Bravo Ottawa and welcome to 2019, now that we have a real mass transit sys-tem complete with 12.5 km of electrified rail including a 2.5-km tunnel through the downtown core and 13 stations. And in another decade, LRT will expand further east, west, south along with a spur line to the airport. It’s a worthy accomplishment long in the making.
Kudos to Mayor Watson who made sure that his predecessors Bob Chiarelli and my old boss, Larry O’Brien, were on hand for the opening day ceremonies as the tortured 15-year journey of LRT is part of their legacy too. Yet the giddiness of some folks with respect to the arrival of LRT is a bit childish while also com-plaining about multiple transfers as opposed to one bus ride is downright amateur and so small town.
To be fair, context and facts are important to support these admittedly strident opinions.
On the issue of giddiness, we should be mindful that our new LRT finally joins the mass transit ranks behind at least 180 subway systems and over 500 LRT, streetcar and regional rail networks worldwide across five continents. And we are also more than a touch late to the party given that the first London Tube line opened in 1863, the Paris Metro started running in 1900 and the magnificently marbleized Moscow metro opened in 1935.
Closer to home, New York City saw its first subway line in 1904 and here on our side of the border the folks in Toronto first experienced the red rocket in 1954, while nos amis in Montreal have been commuting on their Metro for 53 years since 1966.
As for folks who are whining, yes whining, about their soon-to-be-moth-balled 20s and 30s series of express routes which were a direct route from close to home to downtown – welcome to living in a region of a million people. If they would only bother to do an iota of research they would see that in most major transit systems around the world, multiple transfers are often the norm, not the exception.
Besides, when the LRT reaches Trim Road by the middle of the next decade, it should be one trip (bus, car, walk, bike, skateboard, scooter) to any east end station and then direct into the core or beyond.
Fewer diesel spewing buses on the roads and decluttered downtown streets is a self-evident benefit for the environment. In addition, free WiFi (thank you Telus) on the LRT means folks can still be productive during their commute. We can only hope that our city planners with their downtown density intensification plans will work with landlords to revitalize Slater and Albert Streets to be more business- and pedestrian-friendly.
Of course, the rollout of LRT has not been perfect. Glitches with stalled LRT trains, sometimes spotty communications from OC Transpo with riders and 90-minute Presto fare expiry issues need to be fixed (suggestion – push this to 115 minutes or two hours). As well, the paucity and speed of elevators for mobility-challenged and senior riders needs attention. Having tried the elevators at several stations, they are small and can only fit, at a maximum, one or two scooters or wheelchairs and move slower than a sloth on steroids.
I would be happy to take our local councillors on a walk-through of these issues just minutes from our ward. We could hop a 95 to Blair station, then walk at a measured pace from the bus platform to the elevator then up and over to another elevator then down to the LRT platform… it can easily become a 10- to 15-minute experience if you miss an elevator or two.
Finally, the real test comes Monday, Oct. 7, the first weekday without direct buses into the downtown core. The morning loads on the LRT platform at Blair Station will still surprise Transpo officials despite all their informed modeling. Ditto on the need for surge capacity for buses at Blair from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. as folks make their way eastward to their homes.
To be clear I’m not knocking OC Transpo on this; it will be terra nova for everyone as passenger volumes ebb and flow. And let’s not forget the uncertainty that still surrounds future LRT perfor-mance during the winter months of blizzards, massive snow accumulation and -30°C frigid temperatures.
As for Phase 2 of LRT, let’s hope city officials and the construction consortium can channel their inner Panama work ethic. And here’s why – Panama City has completed two phases of LRT in the time we have taken to complete one. As a result, they have triple the length of our network and triple our station total (both above ground and tunneled platforms).
Over to you, OC Transpo…