Thursday, August 05, 2010

City of Ottawa: we put the SIT in TRANSIT

Just me and the storm and my D200

For the second day in a row, the Ottawa Citizen reports on mind-boggling public transit delays during the afternoon rush hour. Eastbound traffic on Slater Street, which was already viscous because of construction on downtown Transitway stations, became downright glacial when Bell Canada opened up the street at Slater and Elgin in order to replace a conduit. With the two centre lanes of Slater closed to traffic, includng the Transitway lane, buses have to move to the far right and wait in line with right-turning private vehicles before they can get through the Elgin intersection. As a result, buses have been backed up as far as Lebreton station, and commuters have reported delays as long as one hour in getting through downtown.

In all fairness to OC Transpo, this latest bit of insanity is not entirely the transit company's fault. According to the Citizen, Bell Canada did apply for the proper permit to open up the street. The permit was granted, but no one at the City saw fit to inform OC Transpo of this. Presumably the first OC Transpo ever heard of the Bell construction was from a bus operator who noticed barricades going up and called dispatch to report something along the lines of: "Err, we're gonna have a problem here."

One of the commuters interviewed by the Citizen, Eric Darwin, makes an excellent point when he says: "It's almost contempt the way they treat bus passengers. They would not close down the Queensway by just putting a barricade across the four lanes and saying, OK, we’re going to be here for hours, and we’re not going to change the access routes or tell you beforehand."

In larger cities like Toronto and Montreal, public transit is the smart way to get places. In Ottawa, it seems that we're still struggling with a small town mentality from the 1950's that considers that only those too young, too old or too poor to drive a car would ever stoop so low as to get on a bus. The car culture still reigns supreme, and Mr. Darwin is quite correct in pointing out that no one at the City would ever dream of authorizing the closing of two lanes of the Queensway in the middle of the afternoon rush hour.

Buses? Apparently, nobody cares.

As a reminder, OC Transpo is planning five "customer appreciation days" through the month of August. This is the schedule:

August 9: Terry Fox Station
August 11: Fallowfield Station
August 13: Hurdman Station
August 17: South Keys Station
August 19: Place d'Orléans Station

While I am definitely not urging anyone to hurl abuse at OC Transpo employees who have nothing whasoever to do with the gross mismanagement of public transit in Ottawa, I would still encourage not only regular transit riders, but all taxpayers in this city to show up at one of those customer appreciation days and make their concerns known. If you live here, work here or pay taxes here, public transit is your business whether you take the bus or not. As long as the population of Ottawa continues to meekly accept what in other Canadian cities would be considered absolutely unacceptable, City Council will have exactly zero incentive to roll up its sleeves and do something about it.