How to improve transit

How to increase ridership … improve bus service of course!


Anyone reading this website knows that Ottawa is experiencing a crisis in transit. Buses are unreliable, often over-crowded, and slow. Riders vent on social media about ‘ghost’ buses that vanish from bus tracking apps. Fares keep going up even as service declines. Users of ParaTranspo rally to advocate for online booking, more capacity, and better service. Citizens petition the Transit Commission to DO something …

And yet, not much is being done.

City councillors have allowed OC Transpo to run their operations without much oversight for years and the result has been a cycle of decline – worse service, higher fares, and declining ridership.    

So what to do?

In 2018, researchers at McGill University published a report on 14 years of transit data in 25 of North America’s largest cities. Ottawa was not one of the cities studied, but we can still learn from the results. The study made some clear recommendations:

Based on our models, transit agencies and municipalities wishing to increase their ridership should consider improving their bus service through investments in their operations, while limiting increases in fares

The study determined that external factors like employment and gas prices are less relevant to ridership levels than service and cost.

The authors were dubious about the value of expensive infrastructure projects, noting that investments in humble bus service often provided more concrete and measurable improvements in service. They also suggested that improving cycling networks so that people could ride to and from transit stations is a valuable and often-overlooked strategy.


The Star reviewed the study and discussed its relevance to Toronto:

Study says improving bus service is the best way to boost transit ridership


The study itself is available here (although fair warning, it's pretty academic):

Invest in the ride: A 14 year longitudinal analysis of the determinants of public transport ridership in 25 North American cities


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