Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Public open house on Western Light-Rail Corridor

Just a heads-up for transit enthusiasts that the city will be hosting an open house for the western corridor of the city's LRT plan:

Monday, 29 November 2010
5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Tom Brown Arena
Upper Hall
141 Bayview Road, Ottawa

For some great info on the western corridor options, check out Eric Darwin's series on West Side Action:

Saturday, November 20, 2010

"Please ring the bell"

I thought this entry from the OC Transpo LiveJournal was kind of funny:
I know the next stop announcement system goes "Bing Bong" but that doesn't mean the bus is going to stop. Please ring the bell if you want to get off.
One morning when I was riding in to work, I remember on one route, riders neglected to ring the bell twice and both missed their stops as a result. And both times, they--naturally--were up in arms and angry with the operator. Neither seemed to realize that the fault was theirs.

And although it seemed obvious to me, it mustn't have been very funny for those people who'd missed their stops. OC Transpo might need to consider a new tone besides the bing-bong the next-stop announcement system is currently making, because it's obviously confusing people.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Is running over-budget an inevitability?

Yesterday CBC's Inside Politics blog printed a bit of a cheeky post suggesting that maybe seeing construction projects in Ottawa run late and go over budget shouldn't be too surprising to us--it's just "part of our national heritage".

The article is about the significant renovations to Parliament's West, not some public transit infrastructure project, but it does touch on what seems to be a trend of projects overshooting their budgets--sometimes, as in this instance, by a large margin.

Fulfilling the 'national heritage' is a very real possibility with Ottawa's light-rail transit project--although so few details are known right now, and the estimate is so loose (right now it's left itself a 25 per cent buffer), that it's an unknown quantity. Mayor-elect Jim Watson seems genuinely committed to staying on budget with the project, and actually has ideas on how to do so (particularly his desire to have a management board oversee the project), so I'm fairly optimistic about the possibility of staying on budget, or at least minimizing the budget overshoot. But there are so many unknowns right now, it's hard to say.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

OC Transpo stop-calling hits high, complaints hit low

In what should have been expected as soon as the OC Transpo fleet began being retrofitted with the Next Stop Announcement System (NSAS), the rate of stop-calling compliance has hit a 2010 high of 92 per cent, and the number of complaints related to stops not being called out reached a 2010 low (at least by OC Transpo's own measures). Because not all buses in the fleet have been outfitted with the system, the rate of compliance hasn't yet reached 100 per cent.

It took a while, but it looks like the chapter may finally be coming to a close. All it took were repeated warnings from the Canadian Transportation Authority, as well as a couple fines from them for good measure.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Helping developers help public transit at the Westboro Convent site

Following Joanne Chianello (@jchianello) on Twitter is probably one of the best ways to keep in the loop on city council meetings, and Tuesday's Planning and Environment Committee Meeting on Ashcroft Homes' proposed development on the grounds of the former site of the Les Soeurs de la Visitation convent was a perfect example.

The meeting will continue Wednesday (and possibly Thursday, as well), and has brought out a huge number of concerns with the site proposal, including those about the nine-story buildings proposed, the number of units (600 in total), traffic concerns with the new residents, and the disruption of a community "linear park" at the south end of the lot (in the image above, it's parallel to Byron Ave., and would be dissected to give the lot access from Byron).

One interesting possibility that came out as the city seeks some level of compromise with the developer, however, concerned public transit. As tweeted by Chianello:
Staff recommending that developer give free bus passes for a year to every new resident of the convent redevelopment. #ottcity
After first misreading the proposal, I realized the potentially positive effect of encouraging people to use public transit by offering them a complimentary bus pass (funded by the developer, of course). It would not only offer people a period of time to 'get the hang' of public transit, so to speak, but also may serve to mitigate the traffic concerns with this particular site. The Convent site is a 10-minute walk to Westboro Station, right on the Transitway, which would get riders downtown within only about another 10-15 minutes.

