Tuesday, December 13, 2011

OC Transpo to undo some optimization route cuts

OC Transpo's massive route optimization project is set to be scaled back a little bit, as was announced today. Given an extra $5.5M in the 2012 City of Ottawa budget to address specific service concerns resultant from the optimization process--specifically: overcrowding on buses and lacking service to certain areas--OC Transpo announced upgrades to take effect by early in the new year.

According to reports from the CBC and the Ottawa Citizen, service changes will entail:
  • an increase the number of buses serving routes 2, 4, 5, 16, 30, 87, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 106, 111, 118, 120, 143, 148, 169, 261, 263, and 691;
  • larger buses serving routes 4, 38, 60, 62, 87, 93, and 114 at peak times in the day; and
  • route adjustments on route 5, 16, 93, 106, 121, 144, 169, and 198.
The goal of route optimization when the process began was to trim the fat, so to speak, on OC Transpo service by reducing route overlaps, "milk runs," and inefficient routes and trips. The eventual savings target was about $20M per year; with the $5.5M injection from this year's city budget, those savings are now down to an estimated $14.5M per year.

That $14.5M represents trimming a little more than four per cent off OC Transpo's total expenditures (from 2010, the most recent numbers available).

Monday, November 7, 2011

Check your behaviour

Update (5:30pm ): General Manager Alain Mercier sent a memo to members of Transit Commission.  You can find it on Alistair Steele's blog from the CBC. In the letter, Mr. Mercier makes an apology, believes the incident is "genuine", reassures that this is a rare case and is not the "norm".  Mr. Mercier said the right things and responded in a timely manner.

You can also read a reasonable response from an OC Transpo driver on his blog Drives in Circles.

Some are suggesting that the victim was trying to get attention given that he studies acting.  Passengers and at least one driver say that he is annoying. While the young man may be annoying to everyone on the bus, it doesn't appear that he was seeking attention to showcase his acting skills because we didn't see any kind of acting in the video.

A video of an OC Transpo driver swearing and threatening a mentally ill passenger has caught the attention of many including Mayor Jim Watson and even made national news.  The video is below (warning: there are f-bombs):

Normally, with any video featuring bad behaviour, there may be something that we missed before the video was captured. The video uploader, DartPak, explains the passenger was talking very loudly and when he approached the bus driver to talk to him, the bus driver flipped out on him. Apparently, the passenger apologized numerous times. The witness added in the comment section that the driver told the passenger to leave bus while it was on the Queensway and told CTV the driver and passenger have probably met in the past:

“I heard the bus driver say ‘every night it's the same thing with you, just sit down and shut up and take your meds,'” he said. “Just really inappropriate things in my opinion.”

An OC Transpo driver, familiar with the passenger, told the Ottawa Sun the passenger was “aggressive socially”, but harmless.

Swearing at a customer and threatening physical violence is completely inexcusable, unacceptable, and is not tolerated anywhere. In fact, that type of behaviour makes one unqualified to work with the public.  The behaviour of this driver has further supported the public perception that OC Transpo drivers provide terrible customer service. It's unfortunate because many bus operators are very kind and care about the safety of passengers. OC Transpo is attempting to re-brand themselves by displaying ads of their employees in a positive manner on buses and shelters .

As for the punishment, people on Twitter are calling for the bus driver to be fired. OC Transpo deals with such matters internally and discloses little information to the public.

ATU Local 279 President Garry Queale gave a response that could be just as upsetting as the video. Queale told the Sun: “There is a City of Ottawa bylaw that people aren’t supposed to take pictures on buses.”

This response is very similar to the one from the union representing STO drivers when an STO driver was caught on video filing paper work while driving his bus. I understand that drivers don't want to be filmed. But, when the driver is negligent behind the wheel or abuses a passenger, claiming “privacy rights” is not a valid excuse. When the union makes such a statement, the public can't take it seriously.

Video recording is prohibited on OC Transpo property unless it is for personal use (Section 19.7). In other words, as long as the video isn't used for commercial purposes, then it is considered legal.

So far, the only person who has apologized for the incident is the victim, which is very unsettling, and it may be the only apology we will ever hear.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

OC Transpo fares to increase 2.5 per cent in 2012

According to Ottawa Metro, the City of Ottawa's 2012 budget includes extra funding for OC Transpo (fuelled by a property tax increase of 2.39 per cent), which will be directed towards increasing service on major routes such as the 87, 94, 95, and 96.

More to the point for most transit riders, the budget also calls for a 2.5-per cent increase in OC Transpo fares.

The fare increase falls in line with recent estimates, but is much lower than the 7.5-per cent increase in March of 2010. Still, after a massive optimization project intended to make service more efficient, one wonders where those savings have gone.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Is OC Transpo's fare structure too complicated?

Is OC Transpo's fare structure too complicated? Officials at OC Transpo believe so. As part of the Presto smartcard program, which is slated to launch in the spring or summer of 2012, OC Transpo also wants to revamp the entire fare structure.

The current fare structure may be complicated to tourists and first time users, but it is still easy to learn. A regular transit user in Ottawa isn't still trying to learn the fare system, which haven't drastically changed in at least 15 years. While not difficult to understand, the strangest OC Transpo fare category is the O-Train fare. It is more expensive than the regular fare of two tickets. This means that it is cheaper to pay two tickets on a bus and use a bus transfer for the O-Train than it is to buy an O-Train ticket and use it as a transfer on a bus. There are no separate fares for rail vehicles or subways in Toronto, Calgary, Montreal, Edmonton, and Vancouver, so why does Ottawa have a distinct rail fare category?

Apparently, the new fares will be more simple and equitable. For simplicity, one would think that express fares would be gone, but that likely will not occur because that would lead to a trunk and feeder system, which has been scraped until the new LRT begins operation. Maybe, it's the actual fare itself that will make it easier. Presto cards handle all types of fares including passes. If you don't know whether to put in two tickets or three, Presto should be able to make that decision for you.

As for making this more equitable, age related fares already exist. So, the only other equitable issue is the travel distance and this issue is partially solved by express fares.

Transit fares in Ottawa aren't much more complicated than other Canadian cities. Calgary and Montreal's fare system is a bit more simple since they do not use "express" service to the suburbs. Toronto has a few express routes from downtown to residential areas, which require a separate fare similar to ours. Vancouver uses zone fares, which could be confusing if you are a tourist. Your fare would cost more if you were to travel through multiple zones in Vancouver.

