At 66 percent, OC Transpo Ridership Continues to be Well Below Pre-Pandemic Levels

The Ottawa Transit Commission, tasked with running OC Transpo affairs, met on Thursday, February 8, for the first time in 2024. The meeting shed light on several serious problems facing the transit service under the tenure of boss Renee Amilcar.

In her briefing on the state of OC Transpo, Amilcar’s numbers were less than impressive. In 2023, OC Transpo hired 376 new operators, of whom 70 percent graduated to become bus operators. However, due to losses, the transit authority laid off ten managers and 25 unionized employees earlier in the week. OC Transpo incurred close to a $50 million budgetary shortfall due to low ridership and increased expenses. Despite the layoffs, the Transit Commission learned that OC Transpo plans on hiring 450 trainees in 2024.

Regarding performance, Para Transpo’s on-time service is 93 percent, with an average wait time of four and a half minutes to book a ride. In 2023, there were 754,000 trips, with the Para Transpo service bringing in $2.2 million in fair revenue.

O-Train Line 1 service is at 97.1 percent service delivery. The performance rate for bus routes that run at least every fifteen minutes is 62 percent, while for lesser frequent routes, on-time delivery is at 75 percent.

The numbers are not great when it comes to ridership. With the LRT service at 70 percent and the abuse service at 50 percent, the total ridership compared to pre-pandemic levels is only 66 percent service-wide.

During the meeting, Councillor Riley Brockington Tweeted that the low service delivery rate is the reason for declining ridership and that if service levels were to improve, the ridership rates would continue to climb.

Building on the theme of poor service delivery, Canterbury High School student Kennie, a resident of Centretown, spoke to the board as a public delegate. She said that despite always being early for the LRT and bus, she is often late for class. Kennie explained that if she stays late for extracurricular activities, getting home in less than three hours is impossible because the bus is consistently late.

Councillor Marty Carr noted that Canterbury High School is the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board’s art school and that 85 percent of the student body draws from all city wards. She said the school’s Urbandale neighbourhood is not well served by public transit.

Councillor Brockington commended OC Transpo for sharing more information with the commission compared to the 2018-2022 term of Council, but he asked why the layoffs had occurred and which jobs were cut. Amilcar’s response was unclear. Brockington then asked why service delivery had not improved and stated that ridership would not return until the service became dependable. Brockington told Amilcar he needed to see a plan to fix the service.

Amilcar responded that getting to 99.5 percent service delivery requires more hires. The answer caused fellow committee member Councillor Stephanie Plante to noticeably facepalm. Amilcar continued for several minutes and finished by saying, “Busses are my expertise, and I can tell you it will take time, and we are doing the right thing.”

Brockington responded that he ran for re-election on a promise to residents in his ward to fix OC Transpo service. He asked Amilcar for timelines. There was further discussion around fare enforcement before the meeting wrapped up.

The Transit Commission is scheduled to meet again in March.