Friday, December 27, 2013

Construction update: Downtown tunnel eastern portal, Dec. 2013

On Boxing Day, I made my way to the University of Ottawa's Simard building to snap a few photos of the construction progress of the eastern portal of the downtown light-rail tunnel. Our last set of photos were taken in late October.

Wooden roof structures are in the process of being built. On the left, an additional piece lays on its side.

More skeletal roof.

It's not the best view, but a bit of the actual tunnel entrance can be seen. Also, construction crews will have to be careful of the pool of water.

That's all for now. For updates on the construction work, if you haven't already done so, check out the light-rail project website,

Friday, December 13, 2013

OC Transpo Lost and Found to move in January

The OC Transpo Lost and Found centre will move from 153 Chapel Street to 404 McArthur Avenue in Vanier on January 2nd. The announcement on OC Transpo's special holiday webpage:

Lost & Found is Moving!

The OC Transpo Lost & Found, run by Heartwood House will be moving to 404 McArthur Avenue on Thursday, January 2. The new location is served by Route 14 on McArthur Avenue and Route 7 nearby on St. Laurent Blvd. Customers may call Lost & Found at 613-563-4011, vist their web site at or send an e-mail to

The 153 Chapel St building (at Rideau Street), where Heartwood House was renting, was sold in November 2011, causing the charity organization to search for a new home. Heartwood House has been operating OC Transpo's Lost and Found centre since December 2001. Prior to contracting it out, the transit provider ran the service from their old Place de Ville office on Albert Street. Gone are the days when the Lost and Found was more easily accessible by transit.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Free New Year's Eve service without the New Year's Eve service

OC Transpo announced the return of free New Year's Eve service, starting at 8 p.m., according to the City press release. Service on the last day of the year will follow a reduced weekday schedule. Last year, free service ended at 4 a.m.

A year ago, Sparks Street held its first outdoor New Year's Eve party, where thousands were anticipated to attend and they did. The combination of free transit service and a highly publicized downtown outdoor event boosts ridership, especially late at night. Increasing bus service in downtown to meet demand for the last night of the year should be the most logical thing to do, but it hasn't happened for whatever reason. Neither in this year's nor in last year's press release was there any mention of supplementary transit service after midnight. We usually know well in advance from OC Transpo about any additional bus service for large events, like Canada Day or Bluesfest.

I didn't attend the Sparks Street event last year, but I remember reading through people's tweets about full buses and wait times of over half an hour. That hardly sounds like a pleasant experience for anyone getting back home on public transit. Similar to last year's, bus schedules for the last day of 2013 indicate headways of 20-30 minutes after midnight for some of the popular routes like the 12, 95, 96. and 97. It's the kind of service you expect on a late Tuesday night, not on New Year's Eve.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Fare-paid zones proposed for major transfer stations

On Monday, the Transit Commission will be presented with the new fare strategy, proposed by OC Transpo, for Confederation and O-Train lines. The report suggests fare gates or turnstiles, fare vending machines, and electronic customer service boxes to be installed at rail station entrances.

As part of the fare plan, OC Transpo wants to implement fare-paid zones at major transfer and terminus stations. A fare-paid zone is an area where customers have already paid and are not required to further validate their fare in the station. The idea behind fare-paid zones is to make bus-rail connections as smooth as possible with minimal transfer delays for passengers. It means all-door boarding on buses, even on regular-sized 40-foot buses. Fare-paid zones are similar to the current POP areas at O-Train stations except that passengers won't be asked for proof of payment.

The proposed stations to have the fare-paid areas are Tunney's Pasture, Bayview, Greenboro, Hurdman, and Blair. A case could be made to include St. Laurent on that list since the station would already be designed to easily allow a fare-paid zone. The only pedestrian access on the upper level is the crosswalk to the shopping mall, which can controlled by fare barriers. Unless OC Transpo wants to keep the St. Laurent sales centre open, there's really no reason not to have a fare-paid zone.

For those walking off the street to take the bus at one of these stations, they will have to pay at a fare barrier before stepping onto a bus platform. When fare payments are being made outside the bus, in theory, boarding times should be reduced.

The City's concept diagram of the future Tunney's Pasture LRT station shows bus platforms as being part of the fare-paid zone:

There are a few other things to note about the proposed revamped fare system. The current time-based transfer system would still be applied to all rail stations. Barcodes on transfers are suggested to make transfers readable to fare machines. Presto cards will continue to be used. In the document, the City provides this quick-reference table on how each fare method will be used across the transit system:

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Canadians want to live, work, and play near public transit

Building on my post yesterday about Ottawa's $72M investment in transit-oriented development, it's interesting to see that more and more Canadians are choosing proximity to transit--and especially rail-based transit--as a key factor in deciding where they'd like to live.

As documented in a Globe and Mail article, consultancy firm PwC (formerly PricewaterhouseCoopers) recently published a report entitled "Emerging Trends in Real Estate 2014." A partner at PwC told the Globe that more and more Canadians are seeing access to transit as a legitimate and foremost consideration when house-shopping:
"With challenging infrastructure in all major Canadian centres coupled with the urbanization trend, there will be a continued demand for retail, office and residential space in our urban centres where there is easy access to mass transit."
In fact, Ottawa's investment in transit and cycling infrastructure also falls in line with the lifestyle preferences of generation Y residents, according to the report:
"Gen Y takes transit, walks, and bikes. Of all the generations, generation Y is the most likely to use transit daily, or at least once per week."
Although Ottawa's decision to move towards rail-based high speed transit is overdue, the city's well-placed to take advantage of these demographics and lifestyle preferences. There's ample room for intensification within Ottawa's Greenbelt, including around the rail stations that will be found along the Confederation Line and, in the future, near the further-out stations along the Stage 2 phase of the light-rail system.