With the new Presto card, it is understandable that OC Transpo may have to make some changes to its current fare system. But, if the issue is the complexity of present fare system, we should have seen a revamped fare structure many years ago.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

PTIO on Talk Ottawa tonight

Rogers 22 is convening a panel to discuss the recent route changes and how they're affecting riders for tonight's Talk Ottawa program. David Reevely of the Ottawa Citizen and Ben Novak will join host Mark Sutcliffe in studio, and Peter Raaymakers of TransitOttawa.ca will be calling in to the show around 7:30 p.m.

The show is live on Rogers Cable 22 in Ottawa at 7 p.m.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Bus ride reading: Makeshift Metropolis

If you're interested in municipal issues and city building, few books offer an overview as quickly and effectively as does Witold Rybczynski's Makeshift Metropolis: Ideas About Cities. The depth of Rybczynski's work belies the short length of the very accessible book (just 199 pages), and is definitely worth a read while you're riding around town.

Rybczynski examines the theories of many thinkers at the forefront of urbanism, especially Jane Jacobs and Lewis Mumford, but also Charles Mulford Robinson, Ebenezer Howard, and Le Corbusier. With the benefit of retrospect in many instances, the author looks at where the ideas of these thinkers have worked in contemporary cities, and where they haven't.

There are many issues facing cities today, and in the latter parts of the book Rybczynski looks at where cities might need to go in the future to remain places people can and will want to live. The answer, in the mind of the author, is density. Not necessarily hyperdensity, as with cities like New York City and Hong Kong (although there are lessons to be learned from those examples), but simply an increased density compared to what is seen in most cities today. This is particularly important in Ottawa, where a relatively low population density offers ample opportunity for the city to develop within the city without needing to move out of it--an obvious reason why City Council has worked hard to limit and altogether avoid expanding the urban boundary.

In the end, Rybczynski concludes that good planning makes good cities, citing the Israeli city of Modi'in as proof. But rather than designing every detail of the city, Rybczynski calls for macro-planning, allowing for organic growth over time under parameters set forth. It's not the hyper-planned city of Le Corbusier, nor the anarchistic city of Jacobs, but something in between.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Transit Commission: OC Transpo added articulated buses and trips since September 4

Much was discussed on last Wednesday's Transit Commission meeting including the recent route changes/cuts/optimization, MacKenzie King Bridge congestion, and Presto smart cards. Here is the recap of that meeting (most of the information is referred to David Reevely's Twitter feed):
  • Six new trains for the O-Train were purchased for $35 million from Alstom and are scheduled to be in service in 2014. The purchase is in anticipation of the O-Train expanding to Leitrim, which will be assessed by consultants for its feasibility.
  • OC Transpo usually runs 175-178 buses on Slater during the PM rush according to OC Transpo Transit Design Manager Pat Scrimgeour. While Slater is close to threshold of 180, it is already experiencing significant bus congestion. From experience, walking from Metcalfe to Mackenzie King Bridge during the PM peak period is faster than riding any bus on Slater.
  • Regarding Mackenzie King Bridge, Scrimgeour says boarding and unloading is the issue, and not the pedistrian crossing. They are paying close attention to it. Last week, I saw what appeared to be OC Transpo supervisors assisting with closing the rear doors on the eastbound platform of Mackenzie King during the PM rush. I've witnessed this new procedure on two separate days at 5 p.m. and there hasn't been a noticeable improvement; buses were still backed up to Elgin.
  • OC Transpo ridership grew from August 2010 to August 2011 by 6.3%. Increased ridership and decreased service lead to overcrowded buses as experienced by many in September.
  • Maintenace Chief Larry Atkinson said around 30 routes per day are served by the wrong kind of bus. This is a high number, but it's possible that there was only one instance of that occurring for each route.
  • Since the route changes on September 4, OC Transpo has added articulated buses on certain trips on routes 4, 30, 34, 38, 41, 87, 93, 130, 134 and added trips during peak hours to routes 30, 131, 134, 136, 106. (Metro News)
  • Presto Cards are scheduled for April 2012. The smartcards will replace passes and tickets. In theory, there should be fewer lineups at pass retailers near the beginning of the month. While the program will cost Ottawa $25 million and the province $7 million, this is expected to cut costs on administration for tickets and passes. The city has discussed the idea for Presto since 2006.
  • Finally, Route 106 will serve the ring road around the General Hospital campus in late December. After continually modifying transit service to this area in the past month, it seems that Route 106 will be fully re-instated and operate like it did pre-September 4.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Deadly design flaws at Eagleson Park and Ride

Looking back, there was never really any questioning if someone would be struck by a car at the Eagleson Road Park and Ride; it was simply a question of when it would happen.

Sadly, tragedy struck last week, when a 17-year-old girl running across the six lanes of high-speed traffic to transfer from one bus to another was fatally hit by a truck.

As it stands today, Eagleson Station is broken down into two stations: Eagleson East and Eagleson West, which each have parking lots for commuters and are separated by the fast-moving traffic of Eagleson Road. It's not uncommon for a rider to be dropped off on the Eagleson West platform and have to cross the street to catch their next bus at the Eagleson East platform. The traffic light at the intersection can be an agonizingly long wait, and can frequently be the reason for a missed transfer--made especially frustrating when you're stuck standing at a red light while the bus pulls in and then leaves the station you should be at, and the 15-20 minute wait for the next 96 bus. It's enough to drive lots of people to cross on a "don't walk" signal, despite the inherent dangers.

These design flaws are a matter of infrastructure failing to keep up to growth in the area. Even though it was opened in 1995, the Park and Ride was conceptualized in 1986, when Kanata was a much smaller area than it is today, and car traffic on Eagleson Road was significantly lower.

The only preventive measure currently installed along Eagleson Road is an eight-foot-tall chain-link fence running along the median between north- and southbound traffic. But rather than prevent people from crossing, the fence just funnels people toward a small section of median along the nearest intersection, and reduces visibility for both pedestrians crossing as well as automobile traffic driving.

That reduced visibility is significant, as cars barreling down the road can barely see people crossing the street, and pedestrians almost need to step into oncoming traffic in order to see where the nearest car is (along with the fence at the intersection is a large traffic light post, with traffic signs on it which further impede visibility).

The point of the fence is to encourage people not to cross, but it doesn't, and there's next to nothing the city can do to stop people from crossing. It's an example of infrastructure built to impede or block human nature, when the key to designing functional walkways is making it pedestrian-oriented. We need the crosswalk to fit human tendencies, not attempt to shape them.

The city must do something to improve the current configuration of the Eagleson Road Park and Ride. As it stands today, with parking lots and drop-off points on both sides of the street, people are almost encouraged to jaywalk despite the danger of six lanes of very fast (usually greater than 60 km/h) car traffic.