Obviously a lot of unfinished business remains in the city's discussions with Ashcroft (a lot of which could be for naught given that Ashcroft has already filed with the Ontario Municipal Board to fast-track the plan), but a partnership between the developer and OC Transpo to offer, for instance, a free bus pass for a year seems like something good for the city, and makes the homes even more attractive for new residents.

Monday, November 15, 2010

U.S. Commercial Service publishes report on Ottawa's light-rail project

Although there really isn't anything that's quite ready to be bid on yet, the U.S. Commercial Service (a branch of the Department of Commerce) recently published an information dossier on Ottawa's upcoming light-rail project.

The report seems to be a heads-up to U.S. companies that requests for proposals are forthcoming as part of the project, and mentions in particular the need for companies specializing in tunneling, rails, vehicles, construction (of the maintenance facility and of stations), safety and support equipment, electrical supply design, communication infrstructure, and public arts.

It's a fairly broad report, but offers an interesting outsiders perspective of the Ottawa light-rail plan.

(Thanks to Peter for sending me the report.)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

This seems like a bad idea, too...

A Montreal metro car running with one of its doors open.


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Interprovincial planning made a little easier

Yesterday, Gatineau's STO transit system launched a new trip planner called Plani-Bus (public transit utilities seem to have an unhealthy obsession with word-splices), a new system that was able to be combined with OC Transpo's trip planner to make cross-river public transit use a little more convenient for riders.

Just to try it out, I went to and asked for a trip plan from the Rideau Centre to the Casino du Lac Leamy, and it worked. At least I assume it worked, I didn't actually try the prescribed travel plan results.

Seems like a common-sense solution that is probably overdue, but will certainly be appreciated by interprovincial riders moving forward. Hopefully further integration of the two utilities--including timing complementary routes well at transfer points--will follow soon, too.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Getting a steal on light-rail land

The possibility of getting land owned by the federal government needed for building the city's light-rail transit plan for a symbolic $1 fee came up a while back, slipped below the radar, and is making headlines again now that politicians are commenting on it.

First off, Diane Deans had asked the federal transport minister, Chuck Strahl, where his government stood on the issue. Deans interpreted Strahl's rather vague e-mail with an air of victory, saying (as quoted by 580 CFRA) "if you don't ask, you don't get." But the comments were pretty non-committal; here's the section where he actually addresses Deans' request, as presented on Ken Gray's Citizen blog The Bulldog:

In your correspondence, you inquire about transferring federal lands along the Ottawa Light Rail Transit phase-one corridor-including rights-of-way and a station at Tunney's Pasture-at a cost of $1.00. Where possible, and as the law permits, the Government of Canada will explore opportunities to facilitate the City of Ottawa's request; however, some limitations may exist where the immediate disposal of federal real properties must be made at fair-market value.
A day after the e-mail was released, Strahl clarified his comments by couching them with a lot of ifs and buts. Ken Gray is calling it a 'flip-flop', although it seems like Strahl never really made any promises in the original e-mail, anyway. So now Strahl is saying there's nothing written in stone, and that the one-dollar deal wasn't something the government has agreed to (although he stopped short of saying it's something the government would never agree to). From the Citizen:

"Let me be clear. At no time did we indicate that a straight transfer of land for one dollar was an option that the government of Canada would agree to," Strahl wrote Thursday to Gloucester-Southgate Councillor Diane Deans.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

U-Pass controversy getting out of control

It's pretty amazing to think that the City of Ottawa's U-Pass pilot project has become such a hugely divisive issue. The project, for those who use public transit regularly, means a 50 per cent savings for those with a regular student pass (based on an eight-month school year). And since it qualifies for up to and including rural express fares, it means a nearly 60 per cent savings for 'express' students, and a massive nearly 70 per cent discount for 'rural express' students.

The problem, though, arises when considering those students who don't use transit. And maintain that they won't, whether or not they're given a pass. Without an opt-out clause, it means a $290 tuition increase for those students who don't use transit that comes without direct benefit.