In an ideal world, these preferences will lead to a reinvigoration of those parts of downtown near the Central Business District, including Sparks Street Mall, which seem like dead zones outside of the business hours. Hopefully PWGSC and the NCC are able to recognize the opportunities presented by a more lively downtown and invest some resources to enable a transition towards multi-use development in the core.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Ottawa's upcoming $72M investment in transit-oriented development

According to the Ottawa Citizen, the City of Ottawa is budgeting to spend about $72M in order to provide adequate water, sewer, road, and electrical services to three east Ottawa Confederation Line stations in order to enable the level of transit-oriented development that city staff are envisioning around the light rail stops.

The stations included in this $72M investment (as I'd like to think of it) are Lees, Hurdman, and Blair. The biggest price tag within that overall envelope is an estimated $25M to improve cycling infrastructure around and connecting to the stations, which seems like a wise concept that might allow people living and working in the area to forego personal automobiles in favour of cycling and transit (and, if the visions of progressive citizens become reality, bike- and car-sharing when necessary).

From the Citizen:
Lees, on the edge of the University of Ottawa campus, needs the least work: a mere $11 million, much of that in upgraded electricity service.
Hurdman, just across the Rideau River but practically isolated with fields on three sides (thanks to its location amid old closed landfills), needs the most: $35 million, with sewer pipes making up $15 million.
Blair, much farther east, needs $26 million worth of work, and the single biggest chunk of that is $13 million to improve the almost nonexistent bike routes to and from a station that’s tucked between the Gloucester Centre mall and a Highway 174 overpass.
I consider this a $72M investment, rather than an expense, because of the long-term benefits that would come as a result of encouraging higher-density and less car-dependent living around transit stations, and it seems likely that development charges around these stations may be able to recoup some of the costs. It's good to see the city putting money where their mouths are when discussing transit-oriented development, and hopefully developers and businesses also recognize the benefits of building in the vicinity of major rail stations.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Fare vending machines recommended at rail stations

A fare machine at a Skytrain station in Vancouver (Dan Udey/Flickr)

Earlier in the week, a City document submitted to the Transit Commission stated that fare barriers are recommended to be installed at O-Train and Confederation Line stations, starting in 2016. Other fare-related machinery, such fare vending machines and audio-visual communication posts linking to customer service representatives, are also proposed at the same rail stations, the report says.

Fare vending machines, to be placed near the fare barriers, will handle a number of transactions including the purchase of single-ride tickets, Presto monthly passes (hopefully, it can be used instantly), "companion fare", multiple-ride tickets, day passes, and "multiple-day" passes. The multi-day pass appears to be a new type of fare. It will certainly benefit tourists visiting for the weekend or staying for week(s) during events like Bluesfest or Winterlude.

The machines, which will handle cash, credit, debit, and Presto cards, have the ability to issue a Presto card and refill its e-purse. Each station entrance will have at least two fare vending machines. Parliament Station is proposed to have eight of them, the most out of all the O-Train and Confederation Line stations.

Displaying transfer times and e-purse balances on vending machine screens was not stated in the document. There should be an entirely different machine, maybe Presto specific, that simply displays this information. One can only hope.

If there is a fare-related issue, OC Transpo wants light-rail customers to use "customer help points", which are audio-visual communication posts that link to customer service representatives, located outside the fare-paid area. Due to higher operating and capital costs, face-to-face customer service from collector booths is not recommended in the plan. You have to wonder what this means for the future of the St. Laurent sales centre on the upper level.

The idea of fare vending machines being available at each Confederation Line and O-Train station must be a relief to those who wait in lengthy line-ups at the Rideau Centre.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Assaults most common at Billings Bridge, Blair stations

According to a report compiled by OC Transpo at the request of the Ottawa Citizen, there were 100 reported assaults that special transit constables responded to so far in 2013. Billings Bridge Station topped the list of reported assaults at or near a station with eight, while Blair was second with seven.

From the Citizen:
The figures include all types of attacks and many women’s groups say the latest figures confirm there is not enough public reporting of incidents when they occur and not enough special constables to target problem areas.
“There have clearly been more assaults than the ones reported publicly,” said Julie Lalonde, director of Hollaback, the Ottawa chapter of the international group that aims to improve street safety for women. “The only people who gain from the secrecy are perpetrators.”
Just last week, I wrote about the need for OC Transpo (and the city in general) to do more to prevent assaults on or near public transit stations and vehicles, including sexual assaults. If people are to use public transit, they need to be safe and they need to feel safe.

One way to make riders safer is to design safer transit stations. Although the City of Ottawa is talking the talk when it comes to safety-first station design, I wrote a few months ago about how that hasn't been reflected in their plans for Confederation Line stations.

More to the point, though, is the fact that there are many transit stations in Ottawa that have very obvious design flaws that, at best, make the feel unsafe and may in fact make them actually unsafe. Included in this category are Blair, Hurdman, and Lincoln Fields--all of which, to no one's surprise, were among the stations at which assaults have most commonly occurred. They're also all stations that have been cited by concerned riders because of their isolated locations.

Re-building the city's poorly designed transit stations may not be feasible right now, but it's clear that something needs to be done to treat the symptoms even if we can't cure the disease (more special constables, better lighting, increased promotion of programs in place, and so on).

More concerning, though, are the failures of this city to accept the role design plays in making spaces safe or unsafe and ensure that new stations are truly built with safety in mind.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Confederation Line & O-Train fare barriers to be tested in 2016

Fare gates at an MBTA station in Boston. (Dan4th Nicholas/Flickr)

As part of a new fare "control strategy", OC Transpo recommends the installation of fare barriers at Confederation Line and O-Train stations. In a report to be debated at the Transit Commission meeting next week, the implementation of fare-related equipment including fare gates, fare vending machines, and customer service communication posts, is estimated to cost between $20 and $25 million.

Physical fare barriers at O-Train stations, which are to be sheltered with "weather-protected enclosures", will be tested in 2016 before the Confederation Line opens. The decision between automated gates and turnstiles has not been made yet. The advantage to automated gates is that anyone can go through them including those who use wheelchairs or strollers.

