Friday, July 31, 2009

Good news story for new light rail in Seattle

Maybe Ottawa will have as positive an experience in launching light-rail as Seattle has apparently had in the first week since opening its Central Link line (from Seattle Post-Intelligencer's transportation blog):
Sound Transit's Central Link Light rail averaged an estimated 12,000 riders boardings each weekday during it's first week of service, Sound Transit reported Thursday.

Another 16,900 boardings were recorded on the light rail last Saturday. About 15,100 were counted on the light rail Sunday, the agency reported.

The 14-mile line between Westlake Center and Tukwila opened on July 18.
It won't be for, what, over a decade, but here's to hoping.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

OC Transpo fined for not calling out stops

The Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA), an independent administrative tribunal tasked with ensuring federal transit regulations are met, has fined OC Transpo $5,000 for failing to call out stops along bus routes. The CTA told OC Transpo in November 2007 that failure to call out stops was "an undue obstacle to transportation for persons with a disability", and the utility has, to date, failed to address their responsibility satisfactorily. In March 2009, a second CTA decision gave OC Transpo 20 days to fix the issue, but their failure to do so resulted in the above-mentioned fine.

The failure is, quite frankly, inexcusable on the part of OC Transpo. The agency was given over 18 months before a fien was handed down, and although general manager Alain Mercier was using the OC Transpo's 80.7 per cent efficiency--as opposed to a mandated 100 per cent efficiency--to apply for an extension (according to Metro), any less than 100 per cent isn't good enough. The undue obstacle is not just there for the visually impaired, but also for those who may not know exactly where their going or tourists looking to get around the city. Calling out stops isn't just simple courtesy, as Metro editorialized on Monday, but it's also good business.

OC Transpo is reportedly pursuing an automated system to call out stops, but it hasn't been implemented yet. Hopefully it will be soon, for transit users as well as taxpayers.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Age cap on student bus passes should be revoked, says advisory committee to council

For several days, a growing group of university and college students in the city have made a lot of noise about an age limit that the city imposed on student bus passes in order to save money.

Last night, student leaders from the University of Ottawa presented their case to the city's pedestrian and transit advisory committee. They represented seven student unions in the Ottawa area representing just about every post-secondary student in town.

After a few minutes of presentations and procedural discussion, the committee unanimously supported the students' case and recommended in a motion that the City reverse its decision.

Student Federation of the University of Ottawa president Seamus Wolfe co-presented with Graduate Students' Association external commissioner Gaétan-Philippe Beaulière, and I had the chance to speak with Wolfe today on CHUO FM's Around the Block. Below is the interview in its entirety.

The students found support for their cause at the University of Ottawa's highest levels. Below is a letter sent by university president Allan Rock to Ottawa acting mayor Doug Thompson.

uOttawa Letter to Acting Mayor Doug Thompson_age Limit for Student Bus Passes

Monday, July 13, 2009

More from students on the OC Transpo age limit

There are over 1,100 members of the Facebook group opposing OC Transpo's policy that limits student bus passes to riders who are 27 years old and younger.
emailed one member of that group, Virginie Corneau St-Hilaire. She is a fifth-year communications student and coordinator of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa's Centre for Students with Disabilities.

She had this to say about the policy:
OC Transpo's definition of "student" is very cut and dry; it doesn't take into account people who take a break after high school to work and make money to pay for their studies, those who take more than 4 years to complete their Undergrad, or those who decide to pursue Graduate studies. Students with disabilities are also considered full time with a reduced course load, but would be affected by this because they obviously would not finish their studies in the prescribed 4 years, especially at 3 or 4 classes per semester, as I have seen from the users of the Centre for Students with Disabilities. There are many circumstances that come into play in defining how long someone will be in school, and when they will start and end their studies, and I find that OC Transpo's definition of what a student is fails to take into account all those people, perhaps on purpose to pad their bottom line.
St-Hilaire also noted that she would participate in a protest about this issue:
I'm not the type to protest just about anything, but the accessibility of post-secondary studies is something that's important to me, since I've encountered some financial obstacles myself.

Grassroots campaign pops up in opposition to age limits for student bus passes

Five days ago, Carleton student Will Samuel was "cursing and swearing" at OC Transpo's policy that prohibits students over 27 years old from acquiring student bus passes. And he wasn't going to let Ottawa's public transit provider get away with it without a fight.

