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City of Ottawa ‘assessing’ province’s offer for help with troubled LRT system

Lisa MacLeod, now minister for heritage, sport, tourism and culture industries, makes an announcement about Ontario's autism program at Queen's Park in Toronto on Thursday, March 21, 2019.
Lisa MacLeod, now minister for heritage, sport, tourism and culture industries, makes an announcement about Ontario's autism program at Queen's Park in Toronto on Thursday, March 21, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Tijana Martin

The Ontario government is talking with the City of Ottawa about possibly providing provincial support to the municipality as it grapples with its problem-plagued light-rail transit (LRT) system.

Ottawa-area provincial cabinet minister Lisa MacLeod confirmed late Thursday evening that she offered help to Mayor Jim Watson earlier in the day. The MPP for Nepean said she’s also talked with the minister of transportation about whether the province can send some kind of assistance to help the city get on top of the issues that have been repeatedly disrupting and delaying service on the $2.1-billion Confederation Line since early October.

“My constituents need this to work. As a resident of Ottawa, I want it to work,” MacLeod said in a phone interview with Global News.

“As a minister of the provincial government who has invested heavily into this, we want it to succeed.”

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READ MORE: Ottawa city hall exploring ‘all options’ as LRT woes spark calls for restored bus routes

In a brief statement on Thursday evening, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office confirmed that MacLeod reached out to offer support.

“City staff are currently assessing the province’s offer of assistance and will follow up in the coming days,” the statement said.

MacLeod said Watson didn’t ask for financial assistance when she spoke with him. Asked whether there’s any indication at this time what support the province might offer, the minister for heritage, sport, tourism and culture industries said that depends on “what the city comes back with [and] what is their need.”

In a statement on Thursday night, a spokesperson for Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney said the ministry is “aware of the current situation with the Ottawa LRT and is carefully monitoring.”

“Minister Mulroney has directed provincial officials to consult with the City of Ottawa on the Confederation Line rollout,” the statement said.

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

Ottawa city hall has been in damage-control mode this month as repeated computer, door and rail switch issues along the Confederation Line have made LRT service unpredictable, throwing hundreds of OC Transpo users in a lurch.

Just this week, as temperatures plummeted, a stopped train on Tuesday afternoon forced passengers off the tracks to wait in the cold for replacement bus service. On Wednesday morning, riders on crowded platforms reported experiencing significant delays.

This has all had a cascading effect on the bus network, which has been operating on a new, reduced service since a major transit switchover on Oct. 6.

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The municipality has started to throw extra money back at the troubled public transit system. About 40 retired buses were hauled back on the road last week and the mayor and councillors confirmed on Wednesday they’re exploring “all possible options” in the face of budget constraints for how to improve bus service until the train service is stable, including potentially restoring certain cancelled bus routes.

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

City officials are laying most of the blame on the group contracted to maintain the train, but tempers are rising around the council table over what the city is doing on its part to alleviate the stressed transit system.

MacLeod alluded to this on Thursday, suggesting the focus should remain on finding solutions.

“There are a lot of people pointing a lot of fingers in politics right now on this, and I think if we could all just take a step back and figure out how we can best make this work, there will be a lot of conversations down the road after it does on who can hold whom accountable,” she told Global News.

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

MacLeod suggested the federal government might consider stepping in to help as well, given it has also invested a significant amount of money in Ottawa’s LRT network.

“The House of Commons will resume very shortly and we are at the seat of Parliament,” she said.

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“I’ll let the experts determine how we can best move forward but I just wanted to let my constituents know, and of course my city know, that their provincial government is thinking of them, that we want this to move forward, get through it and succeed.”