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.