The simplest and most immediate measure costs nothing but time: Have every route traveling in any direction head into the larger station on the northbound side of Eagleson Road. It might add five minutes to a bus trip, but that's not what matters here.

Another choice is a pedestrian underpass or overpass, and some have called for a footbridge in the aftermath of the accident. A footbridge, though, would also take longer than crossing the road itself (so you may still see people jaywalking), and would likely be more expensive than what I think would be the best solution.

The best, and most long-term, option is a bottom-up redesign of the station. An easy comparable is Baseline Station, where buses traveling in either direction turn into the station, rather than dropping people off on one side of Woodroffe (which, like Eagleson Road, is six lanes wide). It's a fairly easy fix, and, although we need to do something regardless of the cost, it would not be terribly expensive. It might require a few parking spots in the already-overstuffed parking lot to be sacrificed, but that's a sacrifice worth making.

The design below (pardon the low quality) is one option for the redesign. Basically, the idea is that the three current drop-off/pick-up points (one on the west side of Eagleson, two on the east) are amalgamated into one larger station. This would be safer and simpler for riders catching their buses, and also for those waiting for their buses: In December of 2009 a man waiting at the park and ride was robbed at knifepoint, and a larger station would draw more people and likely offer a more secure place to wait.

The bottom line is something needs to be done, and quickly. Lives could be at stake.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Route changes effective today

Just a heads-up to OC Transpo users that, if you somehow haven't heard, very many routes are changing under the city's optimization project, and yours might be affected. The changes take effect today.

If you're not sure whether or not you're ride will change, check the OC Transpo website and find out.

Monday, August 22, 2011

NDP offers transit funding for freezing fares

According to a report on 580 CFRA, Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath promised her party would put pick up half of OC Transpo's operating costs if the transit utility would promise to freeze fares. From the story:
Speaking at the monthly Mayor's Breakfast, Horwath criticized the Liberals for not doing enough to help cities make transit affordable and championed her party's promise to take on 50 per cent of operating costs, in exchange for a fare freeze.

"It would begin to put cities like Ottawa on even footing with other cities around the world," Horwath told the crowd. "Other cities where national and regional governments step up to the plate and take on a fair share of transit funding."
The promise was also covered by the Ottawa Citizen.

Although I'm unable to price out this promise, if it were feasible, it would be a huge boon to OC Transpo; right now, they're re-couping fifty per cent of operating costs by fares, so if they freeze them (rather than lowering them), they'd actually be sitting on a pretty hefty budget surplus after the year.

Realistically, if the Provincial Governments (whether it's NDP or aything else) were to absorb half of OC Transpo's operating costs, we could see one of two things happening to offset that budget surplus:
  1. A pretty hefty fare decrease, because less of the operating costs need to be recovered at the fare box; or
  2. A lesser subsidy from the municipal government.

The second option seems significantly more likely, as unfortunate as that would be for transit users (although property tax payers in Ottawa would be happy with it).

What could Ottawa do with that money? A lot of things. Transit-wise, it could be put towards adding a few bells and whistles to the upcoming LRT project, or expediting the expansion of it further east, west, or south. (We could also see lower property taxes, but that seems pretty unlikely, too.)

The NDP is a way down in the polls leading up to the provincial election, but once again they're offering some of the most significant transit promises. We'll see what happens out of it.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

2010 on-time performance data

After I found the 2010 ridership data for “Ridership grows and sets new record in 2010”, I stumbled upon on-time performance data for January- June 2010 and July-December 2010 . The data samples capture the morning peak hours only: 6 am to 9 am.

If your routes have not been altered much for September, you should check out these documents to see how often your routes were early or late.

Glen McGregor, of the Ottawa Citizen, wrote an extensive report on OCTranspo reliability last year using GPS data from April 2009 to March 2010. The methodology on data collection and further details on the data can be found there. McGregor points out “the data show that, system-wide, 41 per cent of buses are measured ahead of schedule. (OC Transpo puts the figure at 38 per cent on regular routes.)”. That figure has slightly dropped for the period of July-December 2010 at 34 per cent for regular routes.

OC Transpo considers on-time as “running no more than 5 minutes late”, which means “late” is more than five minutes. The following figures are for the period of July-December 2010:

Most likely to be late

Commuter routes:
Route Late
63 24%
261 20%
61 13%
69 13%
71 13%
262 13%
Of the six late commuter routes listed above, four start in Kanata, one in Barrhaven, one in Nepean, and none in Orleans.

Regular routes:
Route Late
82 15%
57 13%
7 12%
15 11%
179 11%
Routes 7 and 15 do not travel on the Transitway. Routes 15, 82, 57, and 179 are peak hour routes. I'm surprised that routes 1, 12, or 118 didn't make this list since they are known for their late trips.

Least likely to be late

Commuter routes:
Route Late
20 2%
32 3%
22 3%
38 4%
37 4%
34 4%
These routes all begin in Orleans. This could mean that the streets in Orleans have less traffic than the roads in Kanata and Barrhaven.

Regular routes:
Route Late
121 0%
183 1%
173 1%
171 1%
162 1%
136 1%
135 1%
123 1%
If you were a regular user of route 121 between July and December 2010, you were very lucky. The 121 is a short route and I suspect it has low ridership. The purpose of the route is to serve the Ottawa Train Yards shopping area. To get an idea of how short this route is, during the AM rush, the 121 leaves Hurdman at 7:56 am and arrives at its destination, St. Laurent station at 8:09 am. This is a 13-minute trip during morning peak hours, which explains its reliability. As for the the remaining routes listed, they serve low-density residential areas with the exception of route 183, which travels to Scotiabank Place.

Most likely to be early

Commuter routes:
Route Early
245 30%
232 26%
20 15%
The unusually high percentage of early trips on rural express routes 245 and 232 may be due to low ridership and/or low traffic volume.

Regular routes: 
Route Early
105 73%
167 66%
163 65%
194 61%
Do not adjust your computer monitor. Route 105 was early 73% of the time and more than half of its trips were more than 2 minutes early. The fact that these routes were more likely to be early than on time certainly surprised me and one can wonder why this is such a frequent occurrence.

If you regularly use any of the routes listed above, I would be interested to know the reason(s) for their chronic earliness or lateness. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Complaints, complaints, complaints against OC Transpo and STO

It seems like over the last few weeks we've seen a spat of articles about complaints made against our local transit authorities, OC Transpo and STO. Rather than delve into them one by one, it seems sensible to discuss them here.

