Wednesday, January 27, 2010

U-Pass back on the table

Capital Ward Councillor Clive Doucet has re-introduced the possibility of a universal post-secondary student 'U-Pass' to be entered into budget discussions for the year. As reported in Metro, a previous attempt at a $125-per-semester U-Pass split council's vote, but the current motion (which would need to pass a referendum at the schools) is for a $145 charge per student per semester.

Opinions differ on what the 'bottom line' of implementing the U-Pass will be: OC Transpo management estimated it would add $1.5M in costs, while Pedestrian and Transit Advisory Committee Vice-Chair Shawn Ménard said it would actually increase revenue for the transit agency.

University of Ottawa President Allan Rock has been lobbying council to implement the U-Pass, which several other Canadian cities already have. As quoted on

“Today’s student is likely to have a co-op term or a job or a community placement which forms part of their studies," he said. "Very few of these activities take place on the campus. They quite often involve working in businesses and community organizations that are not available just a walk away.”


“This is not about conferring a special advantage on students at the University of Ottawa," he said. "This is about knitting the community together from one end to the other of the city so that students can serve their community as part of their studies and as volunteers."
Council is still in budget deliberations.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

PHOTO CONTEST: Journal of Public Transit in Ottawa

The Journal of Public Transit in Ottawa is set to be released on Feb. 1, 2010, and is looking for avid photographers from the city to submit public-transit related photography or illustrations for publication in the Journal.

Anyone is eligible, and the winner of the contest will see their visual work published on the cover of JPTO. Runners up will be published on this website, and may be published within the journal itself.

To enter, simply snap a photo or make an illustration of something to do with public transit in Ottawa, send it (in .jpg format) to along along with your name and contact information. Entries must be received by Friday, January 29, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. Only original works will be accepted, no more than five entries per individual.

Best of luck in the contest!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Press release: Journal of Public Transit in Ottawa to be released February 1, 2010


The Public Transit in Ottawa Portal (PTOP) is pleased to announce the publication of the first issue of the Journal of Public Transit in Ottawa (JPTO) on Monday, February 1, 2010. JPTO is a community-reviewed journal designed to address topics of relevance to public transit in and around the City of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada and the National Capital Region (including related municipalities and the City of Gatineau). Articles address many issues relevant to public transit in the city, including the following:
  • What might the City of Ottawa have to do to integrate high-speed commuter rail into our public transit infrastructure? Kevin Stolarick, Ian Swain, and Patrick Adler of the University of Toronto's Martin Prosperity Institute look at some benefits and success factors.
  • Why did the City of Ottawa cancel the North-South Light-Rail extension project, and was it the right choice for the city's future? Peter Raaymakers of Public Transit in Ottawa looks back on the plan and its cancellation.
  • How might the City of Ottawa encourage transit-oriented development and increase the purse for public transit at the same time? James Tompkins looks at the prospects of developing air rights above transit stations in the city.
  • What kind of lessons can the City of Ottawa learn from similarly-sized cities, such as Edmonton and Waterloo, while embarking on its multi-billion dollar transit expansion? Scott Hindle looks at what might be gathered.
  • The cities of Ottawa and Gatineau share significant infrastructural resources, so how can the two municipalities integrate their transit systems for the benefit of citizens, commuters, and their respective budgets' bottom lines? Jevone Nicholas looks at some of the realities, and some of the possibilities.
  • How does OC Transpo, and other transit utilities, treat different riders differently? Chris Bradshaw looks at the dichotomy between "captive" and "choice" transit riders.
  • The City of Ottawa launched a successful Bixi bicycle-rental pilot project this past summer. Travis Boisvenue and Emilie Sartoretto look at how the City of Ottawa can complement the public transit system by better incorporating cycling into the equation.
  • How far should the City of Ottawa go in looking to serve commuters with the transit system? Harry Valentine looks at how the city can build a link between Ottawa and outlying communities as far away as Cornwall.

