Carol Anne Meehan Ward 22 Column

Pushing OC Transpo for a different way to serve suburban riders

A Facebook comment on one of the community pages in my Ward recently caught my attention. A resident of Riverside South mused about how nice it would be if a bus were available to take her to Manotick to use the public library there. I desperately want inter-community routes for potential riders just like this!

Public Transit in Ottawa is a vital but expensive service offered to the residents of Ottawa costing an estimated 672.9 million dollars in 2021. 

Last year, the taxpayer was losing almost a million dollars a week due to plummeting ridership, which is why I want to find a way to get people back onto public transit by making it convenient, efficient and keeping it affordable.

 I am pushing OC Transpo to embrace a different way to serve suburban residents who wish they could get to a doctor’s appointment or the local shopping plaza without using their car. Public Transit doesn’t meet that need very well, and with more people working in their communities, the demand is real.   

Riders have all but abandoned the buses going downtown. They’re working from home; we are not sure when the commuters will return. Ridership now sits at 27 percent of pre-pandemic times. One year after the pandemic was declared, OC Transpo still runs buses, largely empty, on all those routes.  I find it frustrating and wasteful, especially since the taxpayer has lost millions over the past year. 

There is a solution, one I found while researching transit alternatives. It’s called on-demand transit, an idea I raised earlier this spring with Transpo officials. On-demand transit would allow OC Transpo to optimize the low ridership bus routes, supplementing them with on-demand options. An example could be someone who only needs to get to the doctors’ office or the grocery store, places in the suburban area where few people take the bus because it’s not convenient. 

 Residents who need a bus would book a ride through an app. They choose the closest stop to their home and indicate when and where they want to go. The software does the rest! The best part is that we get to use our buses and operators.

The fear of service cuts and layoffs has some ready for a fight, but on-demand transit is all about enhancing service, not cutting it.  

Admittedly, I like to accomplish things fast. Working almost 40 years in the private sector, where I was expected to complete tasks quickly and efficiently, I’m not used to a slower moving process in the public service.

When I enquired about on-demand transit and the possibility of working with private-sector companies during the Transit Commission Meeting on March 17th, Transit Boss John Manconi explained many companies that sell on-demand transit options had approached the city, but that staff doesn’t have time to undertake what would be a lot of work. 

I didn’t like that answer, and I have no intention of stopping until we see a pilot project underway.  Ordinary people have had to endure so much in the last year. Everyone has had to change, adapt and grow to meet the challenges of the pandemic. I want the public service to do the same. Let’s modernize our public transit service to meet today’s needs. Public transit is essential, and we all pay for it, whether you use it or not, so let’s turn it around and get Ottawa moving again.

Carol Anne Meehan