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.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The superbus is super-awesome

So. Freakin'. Cool.

The Superbus, a Dutch invention with a top speed of 155 miles per hour, is a 50-foot long hybrid between a bus and a train. It's also electric, which is an added bonus.

I'd say the Superbus is probably ahead of its time, but it's still wicked. Although it gets best results on a dedicated lane of its own, the Superbus could run on any highway, and might offer a much cheaper alternative to inter-city high-speed rail transit.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Fewer mechanical failures on OC Transpo

According to a report on the 580 CFRA website, mechanical failures at OC Transpo are becoming less frequent:

The quarterly performance report shows the lowest mechanical failure rate for the Transit Service in over a year.

OC Transpo says 99.38 per cent of scheduled vehicle hours were placed into service in the October to December period.

OC Transpo says the lowest mechanical failure rate in over a year reflects an increase in bus maintenance reliability.

It's great that service isn't interrupted as frequently because there are fewer mechanical problems. But honestly, this should be expected: OC Transpo is spending tens of millions of dollars modernizing the fleet, and there are likely tens of millions more to be spent in the coming year on double-decker buses. New buses require less maintenance than older ones, and older ones are being moved out of the fleet; those two factors combine to greatly reduce the mechanical problems. When the new OC Transpo garage is opened, it should be even less frequent for service to be interrupted.

That's not to take anything away from OC Transpo mechanics, as they're still most certainly doing hard work. But a more modern fleet and a state-of-the-art garage do make it easier on them.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Could Ottawa use a commuter ferry?

Interprovincial transit is kind of a hot issue in the national capital region right now. Currently, OC Transpo drives across the river into Gatineau, and STO drives across the river into Ottawa. Neither are particularly popular on the other side, but the presence of STO buses in downtown Ottawa has been an especially unpopular reality for city planners here. Add to that the fact that the interprovincial service of OC Transpo removes it from provincial jurisdiction and into federal hands, thus decreasing the possibility of an essential-service designation that some have called for, and you see that Ottawa and Gatineau have a bit of a problem on their hands.

There are a few ways to prevent this bus cross-over--most popular being an LRT connection across the river--but one idea I thought would be interesting, and as far as I know hasn't yet been discussed, is a commuter ferry joining the two transit providers. The image above is a possible route, running about 500 metres (maybe a 10-15 minute ride) between the Hull Marina and an area near the Ottawa Rowing Club near Sussex Drive. If Ottawa and Gatineau were to initiate a ferry, this seems like as reasonable a route as any.

On the Gatineau side, the decision is easy. It would require negotiation with the Hull Marina, and perhaps some retrofitting of the facilities to ensure they could handle what would likely be a fairly large boat, but the marina is run by a not-for-profit management board which may be open to the possibility (although I haven't spoken with representatives to confirm this). The Ottawa side would be more of an issue, because a harbour would need to be built to dock the ferry and load passengers. The area I selected, near the rowing club around Sussex Drive, was recently discussed on OpenFile Ottawa, and development projects around there may be in the works. Those projects could include the construction of a harbour for these purposes.

Interestingly, the land between Lady Grey Drive and the river is owned by the National Capital Commission; if an Ottawa Port Authority were to be established, it would make sense for the NCC to be the catalyst for it.

The problem with the above image? Well, most obvious, is the fact that OC Transpo buses don't go anywhere near Lady Grey Drive; most buses will have followed the Transitway south towards the Hurdman Bridge as they head that far east. The other option would be west of downtown, near Lebreton Flats or in Nepean Bay, but that's a long haul for the ferry to run, and it would have to run along the front of the Chaudières Falls.

Maybe it's not something that can happen. Maybe it can. I just think it would be an interesting and potentially effective way of uniting two regional transit utilities with a novel transportation option.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Through the eyes of an OC Transpo driver

It's rare that people get the opportunity to hear the perspective of an OC Transpo bus driver in Ottawa. City politicians and union representatives are usually quoted, but drivers aren't really ever in front of the mic talking about their job. But a new blog called Drives In Circles might give us that opportunity. The writer of the blog anonymously posts as "drivesincircles", and says he's looking to change people's minds about bus drivers, implying that he feels there's a negative perception out there. Although it's still very much a new site (started in March, only eight posts so far), it's had some interesting posts already. Among the more interesting was the driver's perspective on "the art of saying no" to people who don't have bus fare. As drivesincircles says, he's got a responsibility to his employer to collect the fare, as well as the other riders who've already paid their full fares, "to ask everyone to pay". It's almost a no-win situation, and would be much easier simply to let the person on for free, but that's not always the right or best way to handle things. I think the author explains it well:
I've done a bit of soul searching over the years as I deal with the public. I've come to the realization that treating people well is a great feeling. It makes my job better, and it makes my life better. The concept of 'paying it forward' is such a happy place to live. The more I do it, the better I feel. Having said that, I still use the same phrase "I'm really sorry, but I have to ask everyone to pay." when faced with someone who asks to board for free. Paying it forward does not mean I need to be a doormat.
It's an interesting perspective that few have been privy to, but hopefully drivesincircles (and perhaps some of his peers at OC Transpo) will be willing to continue posting so we get a better idea of what they've got to deal with.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Good news in OC Transpo negotiations

