Public transit should be built according to rider needs
In December 2018, several transit advocates met with OC Transpo to discuss improvements to bus service in Vanier. A strategic decision was made to focus on restoring route 12 – not because that’s the most important problem in the city, but because it would be so easy to fix. We wanted to see if OC Transpo was willing to respond to rider requests on an issue that would cost no additional money, would require no further investment, no changes to infrastructure, no training, no additional staff, no trade-offs with competing needs … merely a willingness to accommodate the needs of riders.
At the meeting, we presented OC Transpo executives with a petition signed by almost 200 people asking for the 12 to be restored and the report from the Vanier Forum describing what people in Vanier want.
We heard nothing.
One of our board members submitted an ATIP request to see what OC Transpo had done with our modest suggestions.
For the record, we offered two potential solutions: 1) continue route 12 along Queen to Kent and start/finish the route on Kent at Sparks, or 2) continue along Queen to finish near the Lyon station, then loop around to the left and re-start the route on Kent.
Here is an image of the map.
City staff proposed other options, but decided that even this minor change would require additional cost – $500,000 to $600,000 per year.
We can see no reason why a modest change to route 12 would cost anything.
It seems that OC Transpo and city staff are determined to resist calls to consider the needs of riders (especially riders from a low-income, transit-dependent neighbourhood) when making decisions.
Disappointing, frustrating, discouraging …
Further evidence that transit is struggling
What does it mean that OC Transpo is receiving less revenue than expected?
Well for one, we hope that it encourages OC Transpo and the Transit Commission to see this as evidence of a system in decline so that they both get motivated to fix the problems.
Potential solutions to improving transit?
- Better reliability – reduce the number of cancellations
- Restore some of the routes that were cut (11, 12, 28)
- Improve GPS information about route cancellations
- Consult with communities about bus stops and route coordination
- Re-think route design – not all transit users are commuting from suburbs to downtown
OC Transpo needs to consult with communities and riders about what we want.
Build the transit system FOR the riders.
Here’s an article about how we count who benefits from transit. It argues that we tend to undercount transit users when we measure only commuters.
According to research, the vast majority – about 84% of transit trips – are not straightforward home-to-work commutes. People use transit to go to school, drop kids off at daycare, go shopping, go to appointments, visit friends, etc.
If researchers just look at commuting, they’re looking at too few people. For example, the researchers looked at Boston (which has pretty good transit) and noted that only 12% of workers usually take transit to their jobs.
If you are a politician considering whether to add city resources to transit, it looks like you’re helping only a small number of people.
BUT the same study showed that in Boston, 29% of households include someone who regularly takes transit to school or work, and 56% of households use transit for at least some of their trips.
Therefore, politicians considering investments to transit need to understand that more people use transit than they realize.
What does this mean for Ottawa?
Ottawa politicians tend to focus on commuters – getting people from suburbs to downtown – often to the detriment of other routes.
Members of the Ottawa Transit Riders have been complaining that cutbacks have hit non-commuting routes especially hard (see concerns about routes 11 and 28). Other members have talked to us about how frustrating it is to have to go through the city centre when they actually want to go east or west from a point in the southern part of the city (such as Carleton University).
OC Transpo needs to re-think its approach to non-commuting routes.
The city of Ottawa is conducting a couple of surveys that may be of interest.
Consultations on disability
The city of Ottawa is reaching out to residents with disabilities for opinions on its Municipal Accessibility Plan. Click on the link to have your say.
The city is also conducting a survey of what residents would like to see in the new official plan. Click on the link to participate.
Although the primary goal of the Ottawa Transit Riders is to improve the quality of transit in Ottawa, we have some natural allies in the environment movement who are advocating for cleaner, greener buses.
The Healthy Transportation Coalition is campaigning for the mayor to honor his 2018 election commitment to launch a pilot project regarding electric buses.
“The greening of the City’s fleet will reduce diesel fuel costs as well as decrease harmful emissions. For this reason, Jim Watson will ask staff to bring forward to Council a business case for an electric bus pilot project in the next term of Council.”
