Unelected councillor angry about accusations of OC Transpo gaslighting

ABOVE: Ward 4 Kanata North Councillor Cathy Curry took great offense to criticism of OC Transpo's new ad campaign.

The Ottawa Transit Commission met today for its final time with its current board.

It was Sarah Wright-Gilbert who kicked things off quickly with a contentious discussion. The publicly appointed commissioner accused Commission Chair Alan Hubley, former OC Transpo boss John Manconi, and Mayor Jim Watson of hiding problems with the O-Train Trillium Line. Wright-Gilbert asked Hubley for an apology to city residents for the previously reported secret WhatsApp chat, which Hubley refused to do.

Renée Amilcar, OC Transpo head, proceeded with a Confederation line and Bus Service update. Amilcar noted that it has been three years since the opening of the O-Train Confederation Line and that the project was a significant step in “OC Transpo’s Transformation” and stated that the system is now “stabilizing.”

Amilcar pointed out that during the summer, OC Transpo secured $380 million in federal funding for purchasing more zero-emission buses. On staffing, Amilcar noted that 90 new bus drivers were trained and on the road, and another 67 began their training in August. She explained that a hiring campaign is ongoing.

Staffing shortages over the summer resulted in more trip cancellations than usual, and Amilcar said that the system was under pressure, especially during significant events like Canada Day and Bluesfest. Amilcar then unveiled a video for OC Transpo’s new advertisement campaign titled We’re here to take you there. It is part of a larger strategy to win back ridership which has markedly declined since the beginning of 2020.

Troy Charter, director of transit operations, gave a briefing on the state of OC service. According to Charters, 98 percent of O-Train services have run on time since March. The average dipped in July due to the July 24th lightning strike that interrupted service until July 30th.

Charter said that at 50 percent of pre-pandemic levels, bus ridership continues to be below average. Fare earnings for July totaled $7.4 million, well below pre-pandemic levels.

During the Q&A, Sarah Wright-Gilbert said riders feel the new ad campaign is a form of gaslighting to purposely make transit users forget about significant service failures. The use of the term gaslighting provoked extreme irritation from unelected Councillor Cathy Curry, who felt it necessary to define gaslighting before asking Wright-Gilbert if she was accusing OC Transpo staff of gaslighting riders.

Councillor Riley Brockington brought up the issue of chronically unreliable bus routes–routes that have consistently run five or more minutes late for years–and asked how changes are being made to improve service. He pointed out that transit ridership will not improve if these issues continue. Amilcar did not give any substantive response to Brockington’s question.

Pat Scrimgeour, Director of Transit Customer Systems and Planning, gave a briefing on the state Para Transpo. Scrimgeour noted that over 600 unique customers have booked trips on the MyParaTranspo online reservation service since April 2022 and that Presto service will soon be available on Para Transpo buses.

Ottawa Transit Riders delegate Kari Glynes Elliot asked the Commission about the availability of accessible taxis when Para Transpo service is unavailable. Gylnes Elliot brought up the case of a resident who could not get to the airport for an early morning flight because neither service was available. None of the members of the Transit Commission responded to the concerns raised.

The Transit Commission meeting wrapped up about two hours and forty-five minutes. In this last session, the conversation, topics, and lack of answers remained consistent with the previous four years of meetings.

When the Commission meets again post-election, there will be a lot of new faces around the table.

Photo: Cathy Curry – Committed to Ottawa