Ottawa's new LRT stations expected to include coffee shops, take-out and cell service

The public got glimpses of what the light rail commuter experience might be like after transit staff presented reports on signage, cell service and retail at Wednesday's transit commission meeting.

Retail space set aside in 4 stations: Blair, Hurdman, Rideau and Tunney's Pasture

The Rideau Street closure may be yet another frustrating reminder that we're building a light rail system in Ottawa. But we're also starting to get a more concrete — and less unhappy — sense of what the O-Train system might be like when it's finally done. 

Those super-wide sidewalks on Queen Street? They're supposed to be packed with pedestrians who'll come bubbling up from the underground Confederation Line stations come 2018.

That steel structure going up just to the west of the Via Rail station entrance? That'll be the Tremblay LRT stop.

And at Wednesday's transit commission meeting, the public got a few glimpses of what the light rail commuter experience might be like after transit staff presented reports on signage, cell service and retail.

The Big O

For residents and tourists alike, the O-Train — which refers to both the new east-west Confederation Line and the north-south Trillium Line  — can be recognized by a big red "O." 

Above-ground stations are expected to be landmarks in their own right. But for the underground stations especially, OC Transpo wanted a way for riders to easily recognize station entrances.

Looking a bit like a lollipop, each station will sport an illuminated O on a post. They will be particularly important at the underground stations, markers that show where the station is and how to get into it.

Most of the station entrances will feature an illuminated "lantern" box, or entranceway, with the station name on it in black and white, as well as the soon-to-be signature big red O. In the box will be information and emergency telephones, kiosks where riders can buy tickets or load money instantaneously onto their Presto cards. 

Technology on board, including cell service

The O-Train will have cellular service in the tunnel and at underground stations. It's a service that other transit systems, like Toronto's TTC, are starting to address, but Ottawa will have the cell service from day one. 

Cell service is expected at Ottawa's new LRT stations. (CBC)

OC Transpo has been less successful providing wireless connectivity onboard buses. Although the double-decker buses are equipped for Wi-Fi, the city wasn't able to find a business model that would work. OC Transpo says it's still working on finding a partner that would allow for Wi-Fi on the LRT.

Transit commissioners also approved video surveillance for the LRT stations and trains, as well as audio recording in the trains. This wasn't a huge surprise, especially as in 2013, the commission approved onboard cameras for new buses. 

Commissioner Blair Crew asked about the possibility of police using the video system for 24-hour surveillance. But OC Transpo boss John Manconi confirmed that was not the policy, although the transit company will help police investigate potential crimes. During an emergency, the O-Train's video and audio system may be use for live surveillance.

Manconi added that special constables, who will be among those authorized to view the video in the operations control centre, will "take appropriate action" if suspicious or worrisome behaviour is noticed.

Coffee and take-out?

There is space set aside for retail in four stations: Blair, Hurdman, Rideau and Tunney's Pasture. Except for Rideau, the retail space will be inside the gated area. 

After looking at 10 transit systems in North America, OC Transpo staff suggested that typical retail for transit stations include (not surprisingly) coffee shops, convenience stores and flower vendors, although less common retail uses are also being explored such as seasonal or pop-up shops, and services like dry-cleaning.

A coffee shop at Toronto's Union Station is used as an example by the City of Ottawa as something that might be seen in one of its future LRT stations. (City of Ottawa)

OC Transpo's Pat Scrimgeour suggested that Tunney's Pasture "could be a great location." The retail for that terminus station is planned for the centre of a big glass building with visibility from all sides. There are also 10,000 civil servants working at the Tunney's campus, and many will be streaming through that station each day.

"If somebody comes in there with a business that caters to people in the morning — whether it's muffins or gum or juice — and maybe they can also cater to people going home in the afternoon on their way home and needs to pick up something to go with their dinner, or something for dinner, I think someone can do very well," Scrimgeour said.

Renting out that retail space isn't expected to raise much revenue for the city. The key point of the retailers is to improve the experience for riders and to have more of a "human presence" in the station. And if the rents were set too high, said Scrimgeour, it would very much limit the types of shops and services that could operate in the transit stations. 

Commissioners agreed that they'd like to see local businesses set up in the stations, although the current policy forbids the sale of alcohol or tobacco products, and the use of an open flame or deep fryer.

They also voted in favour of using an outside firm to manage retail in the LRT.