Most of us remember the STO operator who was filmed doing paperwork while driving along one of Gatineau's busiest streets a couple of weeks ago. It looked like he was disciplined, but not fired, for the transgression. His union is working on protecting driver privacy by ensuring riders can't film drivers, but the Ottawa Citizen's David Reevely argues that the freedom to record drivers breaking rules (especially when they endanger the lives of the riders they're carrying) can be a pretty useful thing.

Don't think there haven't been complaints about OC Transpo, though. The Ottawa Citizen reported a few weeks ago that riders made 178 complaints about drivers using electronic devices behind the wheel between the year-long period from April 1, 2010, to March 31, 2011. ATU 279 president Garry Queale questioned the number of legitimate complaints in that pool and transit commissioner Keith Egli downplayed the number of complaints, while a letter-writer to the Citizen wondered why people would make up complaints about such a specific violation.

Finally, one OC Transpo operator is facing allegations that he left his bus idling while he picked up some "groceries" from the LCBO.

And, of course, Twitter and other social media are always filled with complaints about OC Transpo.

The problem with complaining about public transit is that, sometimes, the delay you're experiencing isn't anything that could have been avoided. Take the massive delays yesterday along the Transitway between Hurdman and Laurier Station due to a collision between a bus and a pedestrian. I saw the grisly aftermath of that collision as I took the bus down the roadway, but even seeing that didn't stop people on my bus from complaining. And that's disrespectful to the person who is now in critical condition, to the driver who's likely dealing with a lot of trauma of his own as a result of it, and it's a shame.

Next time you're complaining about OC Transpo service, take a minute to consider the possibility that it's not necessarily managerial incompetence that's made you a few minutes late.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Ridership grows and sets new record in 2010

Do you notice your bus getting more crowded? OC Transpo has seen a large boost in ridership in 2010 and has reached a new record level for ridership. According to 580 CFRA, “99 million people used OC Transpo last year, up from 83 million in 2009.” OCTranspo.com reports the number as 99.3 million. Still, this is approximately a 19 percent increase in ridership, which is significant because the national average increase was only 4.1 percent. The record for the highest OC Transpo ridership was 95,646,026 in 2007.

So, what happened in 2010 that caused such a large increase? The following are some major events in 2010 that may have affected ridership:

--Update (2:26pm): The 19 percent growth may not be as large as it may seem due to the fact there was the transit strike in late 2008 and early 2009, which caused a decline in ridership during that period and immediately after the strike ended.  Nevertheless, there is still an increase in ridership from 2008 to 2010.

--The Next Stop Announcement System (NSAS) was installed on over 500 buses by October according to OCTranspo.com. NSAS probably does not attract more riders, but it certainly helped the visually impaired, night users, and anyone travelling in unknown areas of the city. Riders frustrated with inconsistent stop announcements in the past were likely more satisfied with the new system too.

--The rise of gas prices in late 2010 have made car users consider taking public transit to get to work. However, there was also a fare hike in March 2010 for passes, tickets, and cash fare. Of course, the increasing price of gas had a role in the rising operating costs and fares. Taking both gas price and transit fare changes into consideration, the net effect on ridership is a bit unclear.

--Two Park and Rides opened on Millennium Boulevard in Orleans and on Leitrim Road in south Ottawa. Millennium Park and Ride can hold 168 cars while Leitrim Park and Ride can carry 292 cars. The new park and rides should be convenient, especially for those who are not within walking distance of a bus stop.  Those driving from the south of Ottawa can park at Leitrim without fighting for a spot at Greenboro and being forced to take their car to work.

--In September, the U-Pass was introduced for the University of Ottawa and Carleton University students. This is probably the most significant factor in the rise of passenger volume. Peter Raaymakers wrote in April about the U-Pass' effect on ridership in the fourth quarter of 2010. The city reported an additional 300,000 student trips each month” during that time. Although many students take public transit anyway, the U-Pass gave those who drove or biked, an extra incentive to take public transit. Since they paid for the U-Pass through tuition, they perhaps felt compelled to use it.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

On heaters and bathrooms in LRT stations

According to an article in Your Ottawa Region from a couple of weeks ago discussed the city looking into installing either or both of heaters and washrooms in the revamped stations for our light-rail line.

Heaters seem like a natural choice. Plans for the above-ground stations are all open-concept structures, so there may not be much shelter from the winter wind and snow, so it makes sense. I've written on this site in the past about the potential for renewable energy to power heaters in transit stations, and I hope that possibility is explored, but, however they're powered, I don't think heaters are an optional expense for our system.

UPDATE (8:45 p.m.): In the understanding of the Ottawa Citizen's David Reevely, who attended the planning meeting where these options were discussed, the city is planning on installing "space-heater type things" similar in design to those currently in OC Transpo bus stations.

Washrooms, on the other hand, aren't as important as heaters. At first thought, they seemed like great additions for their convenience and practicality, but in my opinion, the maintenance costs and the safety risks associated with them would outweigh the benefits.

It's preliminary for the time being, and staff are looking into both washrooms and heaters at stations, so we'll see what they come up with about them.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Multitasking behind the wheel


That's terrifying. The above video is of an STO driver filling out and filing paperwork while driving on what is reportedly one of Gatineau's busiest roads. With traffic obviously moving all around him. I don't even want to imagine being on that bus, or being a driver alongside him.

From a CBC article on the incident:
"Dominique Leclerc, speaking for Société de transport de l'Outaouais, said the driver's behaviour was unsafe and that the service would speak with him to get "his version."

"The bus driver's union wouldn't comment on the video, but a union official told CBC News the recording might violate the driver's privacy rights."
I'd be interested in hearing what kind of defence the driver might be able to come up with. I can't imagine a circumstance that would make that transgression acceptable.

While it's true that the video is likely a violation of the driver's privacy, you'd have to be kidding yourself to expect someone not to when you're doing something so ridiculous. Did you see the part where he stuck his arms through the wheel and onto the dash to grab some papers?

Like I said, unreal.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

OC Transpo bus stop calling complaints rise

In June, OC Transpo received 20 cases of bus operators not calling out stops and most of them are related to the Bank street detour. This up from “11[incidents] in May and six [incidents] in April”

Neco Cockburn of the Ottawa Citizen says:

Drivers were told by text messages and general radio bulletins that they must call out stops on the detours, according to OC Transpo. Supervisors conducted random checks on affected routes, and the service's "mystery shopping" program was also stepped up, OC Transpo said.

Some may wonder why the Next Stop Announcement System (NSAS) does not call out the stops on the detour. NSAS probably does not have the temporary bus stops programmed and OC Transpo may not feel the need to have these stops announced by NSAS since they are just temporary stops.

