Showing posts with label OC Transpo. Show all posts
Showing posts with label OC Transpo. Show all posts

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Updated: Survey results appear to be inconsistent

Update (March 24): I misinterpreted what "we report on the percentage of survey respondents who give a rating of 6 or higher" meant. It's not a subset of the sample, but it's exactly how it's described: a percentage of those who rated 6 or higher. So, yes, about half of females feel safe waiting for a bus late at night. As I looked through some of the summarized results sent to OC Transpo, which were made available today, from the survey research firm Core Strategies, some of the numbers regarding service weren't consistent with what OC had presented. A rating of 7.3 was given to route planning in OC Transpo presentation slides, but in the newly released document, a 6.7 rating was listed. Stats on safety appear to be consistent, so there's less concern with the results of safety questions now from what I can see. Summary tables of each survey question were published via the Sun's Jon Willing.

OC Transpo presented its 2013 survey results on customer satisfaction to the Transit Commission on Wednesday. The transit agency received a rating of at least "good" from 80% of transit users in a sample of 1525 transit and non-transit users in Ottawa. It's the highest proportion since 2008, when the winter strike began in December. The telephone survey, which has a margin of error of 2.5 percentage points overall and 4 percentage points for transit users, was conducted in November and December.

Ratings on various aspects of service quality rise compared to the past few years. Route planning increased by nearly a whole point in one year (from 6.4 in 2012 to 7.3 in 2013), even though there have been no major routing changes since "route optimization" in 2011. A 7.3 rating for planning, is in fact, the highest in any one year going back to 2008.

This year, OC Transpo has included more questions about safety, which they keep saying is their number one priority. The statistics on customer feelings towards safety are not based on the sample, but on a subset of it. Only those who gave OC Transpo a favourable rating on safety were counted: "We report on the percentage of survey respondents who give a rating of 6 or higher" (on slides 35, 40, 44). So, anyone reporting a "5" or less are inexplicably excluded. It means, for example, the proportion of female customers who feel safe waiting for a bus late at night is probably not 49% as stated. It's very likely to be much lower when the less satisfied respondents are included. Percentages in the high 90's are probably far away from the true values too.

A whole survey section is dedicated to safety and security and somehow, meaningful statistics are hidden from public viewing.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The other bus-rail crossings

Update (3:43pm): Thanks to Transit Ottawa reader @pinemud for adding routes 192, 232, 149 and ones on Fallowfield.

Update (3:08pm): The list below seems to consist of only half the number of level rail crossings used by OC Transpo buses. Apparently, there are more than 20 of them, the Citizen reports:
OC Transpo has bus routes using more than 20 level crossings, according to the city’s communications department. Of those crossings, 15 have lights and gates, four have only lights, and one has markings but neither lights nor gates.
Feel free to leave any crossings I've missed in the comment section.

Employment and Skills Development Canada has ordered the City to review all bus-rail crossings following the fatal September collision. The City will have to assess such crossings for any hazards, like "obstructed sightlines", an email to Council says.

The OC Transpo system map and Google Street View showed these bus routes traveling through an at-grade rail intersection:
  • Transitway, north of Fallowfield Station
  • 114 on Conroy
  • 192 on Michael Street 
  • 149 on Pleasant Park
  • 99 on Lester
  • 146 on McCarthy
  • 116, 176 on Merivale
  • 170 on Greenbank
  • 170, 173 on Jockvale
  • 170 on Strandherd
  • 70, 76, 170, 173 on Fallowfield
  • 181 on Herzberg
  • 60, 93, 181 on March
  • 232 on Rockdale
  • 232 on Boundary
  • 232 on Piperville
  • 232 on Anderson

Because it follows more than one routing, route 170 crosses train tracks once in a trip during the daytime on weekdays and three times on weekday evenings or weekends.

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:

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.

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.

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...

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 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.

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.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Tragic OC Transpo crash leaves six dead, more than 30 injured, and a city shaken

Just before 8:50 on Wednesday morning, a northbound OC Transpo double-decker bus collided with a VIA Rail train along Woodroffe Avenue near the Fallowfield transit station. The collision left the front corner of the bus shorn clean off. Six of those on the bus were killed by the collision, five declared deceased at the site and a sixth who perished after arriving at hospital. Among the dead was ten-year veteran OC Transpo bus driver Dave Woodard, who may be remembered as one of several operators who volunteered their time to shuttle disabled residents around the city during the 2008-09 OC Transpo strike. Over 30 other passengers from the bus were treated for injuries in hospital, but thankfully none of those on the VIA Rail train suffered any injuries.

While this description coldly offers the grim details of the tragic incident, it fails to capture much else about it--including the emotion that took over the City of Ottawa. The collision has left residents across the city shocked and feeling vulnerable to a degree that isn't typical of our usually sleepy town.

