Stop Focusing on The Small Fixes

After a month of LRT service shutdowns, earlier this week, the City of Ottawa proudly announced a return to service, advertised as some behemoth triumph rather than what it continues to be, a colossal embarrassment for the National Capital.

With only a single car per train, the system does not come close to sustaining the level of service needed to provide adequate and timely transit across the city for commuters, let alone for festivals, commemorations, or holidays that see an extra capacity on the transit system.

Despite functioning on a low-service threshold, the city has decided it is an opportune time to eliminate the R1 supplementary buses. They have been replaced with a peak-hour S1 service from 6:30 am to 9:00 a.m. and again from 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.

In the mornings, commuters can look for buses at either end of the LRT line, Tunney’s Pasture or Blair Station. The eastbound service takes riders along Slater Street as far as the Mackenzie King Bridge, while westbound buses leave Blair Station for Mackenzie King Bridge and stops along Albert Street. In the evenings, the service operates in the opposite direction.

According to the plan, buses run every ten minutes. Transit Commission Chair Glenn Gower stated that 7-10 buses will be in use for this service.

Questions need to be asked about how Ottawa got to this point in the first place. In 2018 the city abolished the 95-bus route, which serviced all the major stations along the transit line. It was Ottawa’s busiest bus route, which operated for over four decades. The 95 successfully moved people from the boroughs into the city and back again. I also made cross-city connections to and from the city’s east and west ends relatively painless.

With the transitway being converted into infrastructure to support Phase 2 of the Confederation Line, the days of efficient, reliable transit on the 95-bus route will only fade further into the past. With its near-constant service interruptions, the city’s four-year-old LRT service will continue to plague those who haven’t already ditched their monthly $125.50 adult pass for some alternative. With horror stories of it taking two hours to commute to a job not served by the LRT line, who can blame them? With the horrific system maintenance, including contracted inspectors not completing mandatory training, there will likely be another service outage before Christmas if the pattern continues.

Residents of the city of Ottawa will continue to deal with the headaches of the LRT system so long as the P3 contract with Rideau Transit Maintenance and Rideau Transit Group remains in effect. At this point, it has become abundantly clear that both will continue to fail in providing efficient service to the City of Ottawa.

A recent CBC report on the derailment two years ago stated that there still was no clear evidence of why the derailment occurred. The article quotes Mayor Mark Sutcliffe, who believes replacing the axle bearings will be the fix. The city appears confident that the new axle design will stop service interruptions, but there is no singular issue with the LRT; there are many.

At best, the LRT breakdowns have caused stoppages and, at worst, derailments and passengers stuck on the tracks for hours while the Ottawa Fire Service figured out how to free them safely. If the city wants to look at getting its perpetually low ridership back — blamed on remote work and the Covid-19 pandemic — they should look at maintaining the supplementary bus routes for the duration of service hours, even after phase 2 is launched in 2026.

Road congestion during rush hour and non-rush hour appears to be at an all-time high, suggesting that Ottawa residents have turned away from transit to car ownership. The city needs to stop focusing on pre-pandemic rider levels and O-train repairs and instead re-imagine a service that works effectively not only to get commuters out of cars for their commute downtown but to the outer limits of the city too.

The citizens of Ottawa will be proud of a system that works. Once that is achieved, focus on having a system that’s the envy of the world.

Photo: OLM Staff