In addition to acting as fare collectors, fare gates can be used for crowd control purposes like on Canada Day or during an emergency. The plan is to have them monitored and controlled by OC Transpo control centre. The remote ability to lock the gates is useful when there is an expected or unexpected service shutdown, for example. No one wants to pay their fare only to find out that train service isn't running.

With this method of fare collection, there is no need for POP (proof-of-payment) checkers on board any train. While it's not stated in the report, double-deckers and articulated buses will presumably continue to be inspected under the POP system.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Transitway stations get makeover in the form of "station domination"

If you travelled through Hurdman or Lincoln Fields Stations in November, you may have noticed the large Rogers Communications ads covering Transitway shelters and stairs. Pattison Outdoor Advertising, the agency in charge of managing ads on OC Transpo property, says the "station domination" ad campaign will end this week on December 3rd. (There's a photo of Hurdman Station blanketed in Rogers advertisements in the link.) Station domination gives a company exclusive advertising rights to a particular station for a limited time.

A passenger tweeted a photo of a set of stairs that shows the Rogers promotions at Lincoln Fields Station:

Last year, large lobsters were placed on top of bus stop shelters to promote P.E.I tourism. The conventional ads are the posters placed inside and outside buses, and on bus stop shelters. A single ad can wrap the entire exterior of buses. We are used to this on our transit system and wouldn't think twice. Now for the very first time in Ottawa, transit station shelters, walls, and floors can be covered in ads promoting the same message. Station domination is a common advertisement practice in subway and LRT stations across this country, but is generally met with public disapproval.

Some passengers may be annoyed with them, especially the telecom ones, while others may not noticed or simply don't care. When ads start to creep into areas that have remained ad-free, they usually don't go away. Station domination could appear in future Confederation Line stations, which will be far more spacious than the current Transitway stations and consequently, provide more opportunities to advertisers.

However, advertising on transit property is not a significant source of revenue for OC Transpo. Advertising on transit shelters and vehicles generates approximately $3.3 million per year, a relatively small amount compared to the $218.6 million revenue that the the transit agency estimates it will generate in 2014. It's roughly 1.5%. As for revenue from station domination, in 2011, the City projected it would bring $50,000 in revenue during the first year (2011) of implementation. It's nowhere near enough to stop annual fare hikes unfortunately.

Whether you like it or not, station domination is probably here to stay. There is concern about multiple ads of similarity interfering with wayfinding signage and confusing the casual user or tourist. And of course, station domination can turn a beautiful rail station into a marketing jungle. The first set of ads haven't created a public outcry, but it doesn't mean they are accepted either. Like the bus wraps, station domination should be applied sparingly.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Coffee and comfort for riders, extra revenue for OC Transpo

Some years ago, I proposed the idea of a bar car on Ottawa's trains as a way of recouping operating costs on the upcoming light-rail system--a bar car, of course, is a car on the train that offers drink service for riders. There's definitely a potential for revenue in the system, especially once Ottawa's LRT system grows out beyond the first phase from Tunney's Pasture to Blair.

But bar cars aren't everything; you can avoid the questions of licensing and still make money (potentially far more money) by operating a café car on trains--which is what happened earlier this month in Switzerland, where a Starbucks location recently moved into a train. From Fast Company:
"Starbucks locations already seem to be everywhere you look. But starting November 21, the company will take on a new frontier: trains. Starbucks, with the help of Swiss train company SBB, has converted a double-decker car running from Geneva Airport to St. Gallen in Switzerland into a fully functional Starbucks store, complete with wood tables, leather chairs, and, in another first for the company, waitstaff."
The train route in question, from the Geneva Airport to Saint Gallen, is a four-hour trip each way; the long haul and lower passenger count probably makes installing a café in a train car a slightly simpler proposition than, say, doing it on a Confederation Line train. But there's no reason why it couldn't be done in Ottawa.

There are plenty of questions about it, including how you'd have people line up and, after receiving their drinks, how you'd get them out of the way. Plus a café car raises the spectre of spills and resultant burns, a potential lawsuit waiting to happen. But maybe a discussion with Tim Horton's or some other local coffee chain would be a good way to start assessing the feasibility of the idea.

Friday, November 29, 2013

What might Surrey's transit funding request mean for Ottawa?

The City of Surrey is in the Metro Vancouver region of British Columbia, and it boasts a population of less than half a million people.

It's also hoping to embark on a massive light-rail project to bring the city together, not unlike that Ottawa city council has recently approved. For their part, Surrey recently applied for $1.8B in federal funding for their plan, and they expect that--if approved--they'd receive about one-third of that (which is in line with historical funding agreements between the three levels of government). That would equal about $600M from the feds--the same amount they pledged to Ottawa for the first phase of this city's light-rail transit system, which is under construction now.

Apparently TransLink, the provincial transit authority for Metro Vancouver, is advocating an extension of the SkyTrain further into Surrey in combination with bus-rapid transit, while Surrey city council favours an all-light rail system in the city. Each option is roughly $2.2B (SkyTrain/BRT just over, LRT just under). The province is considering a regional referendum in Metro Vancouver to determine priorities for TransLink, which--as one might expect--has concerned Surrey, considering the relatively small population and large spread of the municipality.

But setting aside provincial and regional politics on the west coast, Surrey's ask is an interesting one because of the potential influence it has on other decisions. Ottawa, which is a municipality twice as large as Surrey, received $600M from the feds some time ago, and is now beginning to spend it on the first phase of the light-rail plan. But Stage 2, that plan's second phase, is slated to begin construction immediately after completion of the first stage and expand LRT service in three directions at a cost of about $2.5B.

(Note: Although you would be right to mention that Metro Vancouver is twice as large as Metro Ottawa, this proposal from Surrey isn't a Metro Vancouver improvement--it's a locally-oriented transit solution for Surrey specifically, so I don't think comparing metro populations is right.)

That $2.5B price tag sets the stage for a near-future federal funding ask of another roughly $830M, plus the equivalent from the province. In proportional terms, it's not far off what Surrey is asking for their plan, so it might not be as much of a reach as it seems at first glance.

Supposing, of course, that Surrey's request gets support from the federal government.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Does bike-sharing work?

