on a seat, and then find their way to the ground of the bus. If OC Transpo wants to get the buses really cleaned up, they'll have to find some way to prevent these newspapers being left behind.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

No more transit strikes as city, union reach deal

Old news by now, but many of you have probably heard that the City of Ottawa and the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 279 have reached an agreement to avoid strikes by using an arbitration system for new contracts.

The recent labour strife between the two sides resulted in a 53-day strike, and was finally ended when the two sides agreed to--you guessed it--binding arbitration.

From a 580 CFRA report:
Emerging from a closed door session at City Hall, and flanked by union leaders Andre Cornellier and Randy Graham, Deputy Mayor Michel Bellemare said they will now implement an arbitration system to automatically resolve contract disputes and prevent strikes or lockouts.

Last year, the contract agreement with Amalgamated Transit Union Local 279 expired in March, and fruitless negotiations led to an all-out strike which began December 10th and lasted a record 53 days.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Fare hikes effective July 1, 2009

OCTranspo.com has announced a series of fare hikes for OC Transpo rides, including the following:

  • No increase to cash fares
  • Bus tickets go up from $1 to $1.15 each
  • O-Train fare increases 25¢ to $2.50
  • Community Pass price unchanged
There are also a series of changs in bus pass fares, mostly going up:

  • Adult Regular: New $84.75 (Old $81.00)
  • Adult Express: New $106.00 (Old $101.00)
  • Adult Rural Express: New $131.75 (Old $126.00)
  • Adult Regular Annual: New $895.00 (Old $874.80)
  • Adult Express Annual: New $1,119.00 (Old $1,090.80)
  • Student Regular: New $65.25 (Old $62.65)
  • Student Express: New $76.50 (Old $73.40)
  • Student Rural Express: New $103.00 (Old $98.75)
  • Student Regular Semester: New $242.00 (Old $232.25)
  • Student Express Semester: New $283.50 (Old $271.90)
  • Student Regular Annual: New $626.40 (Old $601.44)
  • Student Express Annual: New $734.40 (Old $704.64)
  • Senior 65+ Monthly: New $31.75 (Old $30.40)
  • Senior 65+ Annual: New $381.00 (Old $364.80)
  • DayPass (purchased on the bus): New $7.00 (Old $7.25)
  • ECOPASS Adult Regular: New $74.58 (Old $69.66)
  • ECOPASS Adult Express: New $93.28 (Old $86.86)
  • ECOPASS Adult Rural Express: New $115.94 (Old $108.36)
Fares for a daypass, when purchased on the bus, are the only ones to drop: By a quarter, from $7.25 to an even seven bucks. The largest net increase is $29.76 for a Student Express Annual pass, although that is deceptive because it would be spaced over twelve months; The largest increase calculated by month is for a ECOPASS Adult Rural Express, which will be going up $7.58 per month.

Thoughts on the fare increase? Any peculiarities or problems that visitors notice with these numbers?