As for the drivers who fail to call out the stops, they face discipline:

OC Transpo ... applies "progressive discipline," which can range from a letter of expectation for a first offence, to suspensions and job termination.”

The Bank street detour is expected to last for at least a few more months and can still be confusing for passengers who don't live in the Glebe. So, any kind of assistance from bus operators, such as announcing the stops along the detour, can improve the detour experience.

Friday, July 22, 2011

New on-ramp to Hwy 417 for buses and Park & Ride at Scotiabank Place

On a slow moving bus heading out of the Scotiabank Place parking lot, I often hear comments like “I should have drove to the game!” or “the city wants us to take the bus and this is what we get?” In the near future, we shouldn't be on a slow moving bus or hear those comments anymore at Ottawa Senators games.

The Ontario government, City of Ottawa, and the Ottawa Senators announced a new eastbound on-ramp to the Queensway from Scotiabank Place for buses. The ramp should save Senators fans and Scotiabank Place concert goers about 15 minutes since the ramp will give buses priority exiting. High-occupancy vehicles with two or more people have access to the ramp once buses have cleared. The City of Ottawa will invest $250 000 into the project, while the Ontario government will pay $500 000. According to CTV Ottawa, construction will start this fall and is expected to be finished in 2013.

Leaving Scotiabank Place after a Sens game can be aggravating for passengers on a bus, especially for those who are standing. The time to get out of the parking lot can be somewhere between ten and fifteen minutes. This on-ramp will be a huge improvement since it gives buses an exclusive exit out of Scotiabank Place. Also, the amount of time it will provide an additional incentive for car users to ditch their cars on game days and take the bus instead. A map of the on-ramp can be found here

As for the new Scotiabank Place Park and Ride spaces, there will be 100 new parking spaces. Public Transit in Ottawa's Peter Raaymakers wrote about the City reaching an agreement as early as September. The new Scotiabank Place Park and Ride will attempt to reduce the car volume at Eagleson and Terry Fox Park and Rides. At this time, there is no further information as to whether the new lot will be free, partially free, or Gold Permits only.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Some people really like the O-Train

This is downright hilarious. A rock video homage to Ottawa's O-Train:

It looks like the video is a production of Pratt Media Studios, featuring a performance of the song by local musical act GOOD2GO, recorded for a class of some sort. Whatever it was for, it's pretty great.

My favourite lyric: "Why spend our time on a broken down 95/hundred drunks inside?" Especially because the video would have required the cooperation of OC Transpo themselves.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Potential problem with Tunney's Pasture LRT station (and other info from an LRT document)

Mayor Jim Watson announced last Thursday the new plans for Ottawa's LRT project. The city released a document about the technical aspects and further information on the LRT stations. The following are some information tidbits from the document along with my take on it:

Trains will run “3:15 minute service (headway) during peak hours.” So, passengers can expect a three minute and 15 second wait if they just missed a train. This is standard rush hour period service in any city with a subway or an LRT. While rush hour service was mentioned, there was no discussion on the service outside of rush hour. My guess is that trains will run every 5-10 minutes during midday (9 am to 3 pm).

Tunney's Pasture will have side platforms. “Indicators on the entry level will alert passengers which side platform the next train departs from.” I don't agree with the idea of using side platforms for a terminus station. In case you are confused by the term “side platforms”, they are platforms on the side with two tracks in the middle. A few examples of Transitway stations with side platforms are Mackenzie King and St. Laurent. The photo below is an example of a station with side platforms in a Toronto subway station:

A centre platform, on the other hand, is a single platform in the station with tracks on each side. Some examples of Transitway stations with centre platforms include Hurdman and Place d'Orleans. A centre platform in an Athens metro station is shown below:

Under the side platform arrangement, a common scenario that will happen to anyone who will use Tunney's Pasture station on a regular basis is that passengers head down to one platform only to arrive to a departing train. Since this station is an end station, there's a possibility that the next train may arrive on the opposite track which would mean those same passengers must climb back upstairs (or use the elevator), check the “indicators on the entry level” again, and descend to the correct platform. This could pose a challenge to the elderly, the physically-disabled, or anyone who requires a priority seat on a bus. I suggest a centre platform with tracks on each side because it makes it minimizes confusion for passengers.

If the city is insistent on the side platform configuration, they should allow only one platform open for service while the other platform should be used for trains going out of service once it drops off passengers. This would accomplish two things: 1. no one would enter an out-of service train by accident and 2. there would be no confusion as to which platform to step on. The Toronto Transit Commission employs this method at a few of their transit stations. This arrangement makes the most sense to me.

Downtown East station, which is situated at O'Connor street, will be 16 m below surface and passengers should be able to descend from the surface to the platform in about a minute. Rideau station, on the other hand, will be 29 m underground and it should take approximately two and a half minutes to reach the platform. This is expected because the tunnel must be dug much deeper than the Rideau canal.

LRT travel times:
“Based on the current modeling of system operation it is anticipated that the train travel time from Blair Station to Tunney’s Pasture Station will be approximately twenty-four (24) minutes. The time from Blair Station to Rideau Station will be less than sixteen (16) minutes and Tunney’s Pasture Station to Rideau Station will be just over eight (8) minutes.”
These times may be a bit surprising, but perhaps, they are still within reason. The thought of travelling from Rideau to Tunney's Pasture in eight minutes may be shocking to some, but keep in mind that the LRT will travel through a tunnel for much of that time. The train will not be waiting for traffic lights or slowing down for other traffic.

Besides the tunnelling depth, these plans and ideas are probably not set in stone. However, this should still provide a good idea of how the LRT will be operated.

Monday, July 18, 2011

More about LRT station themes

More than a week ago, I mentioned briefly about theme stations. Here is some further details about it from the Techincal Overview document:
Bayview station's theme is sustainability.
This theme concept would incorporate environmentally friendly and eco-conscious art and design. This concept promotes an approach to materials and mediums that consider natural elements and environmental sensitivity of the Ottawa area.”

Lebreton station's theme is Algonquin.
The theme of this station is ‘Algonquin’ and as such, the station design will express Algonquin culture. One of the ways that this will be achieved is through the development of a visible storm water management system and water garden that helps to explain the importance of the natural world in general and water in particular to the Algonquin’s. Additional concepts to express Algonquin culture will be developed in conjunction with the local and aboriginal community.”

Downtown West station's theme is Bytown.
Celebrating the history of Ottawa, this theme could include our early origins, significant achievements such as the Rideau Canal and/or the community leads that helped build Ottawa.”