JPTO will be available free for electronic download at, or a printed copy can be purchased with a cheque or money order payable to Public Transit in Ottawa for $5.00 (Canadian funds, shipping and handling included for orders within Canada). For more information or with media inquiries, please contact Peter Raaymakers, Executive Director of Public Transit in Ottawa and Managing Editor of the Journal of Public Transit in Ottawa at

Contact information:
Peter Raaymakers
Managing Editor, Journal of Public Transit in Ottawa
Executive Director, Public Transit in Ottawa
(613) 866-6490

Nick Taylor-Vaisey
Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Public Transit in Ottawa
Senior Writer, Public Transit in Ottawa
(613) 422-4982

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

City approves $2.1B transit plan

Ottawa City Council voted strongly in favour of the $2.1B light-rail transit plan, including light-rail rapid transit from Tunney's Pasture station through a downtown tunnel and onto Blair Station, by a count of 19 in favour and four against. The plan will now move forward with environmental assessments before construction ultimately begins.

The overwhelming tone of the meeting was strong support. Somerset Councillor Diane Holmes was anxious for the street-level rejuvenation it could offer particularly to Albert and Slater streets, currently used as bus-rapid transit corridors. Bay Ward Councillor and mayoral candidate Alex Cullen offered his thanks to the councillors, committee members, and city staffers who'd put time into the project before stating his excitement at having given yet another show of support for the project. The final member of council to speak on the matter was Mayor Larry O'Brien, who offered his thanks to councillors and staff for moving forward with the plan, and especially highlighted the 2006 Report from the Mayor's Task Force on Transit and having achieved one of its major recommendations.

Although only four councillors were against the plan, they voiced strong opposition to it. Capital Ward Councillor Clive Doucet was vehemently opposed, declaring his long-standing criticism against a plan which, in his opinion, "is the wrong project, in the wrong place, for the wrong cost." Knoxdale-Merivale Councillor Gord Hunter was concerned that, by his estimation, all this plan guaranteed suburban commuters is a transfer which they don't have to deal with currently.

The City, which has already received a pledge of $600M from the Province of Ontario, will now officially request funding from the Federal Government. Should the Federal Government match the provincial funding amount, the city will be left with the remaining $900M remaining for the total $2.1B price tag on the project. It is unclear whether or not the City will work on funding more than the anticipated one-third of the project, or whether they will try and tweak the specifics of it to bring the total cost closer to $1.8B.

Monday, January 11, 2010

TransitOttawa talks transit on Talk Ottawa

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.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Lack of foresight causes hundreds of OC Transpo route cancellations, plenty of anger

From the Ottawa Citizen:

Botched upkeep caused about 50 OC Transpo buses to freeze up and led to the cancellation of more than 200 trips this week.

The buses froze because they were not started and moved while sitting idle over the Jan. 1 long weekend, said transit general manager Alain Mercier.

“The team just basically lost the ball,” Mercier said, apologizing to bus users.

Mercier said 141 trips were cancelled on Monday and 74 were cut Tuesday due to the oversight. Service returned to normal levels on Wednesday. OC Transpo normally makes about 9,000 trips per day.
Understandably, people are pretty upset about this oversight. City councillors are apoplectic, and transit riders who were stranded in the biting cold without their rides, and without any indication their rides weren't going to show up.

It has left people in the city with questions about OC Transpo, namely: How does this happen?

How does a transit utility, whose sole and explicit duty it is to ensure the proper running of the city's public transit system, seemingly forget such obviously necessary mechanical maintenance?

And how was it not known beforehand that, without said necessary mechanical maintenance, normal service would not be resumed after the holiday? Since it seems common knowledge among managers that OC Transpo didn't have the garage space to accomodate the full bus fleet over the holiday, could riders not have been warned that full service would not resume Monday, and that some routes would have been cut? Still an inexcusable service failing, but at least one with sufficient warning for users to attempt to find alternative arrangements.

All in all, it amounts to a terrible start to a year OC Transpo users hoped would start a lot better than 2009 did.