Ottawa

Mayor backs fare freeze amid ongoing LRT woes

Citing the mounting frustration of OC Transpo customers with the city's problem-plagued LRT system, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson is proposing a three-month transit fare freeze.

Jim Watson proposing a freeze from January to March 2020

Passengers enter Tunney's Pasture station. OC Transpo fares were set to increase Jan. 1. (Andrew Lee/CBC)

Citing the mounting frustration of OC Transpo customers with the city's problem-plagued LRT system, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson is proposing a three-month transit fare freeze.

"As you know, our transit users have been experiencing far too many challenging and uncertain commutes over the last month, given the ongoing issues and service interruptions on LRT," Watson wrote to city manager Steve Kanellakos Friday afternoon.

Watson said the need for "short-term relief" in the form of a temporary freeze became "obvious" after Wednesday's fraught transit commission meeting. 

The mayor is proposing a fare freeze from January to March 2020. Transit fares were set to increase by 2.5 per cent on Jan. 1, according to the draft budget tabled on Wednesday.

The freeze will be covered by funds from payments being withheld from Confederation Line builder Rideau Transit Group, Watson said. The cost of freezing fares for three months will amount to about $960,000, he said.

"We're not satisfied with the LRT system to date — it frustrated too many people. And they shouldn't be paying more for the service until RTG gets its act together," Watson said. 

Additionally, the mayor has asked Kanellakos to come up with a funding plan to extend the fare freeze beyond March "should service to our transit passengers not improve to the City's satisfaction."

"Our hope for our customers certainly remains that issues will have been resolved over the coming months, and that service will have significantly improved and stabilized," the mayor concluded.

Sarah Wright-Gilbert, a citizen transit commissioner, says she welcomes the mayor's announcement of an increase in OC Transpo bus service — but adds that won't fix the problem of reliability on the LRT. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

Move applauded 

Citizen transit commissioner Sarah Wright-Gilbert welcomed the proposed freeze.  

"I think it's an excellent move by the mayor. I think it shows that he's listening to his constituents and he's listening to the commission and it will certainly make the budget meeting on the 20th of the Transit Commission perhaps a little less fiery," she said. 

"I think it's an excellent move by the mayor. I think it shows that he's listening to his constituents and he's listening to the commission and it will certainly make the budget meeting on the 20th of the Transit Commission perhaps a little less fiery," she said. 

Likewise, Anthony Carricato, citizen member of the transit commission, said he's thrilled the increases were offset until March. He hopes to work with his colleagues to freeze fares for the entire year.

"Asking residents to pay more for this service … is not reasonable or fair," Carricato said.

OC Transpo customer Donna Clark said while she's happy Watson is proposing a fare freeze, it doesn't undo the challenges to her commute created by the LRT. 

She said she used to take Route 14 to her overnight shifts at a hospital . Now, with changes to bus routes, she shuffles between five different routes to get to work. 

"I am at the point where I am actually thinking about getting a car," Clark said. 

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