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.