Ottawa Transit Commission’s Patience is Tested by OC Transpo Boss

The Ottawa Transit Commissioned learned this week that OC Transpo has not achieved its ridership targets for any month in 2024 to date. Transit boss Renee Amilcar tried to put a positive spin on OC Transpo’s performance during a long-form presentation by stating that the service delivery rate is 98 percent across all OC Transpo services. 

By OC Transpo standards, ‘service delivery’ measures the number of buses (or trains) operating on their assigned routes. Service delivery is 100 percent if a bus is on its designated route, even if it arrives late. Similarly, if the LRT is running, it is considered near-perfect service delivery even if the train skips stops, as was the case during the May ceiling tile repairs at St. Laurent station.

The metric for measuring service delivery does not consider if passengers are picked up on time or, in instances such as the temporary closure of St. Laurent station, if they receive service at all.

With this in mind, and despite near-constant performance issues, OC Transpo staff told the Transit Commission that Line 1 LRT service delivery was 99.8 percent for May. 

Conventional (non-Para Transpo) bus service delivery was 98.6 percent, but frequent bus routes with trips every 15 minutes (or less) have an on-time delivery of 83 percent. Less frequent bus routes with service every 15 minutes (or longer), saw 75 percent of buses arrive on schedule.

OC Transpo staff stated they are using a new formula to determine service delivery for buses that stop more frequently than every 15 minutes. In a series of questions regarding on-time performance, Councillor Riley Brockington asked how the metric to measure frequent bus performance has changed.

Staff did not give a direct answer, and Amilcar followed up with a nearly non-coherent response, saying, “(if a) bus that comes every eight minutes is late by four minutes, then you do not want the next bus showing up four minutes later; you want to keep your frequency, so that’s why by reporting the frequency and regularity we can have what the customer experiences.” Her answer did not address the question or clarify how on-time performance is currently being measured.

Coun. Brockington responded, “We have a problem. I think your target is 85 percent, which we’re still not meeting.” Brockington continued, “We still don’t see an explanation of what your plan is to get us to 85 percent.” 

Amilcar instead shockingly responded, “We need to achieve 99.5 percent of our service delivery, and then we will make sure our service is on time; we cannot promise on-time service when we don’t deliver all scheduled service.”

Brockington told the OC Transpo boss, “I think you and your team are smart enough to chew bubblegum and walk at the same time,” telling Amilcar she can focus on both issues simultaneously. He also said he would not let up on on-time service delivery because he hears about it from his residents all the time.

It has become evident that senior members of the Transit Commission appear to be losing patience with OC Transpo over its inability to fix on-time service and increase ridership.

Councillor Tim Tierney asked Amilcar when Stage 2 of the Confederation Line on the Eastbound side of the line is scheduled to open for fare service. Amilcar responded that it would be sometime after the summer of 2025, not May, as previously reported, and said she would need to confirm a definite date. Tierney responded that this was the second slippage on time for the opening of the eastern portion of the expansion. Coun. Tierney asked if the committee could expect reports and pointed out that there are now “months and years” of delays. Amilcar responded that a proper report would be given at the Light Rail Subcommittee.

It is of note that the Light Rail Subcommittee is just that, while the Transit Commission is the authority that oversees all OC Transpo services. Tierney responded, “I’ll hope and pray that Line 1 is repaired by then, but I have little faith.”

The Transit Commission learned that OC Transpo continues to face huge revenue shortfalls. This year saw 2.1 million fewer riders than predicted and only 36 percent of the total number of adult passes sold compared to 2019. OC Transpo staff blamed the low ridership on federal public servants not having to return to the office and expects this to change with the upcoming return-to-the-office mandate of three days a week.

Thursday’s Transit Commission meeting was the final before the summer break, meaning OC Transpo staff will not brief the commission in a public forum again until September 12th. 

Riders should note that the O-train will be closed for annual maintenance between Tunney’s Pasture and Rideau stations from July 15th to 28th. Replacement bus service will run between Tunney’s Pasture Station and Hurdman Station during this time. The line will be open, and there will be free service for all on Canada Day.