National Post columnist Jesse Kline penned an intriguing article a couple weeks ago questioning the wisdom of municipalities investing in Bixi or Bixi-like bike-sharing systems. Although they've long been seen as a potentially valuable component of urban transit, it's hard to deny Kline's points throughout the article:
The best that can be said about the bureaucrats behind Bixi is that they’ve done a good job of selling the bike-sharing service to other cities. Indeed, the only profitable part of the company, which was later sold off in order to comply with Quebec law, was tasked with marketing the program abroad. Unfortunately, Montreal also has managed to export many of the problems that go along with the Bixi model.
Examples from other countries also provide cautionary tales. The Washington, D.C., bike-share system received $16-million in federal, state and local subsidies. This money was supposed to give disadvantaged people access to a low-cost mode of transportation, but one user survey found that it was almost exclusively used by affluent, well-educated people — hardly the demographic that needs taxpayer subsidies to get around town.
Although the City of Ottawa's prudent fiscal managers have so far resisted to give money to the system, the NCC has put forward a good deal of money (according to Kline, about $600k). It might be sensible to them, as it provides tourists with a low-cost way of travelling between local attractions, but little is known about adoption or usage rates.

On the surface, a large-scale Bixi system in partnership with OC Transpo could offer a good solution to the "last mile" conundrum of getting commuters to and from transit stations, but at what cost? It would certainly be more expensive than the current solution of having riders walk (or get a drive) to and fro.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

OC Transpo must take real action on transit safety

A few months ago, in the aftermath of a horrific sexual assault that began at Blair Station, I wrote about how badly the inadequate response of OC Transpo was hammering the utility's public image. It's also negligently and unnecessarily putting more riders at risk, and recent e-mails revealed by the Ottawa Citizen suggest that it was a public relations strategy to downplay bad news and promote good news that influenced the decision:
When a young woman was attacked by four men at Blair station on Aug. 11 and then sexually assaulted in a nearby secluded area, the public demanded answers about transit safety. But instead of speaking to news media, Transpo staff refused to talk for more than a week until they could present their safety improvement plans at a public meeting.
That presentation was OC Transpo's ten-point safety plan, which included very little of substance. Although changing the Night-Stop program to begin at 7 p.m. is an actual tangible change, the others seem administrative things, including the development of "an inventory of best practices" and the encouragement of more assault reports to gather data on where they happen more often.

Is that really going to make riders safer? Or even make them feel safer?

And the feeling of safety is a big concern. In a recent column, Metro's Steve Collins spoke to one OC Transpo rider about why she stopped taking the bus, and a lack of safety was at the forefront of her concerns. That is important in terms of public safety, of course, but it's also important in light of the continuing decreases in ridership on OC Transpo.

Instead of trying to downplay the significance of bad-news stories, OC Transpo and the City of Ottawa needs to address the underlying issues of safety on and around its buses and stations. The onus shouldn't be on the assaulted to snap a photo of the assaulter, as happened in a 2012 case of assault on an OC Transpo bus. A safety audit might also be a good idea, but OC Transpo seems convinced that they don't need to do one--despite the fact that it's been nearly a decade since their last thorough audit.

There are lots of things OC Transpo and the City of Ottawa could do to improve safety. They could increase the presence of special constables and even police officers on and around transit stations. They could retrofit buses with video cameras, instead of simply having them installed on all future ones. They could appeal to organizations like Hollaback! Ottawa for ideas on what might improve the situation.

The last thing they should do is try to ignore it until it goes away, because it's an issue that's not going anywhere.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Keeping bus drivers safe keeps bus riders safe, too

Ottawa's City Council recently voted unanimously to support two private-members bills presented to Parliament that seek to toughen penalties against people who assault operators on public transit in Canada. Both Bill C-533 (moved by Liberal MP Ralph Goodale) and Bill C-402 (moved by NDP MP Peter Julian) are in progress and were written to offer more protection for public transit employees.

The city's vote comes on the heels of a recent well-known assault in Ottawa, for which a man who pulled his bus driver from the vehicle and beat him bloody received only a suspended sentence and no prison time.

Mayor Jim Watson was quoted in the Ottawa Sun after the City of Ottawa's vote, and he had this to say:
"Broadly speaking, a driver is vulnerable when operating a vehicle. They're focusing on the road and upcoming hazards, looking ahead and checking mirrors, with both hands on the wheel. And they're doing all this, sitting by themselves, while trying to keep the other passengers in the vehicle safe. In the case of transit operators, these passengers can number in the hundreds or thousands in a given day."
There's enough for operators to worry about even if they're not at serious risk of being assaulted--and sadly, the numbers suggest they are at risk. The president of the union that represents OC Transpo operators said that there are, on average, about 60 physical assaults on drivers every year; that's more than one per week.

Bus drivers obviously need better protection, for their individual sakes and for the sake of the passengers they're ferrying around the city. Hopefully these bills pass and can offer that protection.

Friday, November 22, 2013

OC Transpo fares to increase 1.9 per cent in 2014

The annual tradition of fare increases will continue in 2014, as yesterday the Transit Commission approved a budget that will see user fees for OC Transpo go up by an average of 1.9 per cent on July 1, 2014.

Hey, it's better than the 7.5 per cent increase that riders saw in March of 2010--in fact, OC Transpo General Manager John Manconi claims it's the smallest increase of OC Transpo fares in nine years:
Courtesy of the Ottawa Sun's Jonathan Willing, here's the full rate card:
I think my favourite is the new DayPass charge of $8.10... so utterly inconveniently random. Most people will probably just drop $8 in there, but I'd wager that shortfall will be made up for when people inevitably round up the $3.45 regular cash fare.

Presto fares, for the record, will be going up five cents to $2.77 per trip.

The most significant increase is the 16.4 per cent hike in community passes, from $35 to $40.75 per month. Those passes are designed for "Ottawa residents who receive benefits under the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP)" and registered Para Transpo customers.

