by Dr. Rouba Fattal
My Ottawa Transit Challenge 2022.
One of my longest posts, but it's an important issue since almost 17% of the Ottawa City Budget goes to Transit, so bear with me sharing my first-hand experience and possible solutions to tackle the plethora of issues involved.
I'm a public servant and a mother of 3 children. I have been a proud public Transit Rider for almost 30 years - basically since immigrating to Canada at 17. I used it daily in 3 different cities including Montreal (15 years), Brussels (5 years), and Ottawa (10 years), so I'm speaking from a rider's perspective.
We always had some issues with overcrowded OCtranspo buses in Ottawa; however, after the LRT was introduced in Sept. 2019 , and we lost our express bus , my ride to work changed from 40min to 1.5hr, each way, due to the repeated LRT breakdowns and shortage of busses. By January 2020, I gave up and started driving my car to work for the 1st time in 28 years. This is despite the fact that traffic was bad, finding parking was hard, and the cost of parking was high - still it was better than using public transit. Then suddenly, in mid-March 2020, due to covid shutdowns we started working from home and could avoid public transit and losing 3hrs daily in commuting.
As I'm canvassing now in Kanata South I have met many public servants at the door who told me that they rather continue working from home, an idea I'm supporting because we did a great job in the past 2 years with the digital tools, and it's better for the environment , road infrastructure , our mental health , and budget in time of inflation and rising food and gas prices seems to make more sense. In addition, by having some people working from home we're alleviating some pressure off the system for others who need to use it.
You might ask me, what about small business in downtown, and who will pay for the LRT with reduced ridership? These have been presented as the main reasons to justify bringing public servants back from the West End to work in the center, despite losing 3hrs daily on the road, the environmental factors, the money loss on road repairs, and the negative effects on their mental health. My answer to that is we need to look outside the box, we can't build a sustainable transit system for public servants only, it has to be a system that works for everyone including our seniors, youth and college students!
As a solution to the housing crisis, for instance, why not transform our empty and renovation-desperate government buildings into affordable apartment units? The infrastructure and services are already there. This will create local jobs, draw in developers, and residents who will help sustain small businesses and boost public transit use in the center. The money the government can save on rent, renovations, maintenance, road repairs can be invested in extending the LRT to Kanata (e.g. to boost center-suburb connectivity and engage our residents in recreational and sports activities in the center), or it can be used on other more needed services across the City.
For those who wonder if I'm for free transit to boost ridership , my answer is NO because a mediocre service won't attract riders. Instead, we need to make our transit system reliable , robust, sustainable connected , frequent and affordable for those who need it the most.
As a matter of fact, I have been helping low income families and refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and Ukraine since 2015 until today. I have taken the buses with them for many trips to show them how it works. Refugees already get free transit passes for at least 6 months, and they ALL ask me to help them find a used car after only 2 months of using our buses. Why? Because to get to 3 job interviews it takes them 4hrs with busses instead of 1hr by car because of the cancellations and lack of connectivity. Now add also their language training appointment, picking up their kids from school and picking groceries on their way home and you can just imagine the burden they face by using our transit system.
There are also other transit issues I experienced first-hand with my senior parents who can't drive anymore (dad 90 & mom 80 with eye sight issues) and have multiple medical appointments per month with a challenged para-transpo. Other problems also include people with disabilities who told me about the lack of accessibility that hinders them from going places they want to go to. For example, a gentleman I met at a local event recently told me he was denied Uber services 17 times last year because he has a service dog and had to wait for over an hour for a taxi as the latter are in shortage!
All these issues exist while I have seen many double-decker buses running around empty during the day all over Kanata South. It irked me to the point where I decided to join the bus drivers on their trips to conduct some research on this issue and hear first hand from them. Without exception, they all mentioned scheduling as an issue and lack of consultation. Why our bus drivers are not being consulted on their scheduling is illogical, especially that they would know best what works and what doesn't!
These are just a small sample of my observations as an active community leader and participant in the Ottawa Transit Challenge since 2015.
Now, imagine a community with connected buses, scheduling that makes sense, bus drivers that get consulted, where buses come frequently and don't get canceled so often, where information is shared, where your Councillor communicates with you and cares for your well-being, where we have an express bus connecting Kanata North and Kanata South within 30min...That's my vision for our Ottawa Transit Riders and one of the reasons I'm running for election in Kanata South.
I have the experience as a senior economist, proven leadership as the founder of the Kanata Small Business Network, and a track-record of local community service.