OC Transpo 'not a reliable system right now,' Manconi says

The head of OC Transpo admitted Wednesday the city's public transit system is unreliable, a problem that will only be addressed once light rail is up and running.

Transit boss says improvement plan hampered by LRT delays

OC Transpo has some plans for improvement in 2019, but they're all predicated on the launch of LRT. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

The head of OC Transpo admitted Wednesday the city's public transit system is unreliable, a problem that will only be addressed once light rail is up and running.

"The system has not been reliable. Everybody is raising that with me, and I'm not denying it. It is not a reliable system right now," OC Transpo boss John Manconi told Ottawa's transit commission Wednesday morning.

Our customers are going through a lot of pain.- John Manconi

His frank admission was in response to concerns from both commission members and public delegations who spoke to the recent quality of the transit service.

"Our customers are going through a lot of pain. I need the LRT to get up and running. I can't be any more candid with you than that," Manconi said. "We have had a horrible reliability issue. I'm not making excuses."

The LRT system was expected to be operating by spring, but Rideau Transit Group — the consortium building the Confederation Line — is unlikely to meet its March 31 deadline, and it's not clear when it will hand over the keys.

In its 2019 budget, OC Transpo plans to spend $5.1 million annually to expand bus service on 30 community routes, and shell out an additional $7.8 million to buy 12 more buses. But those improvements won't come online until the LRT is operating.

Coun. Diane Deans, who no longer sits on the transit commission, said she has "a lot of trouble with this budget" because it's built "on the false assumption that the LRT deadline will happen by March 31."

Fares frozen, for now

Acknowledging passengers are experiencing poorer service due to the LRT delay, council had already voted to freeze fares until July 1. That freeze means the city is bringing in $2.3 million less in fare revenue for the first half of the year.

But when council made that decision, it believed LRT would be operating well before July. Now that it looks as if it will be further delayed, Coun. Laura Dudas asked if the fare freeze could be extended.

Manconi said that would be up to council, which could make that decision after the next formal LRT update in early March.

While some councillors support the idea of freezing fares if the LRT is again delayed, Coun. Allan Hubley, who chairs the transit commission, disagreed.

"I wouldn't vote to extend the freeze for the simple reason that this budget takes that money that's coming in through the increase, and it's making significant improvements to a number of the routes," he said. (In fact, the improvements will only come into effect once LRT becomes operational.)

Coun. Allan Hubley, chair of the transit commission, says he does not want to see fares frozen beyond July 1, 2019. (Kate Porter/CBC)

OC Transpo expects ridership to increase by 1.5 per cent in 2019, to 97.8 million customer trips.

That's still a drop from recent levels. In 2012, OC Transpo carried 101 million customers, but that number declined until a slight uptick in ridership last year. 

Rise in revenue expected

OC Transpo is also forecasting a modest 0.7 per cent increase in fare revenue. In 2017, fare revenue was more than $8 million lower than expected. In 2018, fare revenue fell $6.4 million lower than forecast despite the slight increase in ridership, because customers were choosing lower-fare options such as student and low-income passes. 

But again, it's all linked to the launch of the light rail system.

ParaTranspo ridership is expected to remain at 850,000 rider per year.

The transit commission passed OC Transpo's $547.8-million operating 2019 budget, which must be approved by full council at its meeting of March 6. 

Kavanagh and Coun. Catherine McKenney voted against the budget because they support a fare freeze for vulnerable riders in particular, which they plan to argue for at council.