Ottawa LRT maintenance group announces new CEO as train faces first snow day with riders

An image of an LRT train set on the tracks during the wintertime in Ottawa. City of Ottawa

After a tough month for Ottawa’s new light-rail transit (LRT) system, senior city officials on Tuesday appeared to welcome a senior leadership change within the group contracted to build and maintain the Confederation Line.

In a memo sent to the City of Ottawa’s top manager, who in turn distributed the document to members of city council, Rideau Transit Group said that as of Nov. 11, its CEO, Peter Lauch, is now serving as head of its maintenance division, Rideau Transit Maintenance.

“Rideau Transit Group (RTG) and Rideau Transit Maintenance (RTM) have taken important steps to continue our transition from build to operations,” the memo from RTG said.

“Mr. Lauch has worked on the Ottawa light-rail transit project since 2013. His extensive experience coupled with his knowledge of the City of Ottawa and its light-rail transit system will serve as an asset during this transition period.”

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Click to play video: 'Politicians, media ride LRT trains ahead of Confederation Line’s handover to city' Politicians, media ride LRT trains ahead of Confederation Line’s handover to city
Politicians, media ride LRT trains ahead of Confederation Line’s handover to city – Aug 23, 2019

After blasting the Confederation Line’s rocky performance in recent weeks, senior city officials appeared to respond positively to the move on Tuesday.

City manager Steve Kanellakos — who last week told the transit commission that RTM has “failed the city and its residents” — said that the group is “implementing changes that puts renewed focus on improving LRT service in Ottawa.”

“As a private and independent company, decisions regarding leadership are at the purview of the board of directors. However, I am hopeful that, Rideau Transit Maintenance will bring forward solutions to quickly resolve issues that have been felt by residents across the city since the launch of full-service in October,” Kanellakos wrote in his own memo to the mayor and councillors.

“The City of Ottawa is committed to delivering an exceptional transit system to our residents. We will work closely with Mr. Lauch and his team to make sure this happens.”

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READ MORE: OC Transpo can’t say when Ottawa’s LRT will be stable: ‘The system isn’t good enough yet’

In a statement sent to Global News via email, a spokesperson for Mayor Jim Watson said the mayor “is pleased to see that RTG is taking the necessary steps to address the ongoing operational issues with LRT.”

“The mayor looks forward to RTM finding solutions to these issues, which have put a great deal of stress on transit users across the city,” the statement said.

News of the managerial change came as the Confederation Line faced its first full day of carrying passengers through the snow — a day that ultimately didn’t pass by trouble-free.

Click to play video: 'Exciting and ‘emotional’: Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson describes how LRT launch day feels' Exciting and ‘emotional’: Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson describes how LRT launch day feels
Exciting and ‘emotional’: Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson describes how LRT launch day feels – Sep 14, 2019

No train delays were reported during the morning commute on Tuesday, but a stopped train at Cyrville station towards the eastern end of the line forced OC Transpo to call in replacement bus service between St-Laurent and Blair stations at around 3:40 p.m. during the afternoon rush hour.

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Several pictures posted to social media showed commuters lining up in the cold waiting to board a replacement bus. OC Transpo reported at 4:53 p.m. that “full service” on the Confederation Line had resumed.

Councillors call for restored bus service on social media

Councillors Jeff Leiper and Catherine McKenney, the latter of whom sits on the transit commission, later tweeted that they want to see cancelled bus service restored.

“I feel horrible for commuters tonight delayed in the cold by another train failure,” Leiper tweeted. “It’s time to bring back the suburban routes until some period of virtually flawless performance is achieved.”

Leiper called on the mayor to initiate discussions on the proposal. A third city councillor, Carol Anne Meehan, tweeted that she agreed with her colleagues.

“Serious solutions are needed now,” Meehan wrote.

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After the Confederation Line launched on Sept. 14, OC Transpo maintained the bus routes that ran parallel with the train into and out of the downtown core for a three-week transition period.

On Oct. 6, that parallel service was discontinued.

In its draft budget for 2020, the city is proposing to spend millions more to improve bus service and reliability across the city, which has been stressed since the major service change in early October to the bus network with the LRT.

READ MORE: Some highlights from the City of Ottawa’s draft 2020 budget

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The city has already put back 40 retired buses on the roads, but specifically on local routes that have faced “chronic issues” since early October.

The draft budget also proposed a 2.5 per cent fare increase as of Jan. 1, 2020.

READ MORE: Ottawa mayor, transit chair call for transit fare freeze following LRT woes

Several transit commissioners and Watson have since come out in support of a fare freeze until at least the end March, given the ongoing issues with LRT service.

During a marathon transit commission meeting last week, OC Transpo boss John Manconi told councillors and citizen commissioners he couldn’t say when LRT service would be stable, saying the city is pressing RTM to give them a timeline.

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