Downtown East station's theme is Confederation.
This theme concept would incorporate design elements that recognise Ottawa’s role as the Nation’s Capital and could include symbols of Canadian identity and /or the unique cultures of each Province and Territory.”

Rideau station's theme is gallery.
This theme would create a space for temporary art exhibits covering contemporary Canadian art. It could be designed to incorporate opportunities for temporary art works and exhibitions. The design could include aspects of versatile uses of space, consideration of incorporation of all artistic mediums within the plans for operational requirements, and potential links/partnershipsfor art/academic institutions.”

Campus station's theme is innovation.
The theme of this station is Innovation; in conjunction with the local academic/visual arts community this concept could encompass various elements of innovation realized through choice of materials, medium, subject matter etc. The University of Ottawa will be consulted in the process of designing the station to reflect this design theme.”

These are all the theme stations. Ottawa attracts many tourists each year and many of them use our transit system. Having attractive LRT stations will leave a lasting impression on tourists and will provide a small sample of the culture and history of our beloved city with just a single train ride. Showcasing Ottawa to tourists may be the primary reason for having themes. This may explain why major stations outside of downtown like Hurdman and St. Laurent will be just ordinary stations.

We want to see more people out of their cars and use public transit; Providing a distinctive look to each major station is certainly one way to do it. What do you think of these themes?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Fare hikes don't pay for capital projects

I was rather perturbed when I came across an article on the 580 CFRA website, entitled "Fare Bumps Down the Road," which included the following lede:
A long road of transit fare hikes is facing OC Transpo riders to help pay for the $2.1 billion Light Rail Transit system.
It then went on to discuss the long-range financial plan for Ottawa until 2048, which states that transit fares and taxes can be expected to increase at the rate of inflation.

It's a strange story for two reasons:

1. Transit fares will not be used to "help pay" for Ottawa's $2.1B light-rail system; the construction of it has long been budgeted out using $600M from each of the federal and provincial governments, and another $900M from the city's treasury. Transit fares are, in fact, never used to fund capital projects; they're put towards the operating costs of OC Transpo.

2. Even if a decision were made to use transit hikes to fund the project (which, I will state once again, is not the case), rises in fares which follow the inflation rate will do nothing but compensate for inflation. There's no net gain when fares rise with inflation, because expenses also rise with inflation.

I'm not sure if this misconception is a common one, but I figured I'd point out that it's misleading.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

All buses are now low-floors and have Next Stop Announcement System

Mayor Jim Watson, transit commission chair Diane Deans, and OC Transpo general manager Alain Mercier announced on Tuesday morning the full accessibility of its bus fleet and the installation of the Next Stop Announcement System on all of its buses.

All old high-floor buses are now retired, so the bus fleet consists of only low-floor buses. Deans and Mercier said that the number of types of buses is down to four, which should reduce maintenance costs and overall, make it easier for them to maintain. I suspect there were specialty parts for the older buses that were not mass produced anymore, which likely made them more costly to maintain.

This change in the bus fleet is apparently three years ahead of schedule, which is a pleasant surprise for people with disabilities and transit users in general.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Mayor Announces LRT Changes; Budget Stays The Same

Mayor Jim Watson announced on Thursday afternoon that Ottawa's light-rail transit project will proceed on time and on budget thanks to a few positive changes to the route of the downtown tunnel.

The major change to the plan is that it will now tunnel underneath Queen Street rather than the diagonal path across the downtown core. The Queen Street tunnel will also be four storeys underground, instead of the ten prescribed under the former routing. With these changes, the Mayor said that the project is still estimated at $2.1B, even with inflation since the original estimate. CBC reports that the city will award a contract in December 2012 and the project is expected to be completed by 2018.

A Queen Street tunnel will mean less construction disruptions on Albert and Slater. With the old plan, the tunnel would have crossed Albert and Slater, which likely would have caused disruptions to transit and car traffic.

CBC says that the shallower station in the tunnel will allow transit riders to descend to the platform in under a minute. Otherwise, with the 10-storey tunnel, passengers may have taken more than two minutes to get to the platform. This will certainly save money, construction time, and passenger time. The four-storey tunnel is now a feasible option due to the city finding some stable rock closer to the surface.

According to the Ottawa Citizen, major stations may have themes in their designs:
"The city also released more details of plans for particular stations Thursday, including the idea that several major stations could have “themes” guiding their designs. The LeBreton Flats station would contain elements honouring Algonquin culture, for instance and the “Downtown East” station at Queen and O’Connor would have elements celebrating Ottawa’s role as Canada’s capital."
The theme designs will make the light rail stations more interesting to look at than the present stale red transit stations. Adding a distinctive look to each major station will also make it easier for transit users to identify the station in crowded trains.

The Mayor's announcement of these changes, while maintaining the budget, is good news for Ottawa transit users and taxpayers.

Monday, June 13, 2011

LRT on the Parkway: Simply not happening

The city's current light-rail transit plan has, since its inception, pencilled in the western corridor of the line to run along the NCC-owned Ottawa River Parkway. Despite obvious reluctance on the part of the NCC to allow the line, it's continued on as the default option, even while the city investigates the feasibility of other western-corridor options, including Carling and Byron.

It seems that city staff and planners are reluctant to face an obvious fact: The Parkway option is simply not going to happen.

The NCC is obviously no in favour of the option. Since the plan was approved, the NCC has been telling the city that they'd better investigate every other option available, because they'd need a compelling case to offer the Parkway for light-rail. Although they haven't said so explicitly, they've hinted as recently as last week that they're not convinced.

The Parkway option would have advantages. It's the simplest because there's little development to disrupt; it's the cheapest for the same reason; and it's the current western corridor so there's an ease of transition. (It would also offer riders a pretty sweet view across the river as they ride the train, but that's probably not a deciding factor in the debate.)

But those advantages are based on a fact that is also the most significant criticism of the option: Namely, that it's not surrounded by high populations. It would draw well from the northern portion of Westboro, but on the other side is just a river--not many people live in there. Contrast that with Carling or Byron, which are surrounded on both sides by fairly high-density residential areas as well as retail sites and plenty of employers.

Last week, David Reevely blogged about a letter from the NCC to the city in which their tone changed slightly: They don't want to allow trains on the Parkway, and they see little reason to think that would change.

I'm sure few would argue that using the Ottawa River Parkway land as a scenic roadway is the best use of that land, but using it as a light-rail throughfare wouldn't be much better.

Monday, June 6, 2011

OC Transpo bus lawsuits underline benefits of light rail

According to the Ottawa Sun, OC Transpo has been sued by a couple of local seniors for bus ride-related injuries. From the report:

Two seniors are each suing OC Transpo for $2.1 million for injuries they received after falling while riding the bus, allegedly because of bad driving.