Indeed, the 32-year-old Samuel created a Facebook group five days ago that protests the decision. It took just a matter of hours to attract hundreds of followers and has since surpassed 1,000 members. The group is something of a focal point for like-minded students from various Ottawa campuses.

The policy passed city council as part of a much larger motion during budget deliberations last December, but it has just now mobilized a growing number of students.

Ottawa's Metro has taken the lead on mainstream coverage, running two stories in the past four days. The paper quotes student union presidents at Carleton University and the University of Ottawa. They both oppose the policy and have promised to mobilize their student bodies.

Carleton University Students' Association Erik Halliwell is the only student leader so far to get in touch with Samuel, but others -- including Student Federation of the University of Ottawa vice-president university affairs Ted Horton -- are members of the group.

Samuel told that he was shocked by the waves made by his initiative, which he expected to top out at about 100. But he had words of warning for council.

"The city is grossly underestimating the ability of students to band together," he said.

The city's pedestrian and transit advisory committee will speak about the issue at its meeting this Thursday. The citizen-led body could pass a motion advising council to repeal the policy, though councillors are in no way bound to honour it.

Committee vice-chair Shawn Menard, who is currently the president of the Centretown Citizens' Community Association, is also a past-president of CUSA. He didn't express an opinion about the discussion in the story, but he did acknowledge the opposition.

"It is becoming an issue, and legitimately so," he said.

Samuel hopes that the discussion at the advisory committee sticks to the age-limit discussion. He is worried that it could be at least partially swallowed up by the debate about a Universal Bus Pass for students, another transit issue that many students have pushed quite strongly over the last couple of years.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Political ads can run on public transit, says Supreme Court

Ottawa has had our fair share of transit-related advertising issues in the last short while; from the controversial Atheist Bus Campaign to Virgin Radio's 'Gods of Rock' advertisements, it's been a somewhat touchy subject. And it's come up again, although this time it's a Supreme Court decision on moves to block political advertising from two British Columbia transit utilities.

Long story short, the Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority (TransLink) and British Columbia Transit (BC Transit) rejected a couple of ads based on concerns to offend riders who, according to the agencies, are "captive" to the messages presented in advertisements.

From The Globe and Mail:
An intervenor in the case – the B.C. Civil Liberties Association –
argued that political advertising lies at the heart of the Charter section that
protects freedom of expression.

“In a world where advertising is ubiquitous and appears in public spaces of every description ranging from billboards on private buildings to web pages of private search engines, every citizen has learned to distinguish between the message and the owner of the location where the message is delivered,” the BCCLA argued.

Surprisingly for a city as political as Ottawa, I don't personally recall much in the way of political advertising on OC Transpo buses. Do any readers remember specific instances of political advertisements in general, particularly those that were controversial?

What are your thoughts on the positions of the B.C. transit agencies, and the decision handed down by the Canadian Supreme Court?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Age limits now in place for student bus passes

As of July 1, 2009, students purchasing a bus pass for OC Transpo services must be under the age of 27 in order to qualify for a discounted pass. This means that all students over the age of 27, whether full- or part-time, will have to purchase a full-price adult pass.

As reported on 580 CFRA:

"City Council recently approved an age limit on monthly student bus passes."

"Carleton University Student Association President Erik Halliwell tells CFRA News they think a student is a student, and it shouldn't matter what age a student is."

"The association plans to make a presentation to the Pedestrian and Transit Advisory Committee next week to try and get OC Transpo to reverse the policy."

But Transit Committee Chair Alex Cullen says Councillors were swayed by financial incentives, especially when informed other municipalities have an age limit for student passes.

The move does put Ottawa in line with other Canadian cities: Toronto student passes are available to those aged 19 or younger, and in Montréal "students" are defined as under 25. However, cities like Vancouver and Calgary, which have implemented U-Passes for all post-secondary students, do not have an age limit by design: All students, regardless of age or transit usage, pay into the program. The U-Pass has been a hot topic in Ottawa transit, and has been discussed many times on this very website in the past.

The whole discussion brings about a few questions:
  1. Should there be an age limit on student bus passes?
  2. Should the City avoid the age limit problem by implementing a U-Pass?

Feel free to discuss in the comments, and contact your councillor with your thoughts.