Thursday, November 02, 2006

Here's my column from today's Ottawa City Journal

Everyone knows our transit system needs a lot of work.
But agreement stops there. No one wants to pay for the fixes we need. And no one seems to want to hash out what those fixes are. Instead, they meddle in the issue, play politics with it, and, after Nov. 13, will probably let the whole thing simmer.
Other cities are more aggressive about transit. Vancouver collects a 10 cent per liter gas tax. The money pays for a new monorail system. The chance of any of the three major candidates for mayor of Ottawa risking their political hides by advocating such a tax is somewhere between “slim” and “none”.
(Bob Chiarelli is too much of a politician to try. Alex Munter will do anything to prevent being labeled a tax-and-spend liberal. Larry O’Brien probably wouldn’t consider the idea on ideological grounds.)
The feds, who have already played politics with this file, see little to gain from under-writing Ottawa’s transit system. Yet it’s precisely because of the federal government, or, at least, its political staff and public servants, that there’s a traffic problem.
Government jobs are great for the city, but the feds have been very slow to develop any parking. Government agencies like the National Capital Commission aren’t willing to cover the costs associated with being a national capital: the high tourism traffic of busses and cars; the jammed bridges; the failure of road work to keep up with the increase in downtown office space.
And, rather than develop a system that would make car-free living feasible, Ottawa has a transit system geared to travel from the suburbs to downtown workplaces at rush hour, and to taking people from mall to mall.
OC Transpo’s routes are unfathomable to tourists and even to many people in the city. In my first year here, I took several mystery tours of Ottawa before going back to my car..
Some bus drivers are surly. I’ve seen them insult passengers, provoke confrontations with young people, and, to my amazement, check the transfers and passes of visible minorities while waving by people who were not as dark-skinned.
And the system is expensive. Using tickets instead of the $3 cash fare can save you money, but retailers hate selling them because they get such a small percentage. One store owner tells me it costs more in bank fees to deposit the money than he makes on the tickets.
In my neighbourhood, it’s impossible to find any store selling them that’s open before 9 a.m. – unless you go to a convenience store that’s a ten-minute walk from my home.
Really, a subway is the only system that makes sense.
Like many other “subways”, including those in Chicago, Toronto and even New York, an Ottawa line would only need to be underground in heavily built-up areas. If it went under Albert and Slater, it would have to be buried from Bronson to Nicholas, before emerging to follow the transitway line to Blair, and then to Orleans.
At Bayview, it could connect to a north-south line on the route of the O-Train and cross the Ottawa River on the now-idle CPR bridge. Gatineau is laced with railway rights-of-way that could be part of the system. Finally, something would be done about congestion on the five bridges over the Ottawa River.
Much of the expensive part – the purchasing of property and the digging of a route—can actually be done on the cheap. Most of downtown Ottawa is built on easy-to-work black shale. We have the transitway lines, the bridges, and the old CPR tracks that are now used for the O Train.
Jamming a train onto Slater or Albert, along with busses, cars, and the seemingly unending construction that usually blocks lanes, is a stop-gap measure at best. Quite likely, it’s also a waste of time and money.
And, it seems, it’s City Hall’s idea of progress.


Another twentysomething said...

The travesty is Ottawa transit costs more, at $3 a ride, than anywhere else in the country. Your article, and other comparisons with Canadian cities, leaves me scraching my head raw wondering, "What do they understand that we don't?"

Anonymous said...

What is Ottawa City Journal?

Just googled "Ottawa City Journal" and got ZERO results.

Ottawa Watch said...

It's a new weekly newspaper serving downtown Ottawa, where I live.