For most of this round of negotiations, both the City of Ottawa and the ATU 279 representing OC Transpo drivers and mechanics have been saying the right things. That continued last week, despite the fact that as of last Thursday, the union is actually working without a contract while their representatives continue negotiating. New president of the ATU 279 Garry Queale is talking the talk, with regard to good-faith negotiations. From the Ottawa Citizen:

“The contract has expired, but at this point in time the union wants to finish what wasn’t finished in the 2008 contract — the scheduling issues, and when that is finished we are ready to move to the new contract. My goal is to get this scheduling issue finished ‘ASAP’ and then let’s move on to new negotiations and get something settled there,” he said.

“We will continue working as if we are under a contract that’s been grandfathered, and hopefully someday soon, we will start collective bargaining for 2011.”

Once the old issues are settled, Queale said the union will start serious bargaining to reach an agreement that works for the workers and the city.

“I don’t want a work stoppage or strike. We want to negotiate in good faith and get a deal for the membership that we can live with, and that doesn’t jeopardize transit users,” he said.

No one from the city has been quoted recently about negotiations, but there's little doubt that nobody wants a transit strike. Hopefully negotiations continue fairly and uneventfully, and we find a mutually acceptable solution before the fact that there is currently no contract becomes a big issue.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Food etiquette on public transit: How far is too far?

In Ottawa, people are allowed food and drinks on the bus. A ban has been suggested, but I haven't really had or heard of problems about people eating on the bus--I think people realize that there is a line that can be drawn, and that excessively odorous or messy food just doesn't work on OC Transpo--not for you (you'll get it all over yourself) nor for your fellow riders.

Well, in New York City subways, things aren't quite set in stone. A couple weeks ago a video surfaced of a young woman eating spaghetti on the subway, and things went downhill from there. Someone gave her a hard time, she and an acquaintance shot back, and then... well, then I lost all hope for humanity things got out of control. Check out the video below, via Honkin' Mad.

(It gets really crazy--like, seriously, just pure nutty--around the 2:00 mark.)

So I ask readers out there: Where do you draw the line with eating on public transit? Is it ever okay?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

New Park-n-Ride lot may come to Scotiabank Place

Boy, does this make sense. You know that large spanse of paved land out by Scotiabank Place in Kanata? All the parking lots? Well, according to 580 CFRA, talks are ongoing and an agreement to use some of the lots could be in place as early as September 2011. From the article:
Councillor Shad Qadri originally floated the idea of setting up a parking lot for OC Transpo commuters at the Kanata arena. Hubley says a parking lot would provide "all kinds of new parking spaces overnight," adding the City wouldn't have to buy a field to create a new Park & Ride lot. The Councillor says talks are "going very well" between the City and the Ottawa Senators.
This makes sense for a few reasons, notably taking advantage of space that would otherwise be completely vacant, and saving money by renting the lot rather than purchasing land to build and maintain a giant parking lot. There may be issues, especially on game and event days, but it seems like a step in the right direction.

The potential Scotiabank Place lot would be served by the "optimized" route 96, some routes of which are going to be re-routed to serve Scotiabank Place. It will likely be used by residents of the Mattamy development right on the edge of Kanata and Stittsville, as well as residents from surrounding areas; that might relieve some of the overcrowding at the Eagleson, Terry Fox, and Stittsville park-n-rides.

Park-n-Ride lots are a little controversial in the public transit field, mostly because a) it prevents transit-oriented development because the lot sprawls out so far, and b) it institutes a requirement to drive to your bus, which isn't possible for everyone. But in this instance, I think it's definitely a good idea.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The economic cost of inefficient public transit

For some time now, people dissatisfied with public transit service have made suggestions that maybe our politicians and city managers should have to take transit to really get a hands-on feel for the issues everyday riders face, and an honest understanding of the service they're responsible for. It's a good idea, in theory, and something most people would love to see done. David Reevely, however, poured some cold water onto the idea a little while back, stating--correctly--that we're paying these people handsomely, and while they're "on the clock", it makes sense for them to get around the city as quickly as possible; rarely is OC Transpo the quickest option.
Practically, also, our senior transit officials and their political bosses don't ordinarily have enough hours in the day to do the business we want them to do. These people have a lot more places to be in a day than the average white-collar worker. The more time they spend in transit, so to speak, the less time they're actually working.

