Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Expensive new Park & Ride planned for Kanata

Yesterday, the Ottawa Citizen published a new Kelly Egan column on the planned Park & Ride in Kanata at the intersection of Innovation and Terry Fox drives. As Egan explains, it's a pretty expensive project:
"It’s to open in the fall of 2016 and Phase 1 will have room for 300 or so cars. It will cost $8.3 million. This excludes the $5.7 million for the land. Yes, that makes $14 million, or $47,000 per spot, given away free to the user."
The Innovation Park & Ride is expected to open in the late fall of 2016.

Park & Rides are a double-edged sword. They make it easy for suburban commuters (and especially rural or out-of-town residents) who have a car to leave it in the suburbs--thus avoiding downtown parking fees--while still getting to work in a reasonable amount of time, thanks to Ottawa's well-developed Transitway system. This makes the service easier and more convenient for a certain group of riders.

On the other hand, as Egan discusses, they can be very expensive capital projects.

From a system standpoint, though, Park & Ride lots can also undercut OC Transpo's efforts to build a system that offers service within reasonable walking distance of most houses. Express buses are a significantly costly service to offer; it takes a lot of time to deadhead the bus to its starting point, and then have meander through suburban streets, before hitting a Park & Ride, filling up, and heading onto the main Transitway arteries. That time means money, going to the operator's salary as well as fuel and maintenance. Many express buses aren't full by the time they arrive at a Park & Ride lot, but they're usually full when they leave because they offer riders the option to bypass the express route's "local" segment and just hop on for the speedier portion.

This option, it turns out, is very popular, and Ottawa's Park & Ride lots are, in many ways, victims of their own success. The Eagleson Park & Ride, for instance, is regularly above capacity--which is why the Innovation Park & Ride is being planned, and why it's plan includes an optional second phase that would include another 500 spaces on top of the 300 included in Phase 1.

Looking at the issue critically, it seems odd that Ottawa invests such a large amount of money building these lots to make transit service more convenient for those who can drive to it, yet they have given little consideration--aside from a small number of permits sold--to recovering much of that investment. It may be time to examine parking fees for everyone who elects to use the Park & Ride service.

The fee need not be large; a nominal fee of $2 per day would help control the currently off-the-charts popularity of Park & Ride Lots, while also offering some much-needed additional revenues for OC Transpo and without making the service less accessible--those who can't or would rather not pay the parking fee can simply connect with a local bus, or catch an express route nearer their home.

Parking fees for Park & Ride lots would also allow Ottawa to recover money from those who may not otherwise be paying for these services, including commuters and users from communities outside city limits.

Growth of Ottawa's Park & Ride lots is a good sign of the convenience they offer, but it's also an unsustainable. New options need to be considered, and one of those may be charging Park & Ride users.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

City proposes 2.5% fare increase for OC Transpo for next three years

According to a CTV Ottawa report, the City of Ottawa is proposing three more years of 2.5% fare increases for OC Transpo. Here is CTV's report:

Property taxes and water charges are also proposed to increase. The proposal still needs to be voted on by the city's Finance and Economic Development Committee and then full City Council. The fare increases would take place in 2016, 2017, and 2018.

This proposed increase is in keeping with fare hikes of recent history; although the fare increase was "just" 1.9% in 2014 (which just so happened to be an election year), it was 2.5% in 2015, 2013, 2012, a little higher than that in 2011, plus the incredible 7.5% fare hike of 2010.

It's worth noting that all of those increases have been by margins above the national rate of inflation. Add them all together and you get one clear reason why ridership has decreased every year since 2010 and appears to have--at best--stagnated at current levels.

This news, conveniently, comes just one week after I published an editorial in the Ottawa Citizen calling on OC Transpo to freeze fares for three years, while also offering promotions, in an attempt to stabilize the service and increase ridership. Given the ongoing disruption due to Confederation Line construction--which will get even worse when buses are rerouted from the western Transitway in December, just in time for winter snows--OC Transpo badly needs to work towards rider retention. Three more yearly increases of 2.5% certainly won't encourage those with a choice to continue using OC Transpo.