Ottawa

6 months in, Ottawa's LRT has had more bad days than good ones

CBC Ottawa has crunched the numbers on the Confederation Line's bumpy start.

CBC Ottawa has crunched the numbers on the Confederation Line's bumpy start

There have been few bright spots for Ottawa's six-month-old Confederation Line since its launch six months ago. (CBC)

Six months after its flashy opening, the Confederation Line has had its schedule thrown off more days than it's run smoothly, and hasn't been able to string together more than five consecutive days of problem-free public transit since the transition from express buses ended.

OC Transpo customers funnelled aboard the electric Alstom trains that now serve as the only express route through downtown Ottawa have had a pretty miserable time of it, prompting calls for external reviews, fare relief and heads to roll.

Earlier this week, Ottawa city council voted to take the first step in the complex process of trying to get out of its contract with the line's builder and maintenance group.

All this while construction on a $4.66-billion LRT extension is underway.

As of the end of Thursday's afternoon peak, the Confederation Line has experienced problems causing delays, platform closures or requiring backup buses on 98 of the 180 days it's been open, or 54 per cent of the time.

 

By our count, the Confederation Line has had 114 separate problems, while the Trillium Line has experienced eight over the same period. Some last a matter of minutes, while others shut down a significant portion of the line for hours.

From Jan. 16 to 31, problems on the Confederation Line occurred daily, the longest streak of bad luck.

People wait for buses at Hurdman station on Jan. 16, 2020, after an overhead wire broke and caused serious delays on the eastern portion of the Confederation Line. (Hugo Bélanger/CBC)

The city keeps careful track of how often it sticks to its "scheduled service delivery," but told CBC we'd have to wait for a March 18 transit commission meeting for the most recent statistics, including ridership numbers.

November was bleakest month

Since Oct. 6 the Confederation Line has enjoyed a single five-day run of uninterrupted service early in the new year — when many people were still on vacation.

 

In terms of days without a glitch, December was the best month, while November was the worst.

 

The most common issue tweeted by OC Transpo has been the catch-all "stopped" or "immobilized" train, followed by door and power problems.

 

Stations at the east end of the LRT have had more problems than those to the west.

Blair station has seen the most issues with a train or piece of equipment, with 14.

St-Laurent and uOttawa have each had nine, while Hurdman has had eight.

Pimisi station at LeBreton Flats has the best record with three.

 

Judging by OC Transpo's Twitter alerts, there have been more than 430 hours of schedule disruptions over the past six months.

Considering the LRT runs 20 hours on most workdays — Friday gets an extra hour at night — that's more than 21 full days worth of problems.

The measure of success

There's one view that the line has never run on schedule, because we've never had the 15 trains that we were promised operating at once.

Until late January, there were 13 trains on the line most days. Then the number dropped consistently and dramatically, with as few as seven trains on the track at some points.

A woman wearing headphones waits for a train to arrive at Ottawa's Lyon light rail station on Sept. 14, 2019. (Andrew Lee/CBC)

There are also different ways to define an LRT issue. We know from our reporters and other riders that trains sometimes sit idle or platforms close without OC Transpo tweeting a service alert.

OC Transpo officials said in a response to an inquiry from a transit commissioner in November that there were 25 "events" on the Confederation Line — but OC Transpo had tweeted about 30 disruptions.

To compile our statistics, we've relied on these @OC_Transpo service alerts because they're direct from the source, and often include time, cause and location.

With files from Leah Hansen

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