You may have missed it, but Peter Raaymakers, Executive Director of Public Transit in Ottawa, was on Talk Ottawa
on Monday evening to discuss transit issues of the day. Also on the show was Bay Ward Councillor, Transit Committee Chair, and 2010 Mayoral Candidate Alex Cullen and River Ward Councillor and Transportation Committee Chair Maria McRae. Topics of discussion were the cancelled buses early last week
, problems with new fare boxes on OC Transpo buses, the upcoming mayoral election, the possibility of establishing a transit commission, and this week's City Council meeting to vote on the city's $2.1B transit plan.
Discussion revealed that an operational problem at OC Transpo garages was the main cause for the route cancellations last Monday and Tuesday, and the city is expecting more information--particularly with regards to accountability for the costly error--at the upcoming Transit Committee meeting on Jan. 20, 2010.
As for the fare boxes, some of the newer models have been jammed because of confusion about their use, and as a result some rides are free because the buses can't accept fares. According to Cullen, this design is commonplace, and the only way forward is to wait for riders to become more used to the new boxes.
On the issue of creating a transit commission, McRae and Cullen butted heads. McRae suggested that it was something she would favour, but more than anything, there needs to be a debate about it. Cullen wondered whether or not there would be anything gained were an arms's-length commission established, and suggested there would be a loss of accountability if it were instigated. On the panel, I suggested that it could address the politicization of certain issues (including, for instance, the labour disputes and individual route cuts), and was one of the chief recommendations on the 2006 Mayor's Task Force on Transit--a suggestion which has received little discussion. (Read more on that here
Finally, the question of whether or not city councillors would support the new transit plan on Wednesday in council came up, and neither councillor on the panel suggested it was a lock. A significant question was whether or not the city would be willing to cover any shortfall in federal or provincial funding, given that the province (counted on to fulfill one-third of the $2.1B price tag) only offered $600M for the city. Both were quite confident that federal partners would be waiting for the official request for funding, with Cullen suggesting they would have it within weeks of Wednesday's decision. There will certainly be more discussion of this on Wednesday.
Anyone interested can watch a replay of Talk Ottawa on Monday at midnight or Tuesday at 9 a.m. on Rogers cable 22 in Ottawa.