Ottawa to get on Demand Transit Service Pilot

Today’s Ottawa Transit Commission meeting began with OC Transpo boss Renee Amilcar pointing to some operational successes in the last few months, including the integration of red card readers on all buses and the O-Train Confederation line. The readers can accept debit and credit cards as well as Presto cards allowing easier accessibility for passengers.

Amilcar also reminded board members that Para Transpo and regular service would be free on Canada Day. In an attempt to boost ridership, starting July 1, transit across Ottawa will be free for children under 12. Identity cards for the program are available at the Rideau Centre’s service kiosk.

The committee was advised that ridership and service delivery are improving for Para Transpo. The service delivery scored 94 percent in April but reportedly went up to 99.7 percent in May, while the reliability for standard buses went up two percent and sits at 98 percent. The improvement was attributed to the ongoing recruiting campaign. Despite the service’s positive reliability score, ridership on OC Transpo did not meet ridership expectations. The budgeted numbers for May were 5 million trips, of which only 4.8 million occurred. The shortfall means revenues continue to be down and have not reached pre-pandemic levels.

The proposed on-demand transit pilot project was then presented. Under the trial, riders can request a ride with an app, on the OC Transpo website or through the contact centre. The idea behind the service is to reduce wait times and increase ridership.

Horizon Ottawa activist Sam Hersh spoke against the project, suggesting that the program was mainly to cut costs. He argues that the City of Ottawa should run its public transit system as a service, not a for-profit business.  His comments don’t align with OC Transpo’s current recruiting effort, which hopes to hire 320 new drivers by the end of the year.

Councillor Wilson Lo, a former bus operator himself, countered that the project’s goal was to cut wait times down in some cases from three hours to one. Hersh questioned why the city does not service the proposed on-demand routes with more buses throughout the day. Hersh’s concerns were not echoed by the transit commission, who all voiced their support for the pilot project.

The board was also presented with OC Tranpos’ new 2023-2028 five-year roadmap. The program will be implemented in consultation with the newly announced City Strategic Plan presented by Interim City Manager Wendy Stephenson yesterday at City Council.

Cornerstones of the plan include the transition to zero-emission buses by 2028, the opening of stage two of the O-Train Confederation line, along with 20 other priorities that cover all aspects of OC Transpo’s operation. Councillor Cathy Curry called the five-year plan a “clear vision statement” and said the OC Transpo boss should be proud of her work. Councillor Lo also voiced his support for the new plan, calling it “an excellent document.”