It's an obvious reality that as costs of public transit increase, the costs to use public transit will also increase. But that doesn't make fare increases any more palatable.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Flaherty not in favour of national transit strategy

Although it likely comes as no surprise, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty--the member of parliament who holds the purse strings for the federal government--is not in favour of a national transit strategy to offer predictable funding to municipalities for public transit projects.

Flaherty was recently quoted in the Edmonton Journal about a project taking place in Alberta's capital on the issue:
"Quite frankly, I’m not a big fan of fancy, big national programs. I’d much rather take the approach we’ve been taking, and deal with the City of Edmonton … deal with the various municipalities."
So far, that strategy has worked fairly well for Ottawa, as the city has received $600M in federal funding for the $2.1B Confederation Line LRT project. However, it also means that the city--as well as other cities across Canada--are forced to plan transit blindly, designing systems they'd like under the assumption that the federal government might offer one-time funding for it. We're seeing that right now with Ottawa's Stage 2 draft transit plan, which has a price tag of about $2.5B and therefore expects the federal government to come forward with another $830M or so--roughly one-third of the overall cost (the remaining two thirds, in line with past funding agreements, would be split equally between the city and the Province of Ontario).

A national transit strategy was a campaign promise of both the NDP and Liberal parties in the last federal election (the NDP even tabled a motion to establish one), and it's something very strongly supported by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM). The idea behind the strategy would be to commit dedicated funding in the annual federal budget that would be invested in eligible transit-related projects. Ideally, it would provide more predictable funding and make municipalities more able to plan transit projects thanks to the guaranteed funding.

Canada is, according to FCM, the "only OECD country without a long-term, predictable federal transit-investment policy."

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

OC Transpo ridership down again, three-year lows expected for 2013

As reported in the Citizen and Sun last week, OC Transpo's ridership are down yet again for the third quarter of 2013. From the Citizen's coverage:
"According to newly released figures for July, August and September, OC Transpo gave 21.1 million rides in those months, down 3.9 per cent from the year before."
OC Transpo continues to place the blame on job cuts in the federal public service, although that seems like it's just their best guess--there are likely other factors that could be at play, including the introduction of Presto cards, the phasing out of EcoPasses, recent and continuing increases in bus fares, and construction-related transit delays.

The continued ridership decline means that OC Transpo is expecting to fall below 100 million rides for 2013, despite exceeding that number in 2012 (101 million) and 2011 (103.5 million). It's unclear at this point whether ridership will even match numbers from 2010 (99.3 million), which could mean this year will be the worst for OC Transpo since the 2008-09 winter transit strike.

No one wants to talk about that thing again...

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Old OC Transpo buses hit the streets in Sault Ste Marie

photo © Soo Today

Anyone heading to Sault Ste Marie in the near future might recognize some of the buses running around the city, which bear a slight resemblance to OC Transpo's fleet--because they were recently purchased from the City of Ottawa.

As shown on Soo Today, the Orion VI buses retain the characteristic maple leaf on the back of the bus, but the OC Transpo name and other branding has apparently been removed.

Sault Ste Marie got a pretty good deal on the buses, too; they're expected to be in service for at least another five years, and the city offered Ottawa $80,000 for approximately 12 buses--roughly the same cost as refurbishing one of their existing Orion VI's would have been (Ottawa's buses had been previously refurbished, specifically with their front-end suspension design). It works out to a little over $6,000 per unit, and Soo city staff expect it could save the city as much as $650,000 in avoided maintenance costs (see page 142-3 of this very large document for more info).

According to Wikipedia, OC Transpo once had 140 Orion VI buses in its fleet, which were purchased in 1999. All have now been retired or sold off.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Should pets be permitted on OC Transpo?

As reported in the Ottawa Sun, a group of people from the Ottawa Pet Expo have launched a petition to have OC Transpo initiate a pilot project to allow small pets in crates or carriers on buses during off-peak hours. From the petition's description:
The Ottawa Pet Expo petitions for a "Pets on Public Transit Policy" to be introduced as a six-month pilot project, allowing small pets in crates/carriers on public transit during off-peak hours. During this six-month pilot period, OC Transpo bus drivers will be given the discretion to refuse boarding to anyone with a crate that exceeds size restrictions, e.g. larger than can be carried and stored easily or a crate or carrier that appears insecure.
This isn't the first petition that's been circulated on this issue; back in 2008, the local chapter of the Responsible Dog Owners of Canada published a 2,000-signature petition to the same ends: A six-month pilot project that would allow pets on OC Transpo buses.

The current petition, however, backs up their request with statements of support from the Ottawa By-law and Regulatory Services Branch, the Ottawa Spay & Neuter Clinic, Ottawa Public Health, and the Ottawa Humane Society for a pilot project. Also, apparently there are 25 cities in Canada that allow pets on public transit, including Toronto, Vancouver, and Winnipeg.

Potential issues remain, however, and the one that stands out to me is the potential impact of this pilot project on a bus operator's ability to concentrate on his job. Allergies are a major issue; noise is another, but there's no shortage of noise on the bus most of the time so operators must be pretty used to that by now. The possibility of a pet escaping from the control of his or her human companion is another issue, of course; a dog or cat running around on the bus could create a very dangerous distraction for the operator.

Also, giving operators the discretion to refuse animals just opens the door for conflict--if an operator says no, the pet's human companion may not (and probably will not) react calmly. Operators take enough unwarranted abuse from riders and giving them discretion over such an issue opens the door for even more.

And, of course, animal crates take up space. That won't be as much of an issue during off-peak hours, but it could still cause problems.

On the other hand, regular transit users have pets that need to get to veterinarian appointments. If this pilot project moves forward, it will offer them the opportunity to get there by public transit, increasing the number of off-peak and non-commuting trips available to Ottawa residents.

So I put the question to readers: What are your thoughts on this pilot project?

Monday, October 28, 2013

Construction update: Downtown tunnel portals, Oct. 2013

Yesterday, I checked out the construction progress of the downtown tunnel portals. We've shown photos of the construction sites taken in July, and in early and late September, most of them of the western tunnel entrance. In this construction update, both portals are featured and they were photographed on October 27, 2013.

