Every time the LRT breaks down, and replacement buses are pulled off their routes, more people turn away from public transit in favour of driving. That’s bad for climate, affordability, and road safety.
After four years of LRT issues, these are not growing pains but the result of political mismanagement. “The project was rushed, using an unproven technology and cutting corners to meet a tight budget and deadline imposed by former Mayor Jim Watson,” says Sam Hersh of Horizon Ottawa. “The P3 maintenance agreement with RTG has been a disaster, with the only collaboration being around how to sweep problems under the rug and out of public view.”
OC Transpo does not have enough buses to replace the LRT when it isn’t working. Thus, buses have to be pulled from existing routes to provide R1 service. We can thank various rounds of “optimization” for this — most recently in 2019 when buses were cut and drivers laid off since we “didn’t need them” anymore with the new LRT, and again last year when over a hundred older buses were scrapped rather than being replaced.
“Local bus routes are terribly infrequent as it is. There aren’t enough buses for regular service, let alone to replace the train too,” says Nick Grover of Free Transit Ottawa. “We are spreading too little too thin. No wonder ridership is low.”
Time and again, transit riders are expected to accept the stress, chaos, and neglect of our system whenever it rears its head. The least the city can do is offer free bus service while the train is down and, as they did in December 2021, offer a period of free transit once it’s running again. This time, after so many headaches, it should be two months.
“Riders should not have to keep paying for a system that is failing them,” says Kari Glynes Elliott of Ottawa Transit Riders, “especially when it’s become so inaccessible. The crowded R1s are not only a headache for everyone, but a fresh barrier to people with mobility issues trying to use the transit system.”
City Council must tackle the roots of this problem by, among other things, canceling its P3 agreement with RTG and taking direct ownership of the project while adding more buses and service to the fleet. The LRT Sub-committee needs to hire an expert to provide guidance on what needs to be done and seriously discuss whether these trains need to be replaced altogether. In terms of immediate action, free transit is a simple way to compensate riders and attempt to keep them using the system.
We will never tackle carbon emissions or the affordability crisis in this city by forcing people to drive. We need free, functional service to attract people towards public transit. More importantly, we need a mayor and city council who actually want to deliver it. A city that spends $50M a year on road widening and endlessly subsidizes suburban sprawl and free parking can afford it.
Nick Grover, Free Transit Ottawa
Kari Glynes Elliott, Ottawa Transit Riders
Sam Hersh, Horizon Ottawa