Challenge for Commuters in Ottawa, Councillor Jan Harder, City of Ottawa


Challenge for Commuters in Ottawa, Councillor Jan Harder, City of Ottawa

The last few years has been a huge challenge for commuters in Ottawa. Those who choose to live outside of the urban core can spend an inordinate time commuting to work.  The residents of Barrhaven, and similarly those living outside the Greenbelt, have only two choices available to get anywhere in the city – they either drive or take public transportation. Driving one’s car has both steep financial and environmental costs.  Like any other major city in the world, traffic gridlock has become a serious problem in Ottawa.  Our best solution, ideally, is to rely on public transportation. However, the current transit system is struggling and Barrhaven has been particularly hard hit with overcrowded buses, and late or cancelled rides.  The advent of the Light Rail Transit (LRT) will be a significant advancement for this City.  Nevertheless, it will not address the issues that we face daily in Barrhaven – mainly how to get out and back into our community in a reasonable time.

In spite of the challenges with our transit system, we do indeed have a very good system.  Pat Scrimgeour, (Director, Transit Customer Systems and Planning) provides the following details of how OC Transpo is a leader in transit services in North America.

  • Ottawa was the first city in Canada to build a bus rapid transit system, the Transitway
  • We are the first transit agency in the world to convert a large bus rapid transit system into a high-capacity light rail system
  • O-Train Line 1, the Confederation Line, will be the busiest light rail line in North America when it opens
  • We have one of the highest levels of transit usage among cities of our size
  • We have for many years been a leader in using sophisticated computer systems and mathematical models to measure ridership, monitor operations, and plan service
  • We were the first transit agency in Canada to provide real-time arrival information for all customers
  • We were one of the first transit agencies in Canada to have our entire bus fleet 100% low-floor and accessible


“Staff from the Transportation Services Department and the Planning, Infrastructure, and Economic Development Department work together in sharing information on new and upcoming development sites across the City. This ensures that bus service is planned in advance, where needed, for new development areas and for areas where development exists but is intensifying. Staff also make use of a longer-range forecast, which is used in the City’s Transportation Master Plan, among other things, to ensure a longer-term vision for transit service is considered when planning new transit facilities and expanding transit service.”


Furthermore, OC Staff uses various methods to continuously monitor the ridership and on-time performance.  Using the latest data analytics, Staff monitor and adjust routes, buses and schedules to best accommodate customers.

The biggest challenge in the last few years has been the detours in place for the construction of the LRT.  Many factors affect the on-time performance of buses – some of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lanes were removed for LRT construction, mixing buses in with regular traffic.  Weather, a traffic incident, illegal stopping by cars, will all affect service reliability. Scrimgeour adds, “In addition to these potential delays, there can also be delays when buses are travelling out of service through those areas in order to be positioned for their next trip. Unexpected delays in those areas can have a knock-on effect on subsequent trips made by the same bus. In practice, this has meant that buses serving the east are commonly delayed throughout the morning peak period and late in the afternoon peak period, and buses serving the west are commonly delayed late in the morning peak period and throughout the afternoon peak period. These possible delays are on top of the longer travel times buses experience over the detour routes. Staff are monitoring and reacting to these delays as they occur, but we certainly recognize that the current reliability of OC Transpo service does not meet our customers’ expectations.”

With the opening of O-Train Line 1, Confederation Line, reliability will vastly improve.  The train will replace buses on the downtown Transitway, and the delays that are occurring downtown and/or on detour routes will no longer occur. Just like construction and detours have a negative domino effect on bus reliability, the reverse will be true once buses will be taken out of the downtown core.

As transit improves in the near future, it still leaves the issue of moving in/out/through Barrhaven.  With a population of 90 000 and growing, our infrastructure has not been able to accommodate residents who live, work and play in our community.  Along with the Barrhaven Business Improvement Area (BBIA), I have initiated a strategic group that aims to highlight transportation issues and the gap between development and planning infrastructure and funding affecting Barrhaven.  This partnership of City and business, Move/Barrhaven/Avance, is looking at both the short term and long term issues, including but not limited to, safety at rail crossings, transit service, and pedestrian/cycling travel, and getting in and out of Barrhaven.

With the Transportation Master Plan being reviewed this term of Council, now is the time to get all of Barrhaven involved. Your voice must be heard if we are to get Barrhaven transportation issues at the forefront and get the funding necessary to solve some of the issues.  Along with the BBIA, I am hosting a town hall forum on January 29th to discuss the upcoming City plans for Barrhaven, LRT Environmental Assessment, infrastructure and much more.  I encourage you to attend if you can.  Please contact my office at for more details.

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