I found out about the incident while standing on a 95 riding through downtown. There was a young woman sitting beside me, talking on the phone and crying. A lot. It was obviously a personal matter, but I couldn't help but overhear snippets of her conversation; things like, "... the driver may be dead... " and, "... my brother was on the bus." That last word made me fear it was more than a car accident, so I checked Twitter on my phone; sure enough, the initial reports had begun flooding in from all the local news sources. As often as I could I updated the nwsfeed, but sadly the news didn't improve--in fact, the details seemed to get more grim as they came in.

More information about what happened to cause this tragic incident will surely come in the days and weeks ahead. In the meantime, my thoughts are with the families of those who were killed or injured in Wednesday's collision. Thanks are due to the first responders and hospital staff whose quick and decisive work prevented this crash from becoming an even more horrifying one.

Thanks are also due to the bus drivers who get us to work and back every day. Their jobs aren't as easy as many assume, so they deserve our gratitude and respect--especially after an event like today's, which must have them as shaken as anyone else. So when you're getting on or off the bus this week, make sure you say thank you to the operator who got you where you needed to be. If you can, try to make a habit of doing it regularly; I'm going to.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

OC Transpo's image hammered by inaction on harassment

The Ottawa Citizen published an editorial on Tuesday, which lambasted OC Transpo for its poor response to a recent sexual assault that was initiated at Blair Station:

"Of course no one expects OC Transpo to comment on the details of an alleged crime, but it is fair to expect the organization to grant an interview to a reporter who has general questions about security. OC Transpo already considers safety in the design of its stations, but without a frank, ongoing community discussion, it’s hard to know whether there is more Ottawa could do to make transit users less vulnerable."

That recent instance of harassment that took place near Blair Station took place last week, where a woman was sexually assaulted and robbed while waiting for her bus.

A failure to appropriately respond to that issue is obviously unacceptable, but it's even more deplorable when Ottawa Hollaback!, a local movement dedicated to ending street harassment, reported on how terribly common sexual assaults are on OC Transpo nearly a month ago--a report to which OC Transpo offered no meaningful response. They also approached OC Transpo and the city in February of this year, but were similarly "brushed off."

There is no shortage of instances of sexual harassment on OC Transpo. Although the transit utility claims there were only 14 incidents reported in 2012, the above-mentioned report issued by Hollaback! (Our city, our space, our voice : A report on street harassment in Ottawa) found that a 44 per cent of the 350 survey respondents stated that they had been harassed on public transit at least once in the past year. This is a significant issue.

Tomorrow's Transit Commission meeting is supposed to include an announcement on OC Transpo's new safety plan:

It's a long overdue announcement, but hopefully that time was spent developing a plan that will demonstrate real change in OC Transpo's ability to prevent these assaults from happening as well as a more meaningful policy on responding to them.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Ridership and regional employment by the numbers

OC Transpo's most recent quarterly performance report indicated ridership dropped by 2.2 percent compared to the same period last year. Whenever there is a fall in ridership, all kinds of theories are tossed around, most of them involving the transit agency: fare hikes, service cuts, bad drivers, etc. While some of these factors will have an effect of some kind on ridership, they do not largely explain variation in ridership levels. The report to the Transit Commission states another factor, unrelated to transit fares and service:

“Historically, changes in employment in Ottawa-Gatineau have explained approximately 80 percent of changes in overall ridership.”

Ridership seems to be closely tied to the number of people employed in the National Capital Region. These are quarterly changes; But how much does employment affect ridership year-by-year? I decided to crunch some numbers myself using annual ridership figures (1996-2012) obtained from various sources: OC's website, a data set in a much earlier article on Transit Ottawa, and monthly employment data of Ottawa-Gatineau region from Statistics Canada. The employment data goes only as far back as 1996. To calculate the annual number of employees, an unweighted average was applied for simplicity.

The data suggests a strong positive relation between regional employment and transit ridership in Ottawa:

About 86% of the variation in ridership can be explained by the number of people employed. When the strike years (2008, 2009) are removed, the relationship is close to perfect:

An astounding 97% of the fluctuation in ridership can be explained by regional employment since 1996, considering OC Transpo serves a small area of Gatineau. But the idea of employment, in general, being nearly 100% correlated to transit ridership is quite remarkable. As we can see, there's very little OC Transpo can do to improve transit usage that will have a similar impact as local job growth.

In order to determine the marginal effect of an additional worker would have on the number of OC Transpo trips, we'll use a least squares regression analysis. With all years included (1996-2012) in the regression, the number of service days affected by the 2008-09 labour dispute is added as a variable. Here are the results of this regression:

As expected, the coefficient estimates of employment and strike days are both statistically significant, even with only 17 observations. This model is a tremendous fit for the data as shown by the R-square of 0.956.

