COVID-19: Here are OC Transpo’s planned service reductions amid low transit demand

OC Transpo will reduce its workforce by 70 people by the end of 2021 to help cut costs. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

OC Transpo is planning to reduce transit service along numerous bus routes and lower its workforce by 70 full-time employees by the end of the year as the spectre of full-on cuts looms on the horizon.

The COVID-19 pandemic has gutted transit ridership in most parts of the world and Ottawa is no exception, the city’s transit commission heard Wednesday.

OC Transpo ridership started the year at just 18 per cent of pre-pandemic ridership levels, though that figure has grown to 27 per cent. Ridership on buses was at 33 per cent last month, while levels on light-rail trains remain at 18 per cent.

The return of transit demand will depend entirely on the post-pandemic approach from employers in the core, especially the federal public service, and post-secondary institutions, Pat Scrimgeour, OC Transpo’s transit planning director, said Wednesday.

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While many have tried to imagine what the post-pandemic return to work will look like, Scrimgeour said the transit agency is expecting a “gradual” rise in demand as more workers return to the office this fall.

In the meantime, OC Transpo is proposing a series of service reductions, adjustments and, in some cases, extensions to more adequately meet Ottawa’s current transit demand.

Reduced frequency could see six-minute intervals between buses on a high-demand route stretched to eight minutes. Similarly, 12-minute gaps could be extended to 15 minutes or 20-minute gaps could be stretched to half an hour.

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Scrimgeour said most rapid and frequent routes will run every 15 minutes and most local and Connexion routes will still run every 30 minutes.

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The reduced service, which would come into effect on June 20, would save $5.5 million in operating costs for the rest of 2021 and would save $11 million annually if implemented in the long term.

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OC Transpo’s workforce will be reduced by 70 employees before the end of the year as part of the plan, but Scrimgeour said these will be achieved through attrition and reassignment, not layoffs.

The proposed reductions are not service “cuts,” Scrimgeour claimed, as any affected routes are largely covered by parallel service on other routes.

Service cuts are on the table in the near future, however. Staff will bring a report to the transit commission next month laying out the “principles” OC Transpo would use if it were to eliminate any routes.

“That would cause a significant impact on mobility,” Scrimgeour said.

But numerous delegations who signed up to speak to the proposed cuts on Wednesday morning said that even reducing service will be harmful to those who rely on transit to move through the city, with some arguing the city needs to be boosting service to improve consumer confidence in the service.

Sam Hersh of Horizon Ottawa said some of the affected routes specifically serve residents of low-income neighbourhoods. Pointing to the public service function of OC Transpo, he said people need service even if there isn’t high ridership on their particular routes.

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Kristin Pulles said that service is already unreliable at current levels of service, pointing out that numerous councillors have failed the Ottawa transit challenge in the past, which pushes them to use OC Transpo service to commute for a full week.

She said that increasing the gaps between buses on the route could push the impact of missing a bus from 15 minutes to half an hour, for example, which can make all the difference in being late.

Pulles and other women who spoke at the transit commission meeting, including commissioner Sarah Wright-Gilbert, noted that missing a bus in the early morning or late evening could leave riders feeling vulnerable at a bus stop for longer periods of time.

Keri Glynes Elliott of Ottawa Transit Riders asked for OC Transpo to hold public consultations on the proposed service changes. She said some riders might prefer two shorter buses rather than one long, slower bus.

She later pointed out that buses on certain routes are stuck in traffic more often, or are crowded more often.

“If everything works just fine, these buses will work great. But in reality, if you’re actually experienced in riding the buses around Ottawa, you know that some buses are more reliable than others,” she said.

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Routes to be suspended (substitute routes):

  • Route 17 from Wateridge (Customers can use Routes 7, 27);
  • Route 224 from Beacon Hill (Customers can use Route 24);
  • Route 225 from Orléans/Chapel Hill South (Customers can use Routes 32, 34);
  • Route 233 from Orléans (Customers can use Route 33);
  • Route 235 from Orléans (Customers can use Route 35);
  • Route 251 from Bells Corners (Customers can use Route 57);
  • Route 266 from Kanata North (Customers can use Routes 63, 64);
  • Route 275 from Barrhaven (Customers can use Route 75); and,
  • Route 284 from Manordale (Customers can use Routes 82, 173).

Routes with reduced frequency:

  • Connexion routes 231, 232, 234, 236, 237, 252, 256, 257, 258, 261, 262, 263, 264, 267, 268, 270, 271, 272, 273, 277, 278, 282, 290, 291, 294;
  • Rapid routes 39, 57, 61, 63, 75, 97, 98;
  • Frequent routes 6, 7, 10, 25, 80, 88, 111;
  • Local routes 5, 9, 18, 19, 26, 28, 30, 33, 34, 38, 46, 48, 49, 50, 51, 54, 66, 73, 81, 82, 86, 89, 92, 93, 96, 164, 171, 175;
  • Replacement buses for O-Train Line 2; and
  • Some individual trips early or late in the day where ridership is at or near zero.
  • Shortened routes (substitute routes):
  • Route 15 – Midday service to Gatineau (Customers can use STO Route 67);
  • Route 37 – Start/end at Place d’Orléans (Customers can use Route 39);
  • Route 40 – Trips via Transitway start/end at Greenboro (Customers can use Routes 97, 98);
  • Route 55 – Start/end at Westgate (Customers can use Route 85);
  • Route 58 – Start/end at Lincoln Fields (Customers can use Routes 57, 61, 62, 63, 64, 74, 75);
  • Route 74 – Start/end at Nepean Woods (Customers can use Route 99);
  • Routes 83, 84 – Start/end at Baseline (Customers can use Routes 74, 75); and,
  • Route 179 (Replaced by new Route 110).

Service improvements:

  • Route 11 – Extended to Mackenzie King Bridge;
  • Route 19 – Extended to Trainyards and Hurdman Station;
  • Route 32 – Extended to Chapel Hill Station;
  • Route 33 – Midday increase to 30 minute service;
  • Route 53 – Revised to operate on Holland;
  • Route 55 – Sunday service extended to Westgate via hospitals;
  • Route 56 – Revised to operate on Parkdale;
  • Route 62 – Evening service to/from Kanata and Stittsville increased; new Saturday and Sunday service to/from Stittsville;
  • Route 82 – Revised to operate via Majestic during peak periods;
  • Route 88 – Saturday service increased;
  • Route 98 – Sunday service increased;
  • Route 99 – Selected trips extended to CitiGate;
  • Route 110 – New route between Kanata North, Kanata South, and Barrhaven;
  • Route 170 – Revised at CitiGate; and,
  • Route 294 – Revised to operate on Kelly Farm.

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