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.” 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 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.