According to their lawyer, these types of claims are becoming more common on Ottawa transit.

“It’s when (drivers) don’t wait for the people to sit down,” Brenda Hollingsworth said Thursday. “There are lots of accidents on the bus.”

Both statements of claim, which also name the city and
unidentified bus drivers as defendants, were filed in Superior Court last week.

The case hasn't been investigated thoroughly yet, so it's unclear at this point how culpable OC Transpo and the driver in question are in the injuries. Still, for anyone who's ridden the bus, it's easy to imagine such scenarios happening--and with relative frequency, although thankfully not always resulting in serious injuries. Many of the incidents may not even be the fault of drivers, but a natural result of growing bus congestion along bus corridors, general vehicle congestion along roadways, and an ever-increasing need to make good time along routes. Some drivers are certainly more aggressive than others, but even the best driver will have to accelerate or decelerate quickly in certain situation to avoid collisions or other incidents.

But do these incidents demonstrate a flaw with bus-rapid transit (BRT)? I believe they do, even if it's not a fatal flaw.

BRT is a rapid transit option that has many advantages, including low start-up costs and a high level of flexibility. But those advantages also have costs, especially to the comfort level of the ride: Bumpy roadways and aging buses can contribute to a rough ride, and the large number of vehicles each driven by independent-thinking operators will inevitably result in some abrupt starts or stops along the way.

Contrast this system with light-rail transit, or other train-based transit systems. They have higher start-up costs and are less flexible, but the tracks lead to a smoother ride and the vehicles accelerate and decelerate at a steady and (rarely) interrupted rate.

Improved comfort is far from the only advantage that a LRT system would boast, but in the face of a couple lawsuits totalling $4.2M, it could be a pretty valuable one.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Transit issues on Talk Ottawa

On Thursday evening's Talk Ottawa program, public transit dominated much of a program that was about municipal issues in general. Along with myself (Peter Raaymakers), the panel included Peggy DuCharme, executive director of the Downtown Rideau Business Improvement Agency, and David Reevely, News Editor and blogger for the Ottawa Citizen talked about a variety of issues in our city today.

The roundtable kicked things off with a discussion of several issues facing the city's current light-rail transit plan, and especially the downtown tunnel. As is usually the case, cost came up, and the possibility (or probability) of cost increases as we move forward with the plan. The general consensus of the panel was that costs will likely go up, at the very least due to inflation, but that's a fairly normal occurence when projects of this magnitude are undertaken. Reevely suggested that there are options available if cost estimates rise significantly, including shortening the tunnel or finding savings in platform designs, but it would take a drastic increase in cost (a jump to, say, $3.5B or more) for the city to entertain the possibility of scrapping the project entirely. A fair degree of political humiliation would result from a cancellation, Reevely said, and DuCharme pointed out that a second major transit project cancellation in just ten years would seriously tarnish the city's reputation.

Sticking with the LRT project, we also discussed the impacts that will be felt leading up to and during the construction of the tunnel downtown. There was agreement that the impacts would not be insignificant--there will definitely be major disruptions to bus routes for at least a couple years during construction, and likely some street closures during the tunneling process--but, as Reevely and DuCharme both said, the hope is that the long-term benefits will outweigh the short-term inconveniences.

In the more immediate term, we also looked at potential service changes to the O-Train. Given the success of the pilot project-cum-transit spine, the city is seriously looking at increasing the capacity of the O-Train, which was generally regarded as a good idea. As was the possibility of extending the train along mostly-existing train tracks into the growing development of Riverside South, for which the Transit Commission approved a feasibility study.

That latter option, if pursued, would eventually lead to a revamped O-Train meeting the city's major east-west light-rail system at Bayview Station, which would transform that station into one of the city's biggest transfer points for riders. Bayview also happens to be a prime location for transit-oriented development, so the discussion moved on to the possibility of retail, residential, commercial, and other development (including a sports stadium) in or around the station. Members of the panel were fairly excited about the possibility, but all seemed to realize it would still have a long road to travel before coming to fruition.

On the topic of sports stadiums, the city's recent decision to study a potential Coventry Road footbridge across the Queensway connecting the Transitway with Ottawa Baseball Stadium and the developments surrounding it also came up. It's a $1M study into a $9M bridge which spans an area of the highway that will soon be expanded, and the panel seemed to think the City was well on its way to going forward with the bridge--Reevely pointed out that in a city that routinely builds road bridges for tens of millions of dollars, $9M for a pedestrian footbridge isn't an outrageous expense. To the criticism that there's no long-term certainty of the baseball stadium, panellists pointed out that there isn't only a baseball stadium there: There are also many houses, businesses, and the Hampton Inn and convention centre that would benefit from a more direct connection to the city's major transit spine, plus the fact that if the city decides to tear down the stadium, something else will certainly be built in its place. Plus, given that transportation was likely a major factor in the Lynx' struggles at attracting spectators, improving the accessibility of the stadium by putting it along the Transitway and opening it up to more people could go a long way in making it a more viable home stadium for a professional baseball team.

Also discussed were the outdoor water ban in the south end and street name changes, but those didn't have too much to do with transit so I won't go in to too much detail.

Friday, May 6, 2011

A temporary hiatus for TransitOttawa.ca

Dear readers and followers,

I'm sad to say that due to time constraints in my life outside of this website, I'm going to have to shutter operations on TransitOttawa.ca for the time being. While I'll still maintain my avid interest in all things transit in this city, I simply don't have the time to maintain this website in any regular fashion, so it seems best to step away for an unknown but hopefully short period of time.

This website will remain, and the archives will stay online, because I think that's where the true value will come. The reason I started this site was to serve as a repository of sorts; a place where people can easily and quickly find information about past transit news and projects. Hopefully that's a valuable resource for people to have, even if the content isn't as regularly updated as it once was.

On the bright side, there are quite a few great resources for anyone interested in following public transit news in the city, including (but not limited to) some personal favourites:

If anyone would like to contact me about the site or transit, or if there's someone who'd like to write about transit on this site, feel free to contact me by e-mail at peter@transitottawa.ca.

Cheers, and I hope to be back here soon,

Peter Raaymakers

Monday, May 2, 2011

Federal election day: What are parties saying about transit?