The 2008-09 winter strike is an obvious reason for the temporary drop in annual ridership. The estimate suggests an additional day, weekday or weekend, of the strike decreased 2008 or 2009 ridership by 428 835 trips on average when all other factors are held constant. The number is somewhat high because OC Transpo's figure for ridership on an average weekday in 2012 is 400 000, but appears to be rounded down though.

As for employment, an additional worker in Ottawa-Gatineau leads to an increase of 166 trips or 83 round trips on average, if all other factors are held constant. It's equivalent to nearly four months of transit travel on weekdays. If that person were to buy four monthly passes, that's somewhere between $395 and $488, depending on whether it's a regular or express pass, in annual revenue for OC Transpo. In this case, it's hardly much.

But let's say 500 people lost their jobs in one year and remained out of work the next year. If each worker bought four monthly passes on average while employed, OC Transpo would have lost approximately $197,500 in revenue, on average, the following year. Whether there is a large number jobs created or lost, it will make a noticeable difference in OC Transpo's budget.

Employment seems to have a stronger relationship with ridership on an annual basis than on a quarterly basis. During seasonal changes, other short-term factors emerge like school days, weather, gas prices, or a fare hike. None of them are as economically or statistically significant as the number employed, a variable rarely discussed among everyday transit users going to work.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Recommended LRT station names

While tunnel construction is underway, stations on the Confederation Line still require names. As you may recall, the City asked the public for their input on stations with confusing names or ones that were moved slightly away from their current Transitway stop. A City document, which will be presented to the Transit Commission next week, lists the recommended names:

  • Tunney’s Pasture
  • Bayview
  • Pimisi
  • Lyon
  • Parliament / Parlement
  • Rideau (Secondary Wayfinding Reference: ByWard Market)
  • uOttawa
  • Lees
  • Hurdman
  • Tremblay (Secondary Wayfinding Reference: VIA Rail)
  • St-Laurent
  • Cyrville
  • Blair

Tunney's was the initial proposed name for Tunney's Pasture, but now, the original name will remain to avoid any confusion in both English and French. Pimisi was suggested by the Algonquins of Ontario, in place of LeBreton, and means "eel" in their language. Kent will be renamed Lyon due to the locations of entrances of the western downtown station. Parliament is a bit of a misleading name, considering the station is on Queen Street, not Wellington Street. It may be better suited as a "secondary wayfinding reference" for O'Connor. The other three station names under public consultation, Rideau, uOttawa, Tremblay, remain unchanged since the first round of proposals.

Also, the exterior paint design of the Alstom Citadis Spirit trains seems close to be finalized and it looks nice:

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

OC Transpo's double-decker safety and reliability concerns

photo via CBC

When the City of Ottawa initially discussed the inclusion of double-decker buses in OC Transpo's fleet, I had some concerns about their performance in the city--but was mostly intrigued by the novelty of the vehicles. After a little while with them integrated into the transit system, though, questions seem to be coming up about their suitability in Ottawa's climate and within OC Transpo's system.

Last week, it came out that OC Transpo and the union representing bus operators (ATU 279) has reached an agreement that would see double deckers kept off a section Woodroffe Avenue out of concerns for safety after a couple were blown into the ditch due to high winds blowing across the farm fields in the Greenbelt on either side of the roadway.

According to OC Transpo's official Twitter account, the agreement only affects a section of Woodroffe Avenue from the Nepean Sportsplex to Fallowfield Station--a four-kilometre stretch used exclusively by out-of-service buses:

With that in mind, it's not much of a concern from a rider's perspective; the stretch runs parallel to the Southwest Transitway, so the only change we're likely to see (aside from fewer buses in the ditch, hopefully) is more out-of-service double-decker buses running along the Transitway.

As a refresher, Ottawa bought 75 double-decker buses at a cost of roughly $82M a couple years back. These buses offer good "horizontal efficiency," so to speak, because they carry a comparable number of passengers to articulated buses but are the same length as a standard 40-footer--a significant benefit given the congestion along the Transitway downtown at rush hour. They also have more seats than an articulated bus, resulting in greater comfort for riders (although the upper-deck seats are not designed for tall people, trust me).

However, due to the time required for loading and unloading passengers, the buses are mostly used for express routes--which means that for most of the day, these buses are mostly parked and unused. They are, essentially, reserved for express route use.

Thing specific change restricting double-deckers from a rather small stretch of Woodroffe Avenue doesn't seem to be a very significant cause for concern, but potential problems navigating windy and slushy road conditions certainly are. (Of course, it's also worth noting that articulated buses can sometimes struggle with Ottawa winters, as well.)

I'm curious: Are readers questioning the suitability of double-decker buses for Ottawa's transit needs?