Decision on free transit fares in December expected next week, based on Ottawa LRT tests

Whether or not Ottawa transit riders get free rides in December depends in part on how well the early days of testing on the Confederation Line go. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Lars Hagberg

Ottawa city staff are expected to make a call on whether there will be free transit service in December sometime next week as Rideau Transit Group starts testing trains on the light-rail system for the first time in more than a month.

RTG began testing trains on the Confederation Line for the first time since the Sept. 19 derailment on Wednesday afternoon.

The testing period will verify whether the line is ready for a relaunch of partial service, currently slated for early November.

Read more: ‘Workmanship,’ loose bolts blamed for Ottawa LRT derailment

Residents can expect to see trains running at different speeds or stopped on the line at various points as RTG runs the system through its paces.

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Ottawa’s independent rail safety advisor, TRA, will be on scene to oversee the testing period.

Ottawa city manager Steve Kanellakos told reporters after city council met Wednesday that RTG was able to get a double train on the line “earlier than anticipated,” which makes him “cautiously optimistic” that the system will be ready to run seven trains plus a spare in the first two weeks of November.

RTG also said earlier this week that it thinks it can provide full, 15-train service by Nov. 29, but Kanellakos cautioned in a memo that the city is aiming for mid-December to get all its safety approvals in place.

Read more: Full service on Ottawa LRT expected mid-December

That would potentially affect plans for a month of free fares in December, which council approved a few weeks ago as a “gesture” for beleaguered transit users amid the ongoing LRT downtime. The plan had a condition that it would only go ahead if trains were running again on the Confederation Line.

Kanellakos said Wednesday that he’s “assessing” based on how well the next few days of testing go whether December’s no-charge transit service will go ahead.

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“We’re going to take a few more days to look at it, see how we’re progressing the rest of the week with the testing and over the weekend and then make a decision next week in terms of what we’re going to do for December,” he said.

Also on Wednesday, Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney gave notice of a motion attempting to get a judicial inquiry into the LRT system back on council’s agenda in two weeks.

Read more: Ottawa councillor muted in debate wants LRT inquiry back on the agenda

The motion seeks an investigation that goes further than city council’s previously approved auditor general probe, explicitly seeking public hearings and an examination of possible breaches of trust from current or former city council members or staff during the original procurement of the LRT system.

Click to play video: 'Ottawa mayor says ‘buck stops’ with him on LRT issues'
Ottawa mayor says ‘buck stops’ with him on LRT issues

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