Western Portal

One of the project signs near the western portal faces Albert Street:

A look westwards from the tunnel entrance:

Eastern Portal

Some close-ups of the trench:

The view from the fifth and fourth floors of the University of Ottawa's Simard building:

I'll post more photos in an update once the roadheaders are put to work.

Monday, October 21, 2013

OC Transpo plans to display important service news at top of website

OC Transpo will be moving some items around on their home page of A message on their website states that news items will be more organized and service status messages will be placed at the top:

Early this week you will see a few changes to the homepage.
All of the same information you see there now will still be visible, but in a different order:
• A new “breaking news” panel will be available at the top of the page.
• Daily service status messages will also be prominently displayed at the top, in the centre.
• There will be more room to include images with each news item.
• All news items will be organized in one central column, instead of two columns.
• Upcoming events will be displayed on the right-hand column, one click away from the Quick Planner.

The OC Transpo website is very popular – it receives 15-20,000 visits each day. We didn’t want to tinker too much with success, but based on previous suggestions felt that these changes would be an improvement. Please let us know what you think – send your comments or ideas to

A little thing like displaying important messages about service delays in a prominent spot on the website can significantly improve customer experience. As you may know, during any unexpected partial Transitway or O-Train closure, you'll usually see a message tucked away on the side in the smallest font size, which is how they are displayed right now. It's something we can easily miss on the home page.

These changes refer to their main website only, but the mobile website deserves similar treatment too. Any important service updates should be on the main page of the mobile site without making the user click on another page to see if, for example, the transit system is an hour behind during a snowstorm.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Stage 2 Details: Connaught Park Tunnel

Among the many interesting facets of the City of Ottawa's proposed Transportation Master Plan and its $2.5B worth of public transit projects (that "Stage 2" thing) is the acceleration of a light-rail extension to Bayshore Station. This is likely interesting to many in the city's west end, but particularly to me from a personal perspective since I live right near the proposed Connaught tunnel in the Queensway Terrace North community.

As some background: The proposed Connaught tunnel is nothing is nothing new. It was initially proposed back in 1994 (and approved in 1996) when the city was looking for a more efficient way of getting buses to Bayshore Station. Without room beside the Queensway, it seemed like cutting through the community north of the Queensway--appropriately known as Queensway Terrace North--like so:

In 2007, though, that plan was changed to the less costly (by an estimated $30M) option of expropriating 25 houses on the south side of Roman Avenue in order to run a Transitway parallel to the Queensway towards Pinecrest Station. This plan resulted in a huge campaign to "save Roman Avenue," and in 2011 the city reversed its prior decision and went back to the Connaught Park bus tunnel idea at an estimated cost of $138M.

As the map above indicates, the tunnel as proposed will branch off the Southwest Transitway north of the Queensway into NCC land, taking a bridge over Pinecrest Creek before descending into a tunnel under Connaught Park, Connaught Avenue, and the Queensview bus garage before coming to the surface around a brand new Queensview Station and then proceeding to Pinecrest Station and onto Bayshore.

Of course, there's an elephant in this room: This proposal will definitely require the support of the National Capital Commission, and will definitely impact the Pinecrest Creek corridor. We're all in for at least a few more years of discussions between the NCC and the City, with the Richmond Underground still awaiting approval from the NCC as well as this request. The City will also have to go through a complete environmental assessment (EA) process, since the EA that had been completed in 1996 was specifically for a bus tunnel.

The big development for this project in the Stage 2 plan (aside from the acceleration of the tunnel's construction) is the decision to bypass the BRT set-up and move straight to LRT. The extension from Lincoln Fields Station to Bayshore Station via the Connaught Park tunnel has been estimated at $400M, although it's unclear exactly how much of that is for the tunnel directly.

This spur to Bayshore is something that Kanata North councillor Marianne Wilkinson has been pushing for since January of 2011. It's a component of the plan that would hugely improve the transit experience for commuters from Kanata, allowing them to transfer to trains at Bayshore and continue on their trip much more quickly, in my estimation. With the huge renovations being done to Bayshore, it's becoming a major attraction, as well; connecting it to the main network is a sensible (if, at $400M, expensive) addition to the revised plan.

It's been clear for quite some time that the city needed a new way to connect Pinecrest and Bayshore to the main Transitway corridor; merging with the Queensway (as express buses and the 96 do) is unnecessarily complicated for riders and drivers, while the 97's route along Richmond Road and Carling Avenue can be exceptionally slow at times. The Connaught Tunnel is the city's chosen solution to the bottleneck right now, but it'll be interesting to see how the plan moves forward from here.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

New bus on-ramp to 417 eastbound to open at Canadian Tire Centre

Bus riders leaving Canadian Tire Centre will finally have quicker access to the Queensway. Starting on Thursday after the Sens home-opener, the dedicated bus on-ramp to Highway 417 will be open, allowing the 400-series passengers to save about 15 minutes. Also on the same night, CTC will offer free parking, which will likely increase traffic and make the bus ramp an even greater benefit to transit users. When the project was first announced in July 2011, the idea was to give transit buses exiting the stop loop priority to the on-ramp first and to allow other HOV's access next.

Some people on Twitter complained about "Stage 2" of the proposed Transportation Master Plan draft, saying the western LRT extension should reach all the way to the Senators arena. There are a number of reasons for this to not happen. As mentioned earlier, the bus on-ramp was in the works for the past couple of years. The only real activity surrounding the rink occurs after large concerts and hockey games for about half an hour or so each night. And since there isn't much of anything nearby (employment, retail, residential spaces), a light-rail line serving the arena is unappealing for everyday use. Until the area becomes more than a place to watch hockey, the bus ramp will do just fine.

Friday, October 11, 2013

New-look Confederation Line website provides construction updates

The official Confederation Line website was re-designed recently and is now providing updates on the construction progress.

