Head of OC Transpo reports that readiness plan kept the system running smoothly

ABOVE: The Ottawa Transit Commission virtual meeting. (RIGHT) Renée Amilcar, General Manager of OC Transpo.

The Ottawa’s Transit Commission convened today for a virtual meeting. It was the first meeting of the year and the first since November 17, 2021.

Renée Amilcar, General Manager of OC Transpo, summarized the services and performance of Ottawa’s public transportation service by stating that Ottawa had the “highest transit ridership per capita of any North American city before the pandemic.”

Amilcar then gave a brief overview of the fleet that is made up of 900 conventional buses providing service on over 120 routes and 80 Para Transpo mini-buses that provide door-to-door service for the city’s disabled residents. Amilcar stated that a management position had been created at Para Transpo to help oversee its operations, and a new operations team will oversee the trillium line and its link to the Ottawa International Airport.

It was Amilcar’s first winter in the capital. She spoke of  OC Transpo’s new readiness plan for anticipating and dealing with significant weather events such as winter storms. Amilcar discussed how OC Transpo had implemented new city transit maintenance readiness guidelines in case of such an event like a winter storm, along with a communication and maintenance plan with Rideau Transit Group (RTG), the maintenance provider of the O-Train service. She said that together they “kept the system running smoothly.”  

Amilcar described how the bus service tested a pilot “rack and roll” program for bike racking on double-decker buses during the winter. As a result, the program will continue. This spring, commuters and cyclists can look forward to all city buses equipped with bike racks.

Amilcar shifted to the discussion of public health measures. She stated that even with a decline in hospitalizations, “we must remind everybody that masks are compulsory in the transport system.”

Masking measures on public transit in Ottawa will last until at least April 27, 2022. According to the OC Transpo head, mask compliance remains “extremely high.” She thanked the transit system riders for cooperating with the current health rules.

The head of transit finished her briefing by reporting on the electric bus pilot project. As of February, four electrics are in service in Ottawa, travelling more than 14000 kilometres in all weather conditions, including heavy snowfall and extreme cold temperatures.

Testing will continue so that the city fleet can move to the next phase of its zero-emission transit program.

Duane Duquette, director of Rail Operations, summarized OC Transpo’s new oversite plan for the Rideau Transit Group. The city has hired oversite group TRA to continue ensuring compliance with the City's safety management system. The contract will continue until November 30th, 2022, and has a limit of $900,000. TRA was initially hired to oversee RTGs return to service plan when the O-Train confederation line went down last year in the fall.

Although council initially voted to hike transit fairs for January 1, 2022, fairs will increase on May 1st  instead. A single fair ride on a Presto Card will now be $3.70.

Ridership has fallen off drastically since the pandemic began. “Free December” saw 3.8 million customer trips on OC Transpo—less than half of the pre-pandemic ridership levels—at a cost of $9 million to the city.

Delegate Laura Shantz, a board member of the advocacy group Ottawa Transit riders, spoke at the meeting, critiquing the Para Transpo service. Shantz stated that equity is needed and criticized the service for making users book rides so far in advance. She compared Para Transpo to the City of Belleville’s disabled transport service, which can accommodate on-demand in real-time requests.

She also criticized Para Transpo’s early end time when conventional services sometimes run “all night.” Transit Commission Chair Councillor Alan Hubley retorted that Belleville only had a 12-bus system, referring to the number of routes in the city.

The meeting then moved into a long-form discussion of the board over various issues, including installing safety barriers as brought up by Ward 16 councillor Riley Brockington.

Commission member Sarah Wright-Gilbert questioned Daniel Hauber of TRA, the organization responsible for RTG oversite, about the need for an external oversight body, “it’s not that we don’t like you, but that in the first place we needed an outside company to manage our management firm.” However, Wright-Gilbert stated that TRA oversite measure is “very much needed.”

There are no more scheduled meetings this year for the city Transit Commission.