The Electric Vehicle Council of Ottawa argues that Ottawa should switch to electric buses for three reasons:
Combatting Climate Change
- OC Transpo buses produce 45% of the emissions from the City of Ottawa’s operations
- Electric buses have 95% lower emissions
- e-Buses are nicer to ride, quieter and cleaner
- They are more reliable, meaning more time on the road, less in the shop for repairs
- e-Buses are much cheaper to operate
- Fuel costs – a fully electric fleet will save about $30 million per year (at current prices; more if fuel prices rise)
- Maintenance costs – a fully electric fleet will save about $20 million per year
- e-Buses mean more transit with the same operating budget
Click for information and to sign the petition
What I learned from the webinar on “how to advocate for better transit in your community.”
One of the speakers was a representative of PITTSBURGHERS FOR PUBLIC TRANSIT, a grassroots organization of transit riders, workers, and residents who defend and expand public transit.
She had a number of stories where the city and/or transit authorities made some spectacularly bad decisions, mostly because they didn’t consider the needs of local transit users:
- Armed guards to enforce payment
- Destruction of affordable housing near transit stations, replaced with under-utilized luxury apartments
- Shifting users to a bus-only highway (like Ottawa's old transitway) that forced users to pay more, transfer more often, and spend more time travelling compared to the previous basic bus system
The theme of her presentation was largely that to make transit successful, you need to consult with riders and consider the needs of transit-dependent communities – especially low income people and persons with disabilities.
This is one of my priorities and I intend for it to be a key demand of the Ottawa Transit Riders.
OC Transpo should be mandated to conduct meaningful consultations with riders and communities to improve local transit.
The recording is now available for How to Advocate for Local Transit in Your Community. Feel free to share this recording with whomever you feel would benefit from the presentation.
Even though this group is focused on Ottawa Transit, it’s still nice to review what other cities are doing to address challenges.
Once again, Vancouver is leading the way in Canada.
A fascinating survey of Vancouver residents show that they are walking, biking, and using transit more than ever.
High gas prices and increasing congestion make driving less appealing.
Investments in cycling networks and transit make both more effective and functional.
Interestingly, the survey does not say whether people are choosing to give up their cars, only that they are driving less. Car-sharing services are wildly popular in Vancouver.
More media … Sally Thomas on 1310
Sally Thomas, an organizer for Ottawa Transit Riders spoke with Mark Sutcliffe of Ottawa Today on 1310 about problems with transit, especially ParaTransit. Click on the link to listen – her interview is near the end.
The Ottawa Transit Riders are now official
On Saturday, April 27th, we held a founding meeting, attended by over 100 people interested in making transit better.
The participants voted to approve the Governance Document (although the Board of Directors is allowed to make some modifications).
Twelve people stood for election for the first Board of Directors.
Participants were encouraged to mingle, talk with candidates and provide their opinions and suggestions concerning five questions posted:
1) How can we make transit more affordable?
2) How can we make transit more accessible?
3) How can we make transit more reliable?
4) How can we make transit more green?
5) What should the priorities of this organization be?
Congratulations to everyone who participated.
The first Board of Directors:
Back row: Stuart Mackay, Leyla Shahid, Anne-Marie Roy, Sam Boswell, Henry Paikin.
Front row: John Woodhouse, Kari Glynes Elliott, John Redins, Dan Gajewski
Further details are coming.
Documents for meeting – advance notice
The Ottawa Transit Riders are celebrating our official launch on Saturday, April 27th at 2:30 at Jean Pigott Place (City Hall).
At this meeting we are going to vote on a formal governance structure and for members of the Board of Directors.
For those who want a sneak peek or for those who are not able to attend in-person, here are some documents in advance:
Governance document (bilingual)
One-pager on the Ottawa Transit Riders (bilingual)
What if you can’t attend?
We will allow proxy voting in the election for Board Members if people cannot attend in-person. If you want to ask someone else to vote for you, please provide them with a written note that clearly states your contact information and your permission.
For example, I, Marie Tremblay, give John Brown permission to vote for me in the Board election for Ottawa Transit Riders on April 27, 2019. (name, address, email, signature).
People who have permission to vote on behalf of someone else may cast only ONE proxy ballot.
Email us for further details: email@example.com