Today, Canadians vote for our next federal government. What might some parties do with respect to public transit, if they're given a mandate to govern out country?
  • Conservatives: The Conservative Party, over the past six years while they've run the federal government, has been forthcoming with funding for municipal transit projects--and Ottawa is no exception. But they haven't made any pledge to sustained, consistent funding, and their platform only mentions past investments, without promise of future ones.
  • Liberals: Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff has said he's interested in funding public transit, although there's no commitment for a funding strategy as of yet. Their platform mentions local and regional rapid transit, as well as high-speed inter-regional rail, as priorities, but it remains to be seen how they'd prioritize them.
  • NDP: The NDP actually proposed a national transit strategy during the last parliament, and that's also a major part of their platform as well. The platform also says they'll immediately transfer "another cent of the existing gas tax to public transit funding for municipalities".
  • Green: The Green platform has a commitment for "[s]ustainable long-term funding support for municipalities to repair decades-old crumbling infrastructure", and their budget includes a Mass Transit Promotion municipal "superfund" worth $700M per year nationally.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

All-time high OC Transpo ridership in 2010 Q4

According to CTV, ridership at OC Transpo hit an all-time high in the fourth quarter of 2010:

The latest figures from the city show OC Transpo ridership increased by more than five per cent over the same quarter in 2009.

The city says the introduction of the U-pass was a large contributor to the spike. It's estimated the bus pass contributed to an additional 300,000 student trips each month.

The news is good for two reasons: First, it proves that students at Carleton University and the University of Ottawa are making full use of their significantly discounted universal student bus passes. This shows that the investment the city's making is working, and that students are making use of the opportunities afforded through the U-Pass. But more significantly, it looks like there are no residual effects resulting from the winter transit strike of 2008-09. Ridership numbers had fallen in both 2008 and 2009, but it wasn't clear whether that was caused entirely by the service disruption or whether people had found other ways of getting around the city. Although we haven't yet seen the full annual number for ridership in 2010, this most recent announcement suggests we're going to see a spike in ridership compared to past years. OC Transpo's all-time high ridership was 95,646,026, set in 2007.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Bigger people need bigger buses

There is a well-documented general trend that people are getting bigger in general--particularly in the United States. And as Smart Planet reports, that's going to have an impact on just about every aspect of our lives, including public transit.

The US Federal Transit Authority, similar to its Canadian counterpart, the Canadian Transit Authority, is responsible for making recommendations and regulations on mass transit. Currently, the standards by which safety on public transit is based on surveys done in the early 1960s, and don't really reflect the way people are built in today's world. From Smart Planet:

The Federal Transit Authority has proposed to raise the assumed average weight of a bus commuter around the United States to accommodate the increasing waistline of most Americans.

The federal agency wants to raise the assumed average weight per bus passenger from 150 pounds to 175 pounds, which could mean fewer people will be allowed to board city buses to meet safety regulations.

The authority has also proposed to add an extra quarter of a square foot of floor space per passenger on buses. With several passengers weighing far more than 200 pounds, the new system seems slightly more realistic.

So public transit companies are going to have to make some changes (unless people in general make changes to their diet, but that doesn't seem likely). I haven't seen information about Ottawa or Canada, but in time, we're likely going to need to lower the number of people we allow on buses, or make buses bigger. Neither option is without a cost.

(via Treehugger)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Longfields Station: All shiny and new

I stopped by the brand new Longfields Station in Barrhaven on my way home Monday afternoon. Overall? Very impressed. The aesthetics of the design was a marked improvement from most of OC Transpo's hamster-cage designs, and the inclusion of an art installation was cool, too. For a gallery of photos, check out my Flickr page.

The photo above is of the entryway to the northbound platform, which is up a set of stairs (or an elevator) from where I was standing. The landscaping isn't totally finished, but you can see the design is significantly more pleasing to the eye than a lot of other OC Transpo stations.

Below is the northbound platform once again, but of the second level (I was standing on the southbound platform to take the photo).

The art installation, entitled "Bellwether", consists of four life-sized sheep and a border collie, cast in bronze and--one sheep notwithstanding--painted with a patina finish. The photo below is two of the sheep "grazing" on the green roof near the northbound platform, and the border collie keeping them in check.

And this is the unfinished bronze sculpture, also on the northbound platform but right near where people would be standing, where the City says "the public will be free to touch and playfully interact with it". Hopefully interactions remain innocently playful...

Check out my Flickr page for more photos.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Southwest Transitway and Longfield Station now open

Big news for OC Transpo service in Barrhaven today, as the brand new Southwest Transitway extension opened yesterday for buses.

The leg continues the Transitway from the redesigned Fallowfield Station through the new Longfields Station to the Strandherd Park-n-Ride and finally the new Barrhaven Centre terminus. It's a massive undertaking that's been in the works for a few years, but will definitely improve service to Barrhaven (especially the new developments in the southwest of the suburb). Check out some photos and information on the Southwest extension here, here, or here.

With the new Transitway opening, there are also going to be some pretty substantial service changes in Barrhaven. The most notable change, aside from many buses (including the 95) now travelling down the Transitway rather than along Greenbank, is the extension of route 94 into Barrhaven.

Click the image above to see a larger image of the current Barrhaven service map, or click here to download a .PDF.

If you're a Barrhaven-based OC Transpo rider, how do you feel about these service changes?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Canada needs national transit strategy: FCM

Last week, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities issued their 2011 federal election platform. It outlined a series of measures to increase funding available to cities and communities, including a need for consistent and significant investment in transportation and public transit. The FCM levelled a criticism at the reliance of municipalities on property taxes (in their words, "an out-of-date and regressive funding tool that hits middle- and low-income Canadians hardest"), and suggested reform to the funding tools available to them. It also recommended that more of the gax taxes the federal government collects should be invested into public transit, and, more ambitiously, that the federal government should "legislate clear targets for increasing access to public transit". The latter suggestion would likely come through a national transit strategy, which the FCM said is a necessary measure for Canada to take. From their section on public transit:

Canada needs a national strategy to cut commute times, improve public transit, and bridge gaps in the national transportation system. All parties must commit to dedicating funding for public transit in the long-term fiscal framework; legislate clear targets for increasing access to public transit; and implement supportive tax policies, including a tax-deductible, employer-provided public transit pass; and work with provinces, territories, and municipalities to prioritize and address strategic gaps in Canada’s air, rail, road, and marine networks.

As a first step, all parties should commit to invest more of the federal taxes Canadians already pay at the gas pump in shorter commutes and better public transit. In addition to its existing Gas Tax Fund, the federal government must dedicate a share of its current gas tax revenues to replace $400 million in recently expired federal transit funding.

The election campaign kicked off with a fair amount of discussion around municipal issues and public transit, but most party leaders have been derailed by political attacks on their counterparts. We'd all be better off if they stuck to the issues at hand, and make tangible promises for more funding for public transit.