Here's their update for this week:

West Portal

  • Removal of blasted rock and grubbing continues.
  • Assembly of the first roadheader is completed.
  • Blasting to excavate the ramp is completed.
  • Excavation with hoe ram is scheduled to be completed by October 9.
Central Shaft

  • Excavation continues.
  • Installation of caissons continues for the foundation of the gantry crane
  • Blasting at the central shaft is scheduled to begin by end of the week.
 East Portal

  • Surface excavation of the construction ramp continues.
 Highway 417

  • Sewer and storm sewer work continues along the length of the highway.
  • Advanced Traffic Management System (ATMS) work, including temporary poles and aerial wires, continues along the highway.
  • Removals of retaining walls and bridge work continues along the highway.

  • Demolition is scheduled to be completed by end of the week, with the exception of 737 Belfast Rd.
  • Grubbing and material removal off-site continues.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Transit corridors that are no longer considered priorities

The newly proposed light-rail projects, named "Stage 2", in the 2013 Transportation Master Plan draft lead the transit discussion. To make room for these new initiatives, some project ideas in 2008 had to be dropped from the plan or moved beyond 2031. A comparison between the 2013 and 2008 maps will determine which transit corridors are no longer a priority.

Current 2013 proposed 2031 "affordable" transit network map:

From 2008, the 2031 transit network map:

(The links above open full-sized maps in PDF format.)

In Orleans, the Cumberland Transitway doesn't seem to be a priority anymore with the newly proposed Confederation Line extension into the eastern suburb. In 2008, the plan for Orleans was to have two busways, one grade separated along Regional Road 174 and one along Innes, both to Trim Road. Five years later, the new plan is to have light-rail extended from Blair to Place D'Orleans along Highway 174 and transit priority measurements (bus lanes, transit signal priority at intersections) on Innes Rd, Blackburn Bypass, and Brian Coburn Blvd.

The Innes Road/Industrial Avenue BRT, west of Orleans, from the 2008 plan is completely removed from this year's draft. The busway would have been parallel to the Confederation LRT Line, acting as a secondary east-west rapid transit corridor.

While the O-Train line is still planned to be extended to Bowesville, it will no longer reach Limebank as envisioned in 2008 and a rail link to the Ottawa International Airport has been removed too. Improved transit service to and from the airport is expected to happen by 2031 when HOV lanes are implemented on the Airport Parkway.

Heron/Walkley/Russell/St. Laurent was once a suggested route for bus lanes, but that's been removed from the current draft plan. St. Laurent Blvd will instead receive transit priority signals and queue jump lanes at some intersections.

Carling Avenue will no longer be a priority for rail of any kind and instead, bus lanes will be in place from the O-Train station to Lincoln Fields Station. There was a lot of discussion about Carling Avenue as an alternative route to the Sir John A. MacDonald Parkway for light rail. Or perhaps, the corridor would be served by a tram or streetcar of some sort with more local stops. For the next two decades though, it's strictly buses.

A Transitway linking Baseline Station to the Barrhaven Transitway will have to wait after 2031.

In Barrhaven, the Transitway was supposed to get an extension southwards eventually from Barrhaven Centre to Cambrian and another one eastwards along Chapman Mills across the Strandherd-Armstrong bridge, which isn't complete yet, to the previously proposed terminus of the O-Train line at Limebank Road. That was the idea five years ago and today, the plan is to have a combination of bus lanes and other transit priority measures on the same east-west route connecting Barrhaven with Riverside South.

The Kanata North Transitway will no longer be constructed northwards to Maxwell Bridge and instead, it will end at Carling Avenue. The Kanata Transitway, which was planned to run north along Highway 417 from Moodie to Huntmar and dip south between Stittsville and Kanata to Fernbank Road, is removed entirely from the 2013 plan. There are no transit priority measures of any kind in place of it.

In the news: Ottawa's proposed Transportation Master Plan

The City of Ottawa's proposed Transportation Master Plan was released publicly earlier in the week, and it features light-rail extensions from the current Confederation Line spine to Bayshore, Baseline, Bowesville, and Place D'Orleans (plus a whole bunch of other stuff complementing those extensions). Such a massive and ambitious project is rare for our usually conservative and glacially-paced city, so it should come as no surprise that the TMP is receiving ample media coverage--including prominent front-page coverage in all three local dailies:

Here's a quick look at what some people are saying:

General coverage

David Reevely, Ottawa Citizen:
"Hoping to position himself as a transportation visionary before next year’s civic election, Mayor Jim Watson announced major changes to the city’s master plan for transit, roads and cycling Wednesday morning that would extend rail west, south and east by 2023. 
"It would also handcuff the city’s transit spending for 25 years after that, and it relies on charging buyers of new homes and offices a lot more in development levies than they’re used to paying."

Jon Willing, Ottawa Sun:
"A $3-billion expansion of Ottawa's rail system can happen in 10 years with the help of upper-tier governments, a 2.5% annual property tax increase and inflationary increases to transit fares, Mayor Jim Watson said Wednesday."

Steve Collins, Ottawa Metro:
"Light rail emerged Wednesday as the showpiece of the city’s new Transportation Master Plan, with an ambitious $2.48-billion proposal to add 35 km of rail and 19 new stations."
Matthew Pearson, Ottawa Citizen: Collected initial reactions from local federal and provincial politicians, including John Baird, David McGuinty, Lisa MacLeod, Glen Murray, and Yasir Naqvi.

Mark Brownlee, Ottawa Business Journal
Catherine Kitts, Orléans Star
CBC News


Joanne Chianello, Ottawa Citizen:
"In an unusually pre-hyped speech Wednesday morning, Watson not only laid out his vision for transit expansion in the capital but signalled what will undoubtedly be one of his major re-election platform planks: expanded rail. 
"Instead of eking rail service out across the city over the next two decades (or more), Watson opted for the bolder move of extending service to the east, west and south simultaneously in a single $3-billion project he says can be completed between 2018 and 2023. [...] 
"Watson’s plan is a brilliant tactical move, not only because it’s actually a great idea to fast-track rail — finally! — but there’s almost no political downside."

