City budget shovels millions toward transit, housing

The city will spend an extra $7.5 million in 2020 to make buses more reliable and expand suburban routes, Mayor Jim Watson promised as he laid out Ottawa's spending plan for the coming year.

Draft plan includes $7.5M to boost bus service, $15M toward affordable housing

Mayor Jim Watson delivers a budget speech on Nov. 6, 2019. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

The city will spend an extra $7.5 million in 2020 to make buses more reliable and expand suburban routes, Mayor Jim Watson promised as he laid out Ottawa's spending plan for the coming year.

"We have heard loud and clear ... [riders] want better dependability in the bus service that connects to LRT," Watson said as he introduced the 2020 draft budget at city hall Wednesday.

The draft budget also maintains the mayor's election campaign promise to keep property taxes capped at a three per cent increase.


At a special transit commission meeting later in the day, commissioners heard the budget will include an extra $7.5 million to add 59 buses to the fleet in 2020. That includes 19 new buses that were always planned, plus an additional 40 vehicles that Watson announced last Friday to alleviate current transit woes since the Confederation Line's launched.

It will cost $3.5 million to run those 40 buses, money that will have to come from transit reserves. But because OC Transpo currently doesn't have enough in its operating reserve, it will to borrow funds from its capital account — an unusual step for the city.

The 2020 transit budget is based on the assumption of a 2.6 per cent increase in ridership, even though ridership rose by less than 1 per cent in 2019. 

Fares are also set to increase on Jan. 1 , which is expected to bring in an additional $5 million in revenue, but some councillors including Shawn Menard and Laura Dudas have said they'll be looking for ways to freeze fares in light of the current transit troubles.

An OC Transpo bus speeds past Hurdman station on Sept. 6, 2019. (Andrew Lee/CBC)

$15M for housing

The budget also promises $15 million to build affordable housing, adding to money promised in last year's budget, and amounting to what Watson called "the largest direct contributions to housing capital in the city's history."

The city plans to put an extra $5.6 million toward snow- and ice-clearing for a total of $78.3 million in 2020, in a bid to hit the right target on a budget envelope that has run deficits every year since 2012.

"Budget 2020 helps ensure Ottawa remains a safe and vibrant community for years to come," Watson said.

There's also money to create an anti-racism secretariat that Coun. Rawlson King has championed, and $2 million more for Para Transpo, bringing its budget to $33 million.

As expected, the draft budget would see the average urban Ottawa homeowner's property taxes increase by three per cent, or an extra $109 for a home assessed at $404,000. The tax hike for a rural home would be capped at 2.5 per cent, or an extra $77.

Water bills will go up an average of 4.7 per cent, or $36.


City operations for 2020 are pegged to cost $3.76 billion, more than $700 million of that covered by grants from upper levels of government. The city plans to add 249 new full-time positions, including 161 at OC Transpo and Para Transpo, 27 on the police service and 14 paramedics.

On the capital side of the budget, the city plans to spend $814 million on projects in 2020. The city will spend $51 million to repave roads, after a couple of council terms in which the city spent far less to maintain its roads. 

With the draft budget tabled, each standing committee and board will now hold its own meeting to hear from the public about its share. Council will vote on the final city budget Dec. 11.


Kate Porter


Kate Porter covers municipal affairs for CBC Ottawa. Over the past two decades, she has also produced in-depth reports for radio, web and TV, regularly presented the radio news, and covered the arts beat.


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