Charlie Taylor eventually lost his run for Ottawa's mayoralty, but his campaign was memorable for his passionate calls to end the U-Pass project, which he called an "unethical" tax on students who choose to walk or bike rather than take the bus or train. He mustered a small but active following based on his stance.

Complaints about the U-Pass have peppered local papers for months now. Quebec residents, for instance, are not eligible for the pass. And there was the memorable case of a Carleton University student caught in a sting operation trying to sell her non-transferable U-Pass on Kijiji. For her efforts trying to recoup the $290 expense, she was fined $610 for illegally trying to sell her pass.

The story prompted a bit of a back-and-forth in the Ottawa Citizen's letters to the editor, beginning with a letter of support from a University of Ottawa student who said the pass, and the charge therefor, are "unfair" because all students must pay for a service that not all students use.

That letter was followed by a rebuttal validly pointing out how commonplace it is for municipal services to be paid for by all, but only used by some. Take, for instance, OC Transpo itself, which is hugely subsidized by Ottawa's taxpayers--a 50 per cent subsidy--even though far from all residents in the city use the service. The author of the letter also cited other social programs, like employment insurance, welfare, and, fittingly, higher education, as instances where all must pay for the benefit of some.

Some history on the U-Pass: It was heavily promoted by the student federations at both the University of Ottawa and Carleton University, as well as the Canadian Federation of Students. Reluctantly, OC Transpo agreed to a pilot project for the U-Pass after referenda at both universities passed (albeit with characteristically low student-voter turnouts). But it's still a pilot project: Right now it's for one year, and OC Transpo hasn't really changed anything in preparation for the project--although they seem to expect lost revenue as a resul of the project--because they're waiting to see what becomes of it. From the 2010 city budget:
Council implement a two-semester pilot program establishing a U-Pass for $145/semester, beginning in September, 2010 with no changes to the service levels and with any resulting revenue deficit in 2010 to be taken from the Transit Reserve. Staff to evaluate the actual costs and benefits of the pilot program after the first semester and provide a report to City Council prior to the 2011 Budget.

So there's nothing permanent here: The city, OC Transpo, and--one would assume--the student federations are waiting to see what comes of the pilot project. But this also means that students outraged by the project have plenty of opportunity to make waves during this year's student elections, either by running directly for positions, proposing referenda, or just getting their peers out to vote.

This isn't something that's been forced on students. And if students are looking to change it, they have every opportunity to do so. But if other students want to keep it around, they'll have to be vocal about it, as well.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Renewable energy and public transit

Interesting news story coming out of Massachusetts, where the Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority recently broke ground on a wind-power generator station to help reduce their electrical energy costs.
"The Northwind 100 wind turbine is expected to produce about 181,000 kilowatt hours of energy per year. In addition, one 100 KW turbine offsets about 257 tons of carbon emissions per year," said CCRTA Administrator, Thomas Cahir.
The project seems to be a relatively modest sum of $331,600, funded as part of a larger, $6.35M award the CCRTA was given by the Department of Transportation under the United States Recovery Act: The Cape Cod Smart/Green Transit Initiative.

Government-run services like public transit seem pretty uniquely situated for making use of renewable energy options: They have ample land and space for the projects, they have the financial wherewithall to invest in them (with government help, of course), and their lifespan is enough to justify the high up-front costs by spreading it over a long period of time.

I can think of a few instances where Ottawa could benefit from renewable energy in, at, on, or around transit stations. Taking the bus this past week proved one thing: More heating for transit stations would be nice. And if rooftop solar panels installed at transit stations could help offer, it's a good idea. And considering how vicious the wind can be at some stations, even wind turbines might work well (the hills at Hurdman Station, on top of the former dump, seem like a good option). I don't think the timing for projects like this is right these days, though, with the municipal government already spending a lot of money on the LRT project, and provincial and federal governments having posted fairly significant deficits after the recovery funding. But it's still a good idea.