As other cities invest in better service, OC Transpo is planning service cuts and a fare hike. This is not how we grow ridership, cut emissions, or make our city more accessible.
But what exactly are the changes? There are three main parts.
A dozen 200-series connector routes are being cut. They run out of Tunneys, Blair, and Hurdman and link outlying neighborhoods to the LRT and hubs like Bayshore, Algonquin College, and the Fallowfield VIA Rail. They apparently have too few riders, but given the service mostly runs only from 5am-9am then again from 3pm-7pm, this isn’t surprising. We know fewer people are commuting during peak hours. We need to invest in what does work about these routes — direct, midday service — expand upon it, and run buses more than once every 30 minutes or an hour. By completely cutting these routes, and making people use “nearby” alternatives some of which are an extra kilometer away, OC Transpo will further erode people’s access to the city in already car dependent areas.
Many other routes will see partial reductions to either operating hours or stops served. Overall, there will be 3.5% fewer service hours next year, a definitive cut to quality and reliability that will, by OC Transpo’s own admission, mean overcrowding on some routes. These are all barriers to access and better service. On the campaign trail, Mayor Sutcliffe said he would not cut, but merely reorganize routes — it is now clear what “optimization” means to him. Better service is not only the best practice to grow ridership, it is the responsibility of elected officials to provide public services that work for everyone.
Buses from the axed routes will be redeployed to “more important” areas — none of which include the city’s most popular routes despite their chronic unreliability. Capacity is being added to some under-served areas at the expense of others. This is being sold as improving frequency, but in very few cases is that happening. In fact, some of the existing routes being modified under this plan will be extended to the point that even current frequency will be hard to maintain with no new buses being added to the fleet.
The Main Issue
The city keeps trying to spread too few buses even thinner and it isn’t sustainable. OC Transpo went from over a thousand buses in 2011 to less than 740 today. We simply need more buses — to achieve service levels that will actually attract new riders.
A brand new electric bus costs about $1M. Widening one kilometer of road costs $20-30M. Guess which one we “can’t afford”? It’s a problem of political priorities, not resources. And for that we need a mass movement pushing Council in a direction that benefits the people of Ottawa, not a few car dealerships.
It’s an uphill battle to get most, or any, city councilors to meaningfully oppose the austerity direction of the transit budget. However, many of them have been successfully pushing back against specific service reductions in their wards. So contact your councilor. Tell them the particular problems with your route, which times of day need more service, where a bus lane should be put in, and how particular barriers to access can be removed. Not sure where to start? Reach out to us, we’re here to help.