The following letter was sent to Mayor Mark Sutcliffe and members of Ottawa city council in regards to the proposed changes to the Transit Commission, which you can read here.
Dear Mayor Sutcliffe and members of Ottawa City Council,
On behalf of the Board of Ottawa Transit Riders, we would like to congratulate you on your recent election to Ottawa City Council. Our organization was formed in 2019 to make public transit in Ottawa more reliable, affordable, accessible, and safe, and to ensure that transit users have a strong voice around the council table.
We were disappointed to read in the recent “2022-2026 Council Governance Review” that was tabled on November 29 that city staff are recommending the elimination of the Citizen Commissioner position as part of recommended changes to the membership of the Transit Commission. Far too often, decisions concerning public transit are made without input from transit users themselves, and the Citizen Commissioner position provided an opportunity to transit users to have a real voice around the council table. That sort of accountability is badly needed as we begin a new term of council.
However, we also agree that Citizen Commissions could not always adequately represent the concerns of all transit users, especially those who rely on ParaTranspo. The recommended transit advisory body recommended by city staff could help to provide a broader vehicle for transit users' concerns about the affordability, accessibility, and reliability of our public transit system. Therefore, we have several recommendations about the composition and the mandate of this new transit advisory body:
ParaTranspo Users Need a Voice
We were heartened to see that city staff recommend that this body should include at least one user of ParaTranspo. For years, Ottawa Transit Riders has been concerned that ParaTranspo issues have been relegated to the backburner as concerns with regular transit service and LRT issues predominate Transit Commission meetings. Having a designated seat for a ParaTranspo user would ensure that Para issues remain at the forefront of making a more accessible public transit system in Ottawa.
A Strong Voice for Transit Dependent Residents
A key component of this new transit advisory group should be people who are transit dependent such as new Canadians, students, seniors, low income residents. Many Ottawa residents rely on a robust and reliable transit system to get to work, appointments, school, and activities. New Canadians, for example, are often not heard when it comes to making public transit policy in Ottawa, resulting in frustrations because of language or cultural barriers. In the formation of this new transit advisory group, we recommend that city staff reach out to stakeholders such as low-income advocacy groups, seniors groups, cultural organizations, local immigration services, and refugee organizations so that this transit advisory group better reflects the lived experiences of transit users.
Listening to the Transit Users of the Future
Another key component of this transit advisory group must be students. One of the largest groups of transit users in Ottawa is students who rely on public transit to get to class or to work on time. For years, our organization has heard from students about the unreliability of public transit in Ottawa. In the formation of this new transit advisory group, we recommend that city staff reach out to student organizations in secondary and postsecondary education institutions to ensure that this group has student representation.
An Advisory Body that Reflects all Areas of Ottawa
During the last municipal election, we heard concerns from transit users in the exurban and rural areas of the city that their transit needs were not being met. In the formation of this new transit advisory group, we recommend that city staff ensure that there is at least one position for a transit user who lives in the exurban/rural part of Ottawa.
The Need for an OC Transpo Perspective
OC Transpo operators are the human face of public transit in Ottawa and are essential to ensuring that public transit is reliable and safe. But far too often, operators bear the brunt of poor public transit policy decisions when the service is unreliable. In the formation of this new transit advisory group, we recommend that city staff ensure that one position on this group is reserved for a non-management member of OC Transpo, preferably an operator.
An Advisory Body with Influence
Finally, we want to ensure that this proposed transit advisory body will have real influence in determining public transit policy in Ottawa. Ottawa transit users demand accountability and transparency in the decision-making process. While the mandate and scope of this proposed body has yet to be determined, we recommend that city staff lay out in clear and transparent terms how the recommendations made by this body will be received and implemented by the Transit Commission.
We believe that these recommendations as to the composition and mandate of the transit advisory body will help begin to rebuild the trust between Ottawa’s transit users and their municipal government.
Once again, congratulations on your recent election to city council and thank you for your continued service to the City. We look forward to collaborating with you as we try to make public transit more affordable, reliable, accessible, and safe for all residents of our city.
All the best,
Kari Glynes Elliott
Board of Directors, Ottawa Transit Riders