This all speaks to a larger problem, though: The fact that having slow, inefficient public transit is costing our people, our cities, and our national economy greatly. While I have no way of measuring it, I can hardly imagine the economic cost of lost productivity as a result of ever-lengthening commutes in cities.

The real solution to this problem is a pretty obvious one: Have people work closer to where they live, or live closer to where they work. But this isn't always an option. When it isn't, finding innovative ways to get commuters from point A to point B as quickly as possible, but also as cheaply as possible, if the best we can hope for.

Adding more roads is the typical solution, but more roads rarely (if ever) provide a long-term solution to traffic congestion in Canada's big cities. Investing in public transit can improve the capacity and service level (including time, comfort, and environmental cost), but it's always a challenge for cities due to the unpredictable nature of transit funding from federal and provincial partners, and the fact that municipalities simply can't foot the bill on their own.

In a recent article in the Globe and Mail, the fact that Canada doesn't have and hasn't ever had a national transit stategy to fund municipal projects was lamented, and many explained the need to make it an election issue this year.

“We would certainly hope that one of the key issues that this election is fought on is around a national transit strategy,” said Board of Trade president and CEO Carol Wilding. “There has to be a vision brought to it across all levels of government.” Unlike other countries, Canada has never had a national transit strategy. Although Ottawa has grown increasingly involved in transit over the past 10 years, averaging investments of about $600-million a year, the funding remains ad hoc, with no predictability. In the lead-up to this week’s federal budget, the mayors of some of Canada’s largest cities appealed to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty to address transit and the $123-billion urban infrastructure deficit.

Both the NDP and Liberal parties have recently outlined plans for a national transit funding strategy for Canada. The Conservative Party, while in government, has been willing to fund transit projects--including $600M for Ottawa's current project, among others--but neither they nor the Green Party have committed to putting one in place.

For cities to adequately plan and fund transit projects, consistent and predictable funding is of utmost importance. Through a national transit strategy, whoever ends up running this country acter May 2 could guarantee their cities exactly that.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Three bus operators on Ottawa's "Sunshine List" by earning over $100k

The Ottawa Sun published the city's annual Sunshine List on Thursday, revealing the city's employees who earned over $100,000 in 2010. Three OC Transpo bus operators made the list:
  • Balwant Narula, $100,492.08 plus $1,311.43 in taxable benefits
  • Francois Danis, $103,008.21 plus $1,324.44 in taxable benefits
  • Abdirizak Mohamed $104,827.53 plus $1,289.82 in taxable benefits
As far as I can tell, no bus operators pulled down six digits in 2009 (I'd guess the bus strike might have something to do with that), while one did in 2008. It will surely draw some ire from people, but I'm inclined to congratulate the operators above; I can hardly imagine how much overtime they must have worked in the year to earn that much.

UPDATE: A bunch more OC Transpo-related sunshine listers, these ones all managers and supervisors:
  • Alain Mercier (General Manager, Transit Services), $186,116.70 plus $7,511.55 in taxable benefits
  • William Atkinson (Chief, Transit Maintenance), $145,239.01 plus $12,224.13 in taxable benefits
  • Laurie Blackstone (Manager, Transit Operations), $122,574.84 plus $380.45 in taxable benefits
  • Stephane Carbonneau (Manager, Transit Capital Project & Facilities Maintenance), $113,190.13 plus $360.86 in taxable benefits
  • Lynne Huneault (Strategic Advisor, Transit Management-Union Relations), $111,860.23 plus $353.69 in taxable benefits
  • Robert Denault (Transit Supervisor), $110,813.34 plus $335.64 in taxable benefits
  • Pat Scrimgeour (Manager, Transit Service Design), $109,598.21 plus $359.58 in taxable benefits
  • Randy Guthro (Transit Supervisor), $102,994.56 plus $451.13 in taxable benefits
  • Wallace Devries (Transit Supervisor), $101,571.50 plus $335.64 in taxable benefits
There are also four "licensed mechanics" on the list, but I'm not sure if they work for OC Transpo or some other arm of the City of Ottawa.