OC Transpo prognosis and solutions

Councillor Glen Gower rides crowded Stittsville bus (Photo: Councillor Gower)

On January 30, 2019 Councillor Glen Gower posted the following to his Councillor’s Notebook and with his permission Stittsville Central has republished his article. To receive Councillor Gower’s weekly Notebook, you can sign-up by clicking on this link:   https://www.glengower.ca/notebook/councillors-notebook

A few weeks back I invited Stittsville OC Transpo riders to share their stories with me and to tell me exactly what they’re experiencing on their bus ride. Here are a few recent examples that are typical of the feedback I receive on a daily basis.

“I am a first year student at Carleton University. Throughout the winter, but especially in the past week, I have experienced many buses not showing up at all, 20 minute bus delays, and one that even drove by my stop (even though there was room on the bus to stand)... When it is hindering my scholastic performance, and others ability to get to their jobs in a timely manner, it begins to be too much. I hope that this does not continue to happen, as my trust with the city's transportation has already been wavering.

“This afternoon two buses were cancelled. The second one didn’t appear as cancelled until 7 minutes after it was supposed to arrive. Not helpful. Now the route that did show up was full after just Metcalfe. People getting on at Bank couldn’t fit. Oh how I love OC Transpo. I was leaving far before my appointment in Stittsville, and now because the first one I was going to take was cancelled and the second was late, I’m going to be late for my appointment now and will likely have to pay the fee without the service.”

“If you want a lot of fans in Stittsville, make OC Transpo do something about Route 262. It's an absolute joke how often it just doesn't show up ... not that I don't enjoy standing outside in -30 C for 40 mins... So much for hockey practice for my kid tonight...”

SO WHAT’S GOING ON? WHY ARE THERE SO MANY CANCELLATIONS, DELAYS, AND CROWDED BUSES?

First of all, Stittsville is not unique. We are not the only community experiencing these issues. City councillors in virtually every ward are hearing similar stories.

There’s no single reason why this is happening, and I believe that’s exactly the problem. I’ve started to make a list of all the different reasons I’ve heard for delays since the beginning of January:

  • Congestion in the downtown core
  • Road closures & detours
  • Collisions
  • Lack of spare bus drivers
  • Lack of buses
  • Mechanical problems
  • Higher than usual ridership on cold days
  • Buses stuck in snow
  • Medical emergency (on the 262 last week)
  • Bus on fire (at Queensway station)

If we only had to deal with one or two of these causes, the system could probably handle it. The problem is we’re seeing several of these issues at the same time, on a far-too-regular basis. On cold days, on warm days. On snow days, on clear days. It doesn’t take much to throw the system out of balance. I’ve been comparing OC Transpo to a game of Jenga. We’re at the point in the game when the tower is so wobbly that moving any block is going to topple the tower.

WHAT CAN BE DONE?

First of all, the new LRT line really will make a difference. Yes, you’ll have a few more minutes to transfer at Tunney’s Pasture. Significantly, LRT will eliminate the biggest choke point in the system: namely, Albert and Slater Street through downtown. Congestion in the core is the primary reason that buses in Stittsville are late. That may sound counterintuitive but it’s true. But we have a long winter ahead of us while we wait for LRT to finally arrives at the station.

There are no easy or quick solutions but I am focused on three areas for improvement:

  1. Ensuring that OC Transpo management is fully aware of the impact the cancellations and late buses are having on Stittsville riders. The 262 in particular has had serious problems in recent weeks. It’s the western-most route in the city, so it’s impacted more severely by cancellations and delays than routes closer to the core. Every week I hear stories from people left behind in the cold because buses are too full, or unreasonably long waiting times time for their bus to arrive. I do have the attention of senior management at OC Transpo and our rush hour bus routes are being monitored for capacity and timeliness. Cancellations on these routes are an absolute last resort. The recent snow days notwithstanding, we’ve seen a lower number of cancellations during the first few weeks of January. Unfortunately in that same time OC Transpo has often deployed shorter buses rather than high capacity buses on the routes, which is leading to overcrowded buses.
  2. The second thing I’m working on communications and customer service. For the most part OC Transpo alerts riders about canceled buses through their web site. But often we’ve seen extremely late buses (20 or 30 minutes late) and there’s no notification through the official channels. That’s not helpful, and I’ll be working with my fellow councillors on the Transit Commission to push for improvements.
  3. The only approach that is going to have any kind of long-term impact on reliability is more funding for transit. We need more buses for the rush hour express routes. We need greater service outside of peak hours, especially for students and people working part-time in our community. We need better service for growing communities in the Fernbank-Blackstone-Abbottsville area. This can only be achieved through proper funding. We are just starting the city budget process in the next week, and I will be looking for meaningful funding to improve OC Transpo service in our community.

WHAT’S NEXT?

From February 4 to 10 I’ll be joining my office team (all four of us) and taking part in the 2019 Transit Challenge. We will be commuting by bus from Stittsville to City Hall (or our ward office at the GRC) every day of the week.

Full transparency: this won’t be that big of a challenge for anyone on my team! We all commute regularly to City Hall by bus. If we’re not busing, we’re usually carpooling together. Still, I thought it was important to use my platform as an elected official to raise awareness about the challenging conditions Stittsville bus riders face when they try to move around the community.

I’ve actually decided to go one step further and follow through on a campaign promise that I made to commute by bus for an entire month. I will be using OC Transpo as much as possible during the month of February. Some days I’ll succeed, and some days I won’t, but that’s all part of the exercise to see where OC Transpo works and where it doesn’t. I’ll be sharing my experiences in a daily video blog on this web site, and via my personal Twitter account @glengower.

In the meantime please continue to share your OC Transpo experiences. Although I do have access to some data from OC Transpo on cancellations and delays, the raw numbers really do not tell the full story. It is absolutely unacceptable to me that buses are too full to let people board, and that residents are being left in the cold. People rely on OC Transpo to get to work, get to appointments, and pick up their kids from daycare on time. They expect and deserve reliable service.

This is an important issue even if you don’t take the bus. Transit should be a convenient and affordable option for getting to work, and it really is the most cost effective way to fight congestion on our roads and provide people with the mobility they need to get around our city.

See you on the bus!


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3 thoughts on “OC Transpo prognosis and solutions”

  1. I would love to see Glen advocate for better service from Stittsville to the Kanata North tech sector. Something is severely wrong when it takes 45 minutes by bus to travel 12 km. Better, more accessible public transit, would go far in alleviating the traffic congestion in that area.

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