Susan Sherring, Ottawa Sun:
"Under Watson's plan, the cost of the light-rail portion of the plan is roughly $3 billion, requiring about $1 billion each from the city, the province and the feds. 
"That is problematic on many levels. 
"How likely is it either the province or the feds are going to belly up to the bar — all in?"

Eric Darwin, West Side Action:
"Mayor Jim made a big deal of his success on the Confederation Line project by having a budget first, then build to the budget (rather than design the best line, and figure out how to pay for it). He praised his initiative in bringing in this new budgeting system, and announced other cities are copying it. (Having just read Margaret Thatcher’s biography, I recall that she fought the same battle in the 1980′s in Britain and was roundly vilified for it. Maybe Jim will do better; it is, after all, 30 years later.)"

Many transit initiatives planned to be implemented by 2031

On Wednesday morning, Mayor Watson announced the City of Ottawa’s proposed transit network plan which includes the eastern extension of the Confederation Line to Place D’Orleans, western extension to Bayshore, southern extension of the O-Train line to Bowesville, all at a cost of $2.5 billion and to be completed by 2023. 

Although there doesn't seem to be any timeline attached to each project, the costs of the proposed light-rail projects were revealed in the updated TMP draft (page 38 on document, 42 on Adobe Reader):

  • O-Train southern extension from Greenboro Station to Bowesville with new stations at Gladstone, Walkley, South Keys, Leitrim, and Bowesville: $99 million. No station or connection is planned at the Airport.
  • Western LRT extension of the Confederation Line from Tunney’s Pasture to Baseline Road along existing Transitway corridor: $980 million. This proposed project was already being discussed at city hall well before the updated TMP.
  • Western LRT extension from Lincoln Fields to Bayshore in a tunnel underneath Connaught Avenue: $396 million.
  • Eastern LRT extension of the Confederation Line from Blair Station to Place D’Orleans: $500 million.
These figures are in 2013 dollars. So, in a few years, the prices of these projects will probably increase with inflation.

Buried in the draft of the Transportation Master Plan are some non-LRT transit initiatives. Here are the "affordable" BRT ones that can be implemented by 2031: 
  • Western Transitway extension from Bayshore to west of Moodie Drive will run along Highway 417 with one station near Moodie Drive. This busway, from the original TMP of 2008, is priced at $79 million.
  • Bus-rapid transit (BRT) along Baseline Road from Heron to Baseline Stations. This is a new BRT line to be constructed on the existing road with at-grade intersections and is priced at $131 million.
  • A Kanata North at-grade BRT Transitway will follow March Road, connecting Highway 417 to Carling Avenue. Kanata’s first busway will cost $110 million. This western busway was also in the 2008 TMP.

According to the next page, the number of Airport Parkway lanes will double from two to four from Hunt Club to the MacDonald-Cartier International Airport. The new lanes will become HOV lanes, but buses can only use the lanes during peak periods. The expansion is scheduled for construction between 2026 and 2031, as per the appendix.

Further down the same page, the draft of the TMP also lists some roads that can potentially feature new bus lanes:

  • Carling Avenue from the Carling O-Train Station to Lincoln Fields Station. It’s currently being served by routes 6, 16, 85, 101, 102.
  • Hemlock Road & Codd’s Road from St. Laurent Boulevard to Montreal Road. There is currently no service on these sections of roads.
  • Hunt Club Road from Albion Road to Uplands Drive. It’s currently being served by routes 1, 87, 98, 114, 116, 143, 146, 147, 189, 199.
  • Montreal Road from St Laurent to Blair Road.  It’s currently being served by route 12. The hours of the existing priority lanes form Cummings Bridge to St Laurent Blvd are to be extended.
  • Blackburn Bypass peak period lanes.
Here are some streets that are supposed to have both queue jump lanes and transit signal priority at selected intersections in the future:
  • Baseline Road from Baseline Station to Bayshore Station, currently served by (The plan says “Bayshore” and there’s no existing bus route that connects Baseline Station to Bayshore.) It’s currently being served by route 118.
  • Carling Avenue from Bronson Avenue to Carling O-Train Station. It’s currently being served by routes 6, 85, 101, 102.
  • Chapman Mills / Strandherd / Earl Armstrong from Barrhaven Centre to proposed Bowesville O-Train Station. Chapman Mills and Strandherd are supposed to be served by routes 94, 95 once the Strandherd-Armstrong bridge is completed.
  • Eagleson Road from Hazeldean Road to Highway 417. It’s currently being served by routes 96, 61, 62, 164, 168.
  • Hazeldean Road from Stittsville Main Street to Eagleson Road. It’s currently being served by routes 96, 118.
  • Innes Road and Blair Road from Millennium Station to Blair Station. It’s currently being served by routes 94, 121. 126, 128, 131.
  • Jeanne D’Arc Boulevard from Innes Road to Jeanne D’Arc Station. It’s currently being served by routes 30/130, 31/131, 132.
  • March Road from Carling Avenue to Maxwell Bridge Road. It’s currently being served by route 60.
  • Merivale Road from Baseline Road to Carling Avenue. It’s currently being served by routes 14, 151, 176.
  • Orleans Boulevard from Jeanne D’Arc Boulevard South to proposed Orleans Blvd LRT Station. It’s currently being served by routes 34/134, 132.
  • Richmond Road / Wellington Street West / Somerset Street from Woodroffe Avenue to Bank Street. It’s currently being served by route 2.
  • Robertson Road and Richmond Road from Eagleson Road to Baseline Road. It’s currently being served by routes 118, 97.
  • St Laurent Boulevard from Innes Road to Montreal Road. It’s currently being served by routes 114, 5, 7, 14.
  • Tenth Line Road from Charlemagne Boulevard to Regional Road 174. It’s currently being served by route 136.

To be clear, these transit initiatives are considered to be "affordable" and can be implemented by 2031. BRT projects are supposed to cost $317 million, while the transit priority projects (bus lanes, transit signal priority, etc) are estimated at $200 million, bringing the total cost to just under $3 billion.