Threat to Ottawa's public transportation

 

From the Desk of Nick Aplin, Contributing Editor, Ottawa

 

Vital 'Milk Runs' threatened by

proposed cutbacks in public transportation

'Bus services affect everyone in the city and we all need to be concerned when they are threatened'

By Linda Lalonde
True North Perspective

18 March 2011 OTTAWA Canada — The budget that was passed last week included severe cuts to OC Transpo, the city's public transportation system.

In order to keep operating, the Transit Commission will have to cut back on routes and other services to the public. They are going to do this by amalgamating part or all of some routes, cutting hours of operation on some and amputating sections of some. Some routes aren't affected at all and some are going to be hit by all three types of cuts.

The target is local routes that run through our communities during the day plus evenings and weekends that are being labelled, rather derisively, by the mayor as  "milk runs". 

Express routes are seen as efficient and necessary because they take people to day jobs while the community routes are expendable since they only take people to unnecessary things like shopping, medical appointments, schools, evening and weekend shift work jobs, play groups, family get-togethers, church, social events, and other frivolous activities.

On March 23 the Transit Commission will be tabling the proposed changes at a meeting that will be held in the Council Chambers at City Hall.

Listen but don't talk

'Tabling' means that the changes will be made public but there will be no opportunity by the public to speak to them. However, it's still important to go to this meeting because you will hear OC Transpo's explanation of how the community doesn't need these bus routes any more as well as some questions from councillors. Usually councillors are only allowed to ask questions to clarify the info in the report but not to actually discuss/debate the contents.

It's also important for them to see the community concern about the proposed cuts as well as the process that's got them this far. Because Council passed the budget without knowing what cuts were proposed, the community has had very little ability to respond.

Councillors, including the mayor, could just look at you and say 'How do you know it's going to be bad since you haven't seen the proposals?' Now we're told OC Transpo MUST cut $7.2 million dollars somewhere or they won't be able to operate the bus company.

After the proposed cuts are tabled at the Commission meeting, the city is planning five Open House meetings around the city where you can see maps of the cuts and get info about how they plan to mitigate the loss of service in those communities. It's important to note that these are not community meetings where the transit folks would make a presentation and people would have a chance to ask questions.

There will be easels set up around the room with maps of the various changes and transit staff will be around the easels to explain how the cuts will be carried out. As staff, they will be there only to provide info and take comments — they aren't going to be the ones making the decisions.

When you go to these sessions, look for your councillor — if she or he is there, tell them directly what you think should happen with the routes. If your councillor isn't there, phone them or send them an email. They need to hear from you directly.

Once the Open Houses are over, there will be a chance to present your thoughts to the Transit Commission on April 20. To book a spot to speak at that meeting, you should call Rosemary at 613-580-2424, ext. 21624.

Why you should participate in this exercise

For the planners at OC Transpo, bus routes are lines on a map. They don't see such as seniors' residences, day cares, churches, hills, unplowed sidealks, grocery stores, lack of sidewalks, as they look at where those routes go in our communities.

For example, in a report released in February, they showed maps of a few routes to demonstrate how they were proposing to make them more "efficient". The map example they gave of cutting off a loop from a route was in the eastern end of the 18 Route as it goes through Overbrook. What didn't show up on their map was the seniors' apartment building and other seniors' homes which are located at the end of the loop and are the reason the loop was created in the first place. 

Some of the changes will mean that some residents will have to walk as much as 1/3 of a kilometre further to get to a bus stop. That may be okay for some but what about those with disabilities, seniors or young children? Will they guarantee that the city will keep the sidewalks cleared so that's possible? Will it be safe to walk that extra distance at night?

Even if you don't use the bus to get around, there are lots of reasons you should be concerned. Anybody who wants to know how important the bus system is only has to think back to the chaos we experienced during the bus strike. The roads were jammed; people couldn't get to school, work and medical appointments; seniors and the disabled were isolated in their homes. Bus services affect everyone in the city and we all need to be concerned when they're threatened.

It's important that people think about how these proposed cuts will affect their communities and their neighbours. At the same time as you are looking at the ideas put forward by OC Transpo, think about how you would redesign bus routes. If you have ideas, you need to get them to the city sooner rather than later. You can send them to your councillor and/or to Diane Deans, the Chair of the Transit Commission, at diane.deans@ottawa.ca.

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