Barrhaven transit troubles linger with LRT delay

More than six months after Barrhaven bus riders voiced discontent at two public meetings, some say OC Transpo service to the suburban neighbourhood hasn't improved — and short-term relief is running late.

Downtown gridlock source of suburban bus woes, OC Transpo says

A Route 95 bus leaves the stop at Bank and Albert streets in downtown Ottawa on Oct. 31, 2018. (CBC)

More than six months after Barrhaven bus riders voiced discontent at two public meetings, some say OC Transpo service to the suburban neighbourhood hasn't improved — and short-term relief is running late.

Coun. Jan Harder said she's still getting numerous complaints from frustrated riders who are forced to squeeze themselves onto already packed buses, or find themselves waiting for a bus that never comes. 

"It's taking them over three hours a day from Barrhaven to get to work and come home," she said. "People just don't have the time to afford that, and that's not good customer service from my perspective."

Harder said she's been meeting with OC Transpo officials to come up with a solution. But the fix that was expected to happen this fall — the opening of the city's LRT system — was delayed once again, leaving buses fighting through downtown traffic and delays rippling through the system. 

Amanda Bernardo lives in Barrhaven, and started the tongue-in-cheek hashtag #LifeOnThe95 on Twitter earlier this year.

Amanda Bernardo, centre, who created #Lifeonthe95 to discuss transit issues in Barrhaven, attended a meeting in April about OC Transpo service issues. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

She said service briefly improved over the summer when many commuters took holidays and students were off school. But since the beginning of September, the old issues have cropped up again.

"Sometimes I get on the bus at Strandherd and it's already at full capacity," she said. "It's just skipping tons of bus stops as you head towards downtown."

Downtown congestion

According to Pat Scrimgeour, OC Transpo's director of transit customer systems and planning, relief will come with the opening of Ottawa's LRT system.

Its delay has had consequences, he said, with buses left to fight traffic and construction through Ottawa's busy downtown core at least until early 2019, when LRT is now expected to make its debut. 

Many routes — including the 95, which travels to Barrhaven — must go all the way to the east end of the city before turning around and coming back. Most of the issues at hand, including overcrowding and no-show buses, are a result of downtown congestion, Scrimgeour said. 

"A lot of it comes back to the time it takes to put a bus into one end of downtown and have it come out the other end at a reliable, consistent time," he said. "It's always been difficult to get through downtown in a reliable, predictable way."

OC Transpo has added new buses and new routes to serve riders in Barrhaven in the last year, but even those buses have to travel through downtown streets.

However, after the light rail system opens, buses will let passengers off at transfer points like Tunney's Pasture, avoiding downtown altogether, Scrimgeour said.

Tunney's Pasture station is expected to be the connection point for buses dropping off passengers transferring to LRT. (Chris Rands/CBC)

But Bernardo isn't convinced. She's worried Tunney's Pasture, the hub for many bus routes coming from Barrhaven, will become a new bottleneck. 

"I'm not holding my breath that the LRT opening at Tunney's will solve the time issues that I'm facing as a Barrhaven resident," she said. "From Barrhaven to Tunney's, you're looking at about 40 minutes right there." 

Frustrations continue

Barrhaven resident Stephanie Szabo​ said the growing frustration over the 95 has had unintended consequences, leading to even more delays. 

She said many people are turning to park-and-ride options as a fix, since stations like Fallowfield and Strandherd serve as transit hubs for many routes, and offer riders a better chance at boarding a crowded bus. 

It's just a big mess.- Stephanie Szabo

But with the influx of new park-and-ride commuters came new issues — crammed parking lots and increased traffic.

"It used to take me 10 minutes, 12 minutes at the most to get to the Strandherd park-and-ride," she said. "Now it's taking sometimes 35 minutes because of the amount of traffic that's trying to get there."

Harder said she's been searching for potential locations for a new park-and-ride lot in the area. Scrimgeour said the agency is also looking at new options, but hasn't got any concrete plans in place. 

Until a solution can be found, residents of a quickly growing suburb will be left dealing with unreliable service, Szabo said.

"They can't rely on the 95, so a lot of them are just driving to the park-and-ride now," she said. "It's just a big mess."