Friday, October 22, 2010

2010 Election: Watson on OC Transpo

Over the course of the 2010 Mayoral Election campaign, Public Transit in Ottawa will be sitting down with as many mayoral candidates as are available, discussing their platforms and thoughts on transit in this city, and what they hope to achieve during their mandate, if elected mayor.

Ask just about anyone in this city, and you'll likely get an idea from them on how OC Transpo could improve their service--and maybe you'd get as many different answers as people you've asked, running the spectrum of feasibility from easily-implemented to downright impossible. And mayoral candidate Jim Watson has some ideas of his own. Obviously, Watson wants to establish a transit commission to manage the utility, but he's also entertained other ideas.

Among the most pressing concerns Watson has is the cool relationship between OC Transpo staff and management. Watson had some critical words for current mayor Larry O'Brien regarding the transit strike, and suggested a change in mayor would--in his opinion--be positive of OC Transpo relations. But he also prescribes a general change in the tone of discourse, from the combative stance that seems to have taken over to a more co-operative one.
I think it starts at the top. I have respect for all the employees, I don’t treat them as subservient or as an irritant, I see them as a vital part of providing a good public service. I think one of the first things that any new mayor is going to have to do is to bridge those relationships on a more positive footing. It’s a very unpleasant environment at OC Transpo, from all the bus drivers and mechanics that I’ve spoken to, even supervisors and management, I think they feel very frustrated, and we still have not resolved all the problems that have emanated from the strike.
But beyond improving staff relations, Watson also wants to improve the efficiency of the service, to avoid rising taxes and rising fares. He thinks the new commission will have its hands full finding ways to do that, but one small suggestion he has made is the use of smaller buses run through lower-density areas to bring riders to the main routes.
I often will go into a suburban neighbourhood where there’s a huge bus going through and there’s two or three people on the bus. Calgary has a feeder-bus system where it’s almost like minivans will go in and pick people up; saves on fuel, saves on overhead costs, makes the system more efficient. So are there things that we can do to make the system more efficient from a creative point of view? I think there are, and I think that’s one of the mandates to give to the transit commission when they conduct their review of this. If there’s ways of saving money and improving service at the same time, then we should keep our minds open to those ideas.

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