Transit challenge returns right in the middle of an election

Organized by Ottawa Transit Riders, the first challenge of the pandemic urges everyone in the city — but especially those who are running for municipal office — to primarily use public transit for a week. 

City council candidates are being asked to rely on transit for a week

People board an OC Transpo bus last September during the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. This week marks the first city transit challenge — in which people are urged to exclusively ride transit — since the pandemic was declared. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Ottawans are once again being urged to stash their cars as the city's annual transit challenge returns from its COVID-19 hiatus, just as the city's municipal election campaign ramps up.

Organized by Ottawa Transit Riders, the challenge urges everyone in the city — but especially those who are running for city council this year — to primarily use public transit for a week. 

The group has sent invites to all mayoral, city council and school trustee candidates, along with key OC Transpo and City of Ottawa officials, asking them to participate. 

Their message was simple: ride a mile in the seats of the city's transit riders before making decisions about the transit network.

"If you don't have first-hand knowledge of what taking public transit is like, you're not going to be well-informed when you're making decisions," said Rory Lewis, a board member with Ottawa Transit Riders.

"Political candidates [don't always] have first-hand experience taking the bus or train or para-transport. They don't know the challenges that regular working-class people face."

The last time the challenge was held was in February 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted everyday life — including transit usage patterns — around the world.

Lewis said it's especially important that the 2022 challenge is taking place during a municipal election campaign, as it can help people who prioritize transit decide who to vote for.

"If they have a candidate that comes to their doorstep and talks to them about transit, we want people to ask those people 'Are you taking the transit challenge?'"

Para-transit user John Redins is running for city council and will be participating in this week's transit challenge. (City of Ottawa)

So far, 55 people have responded to the group's invitations, including John Redins, a Para Transpo user running for council in Gloucester-Southgate ward.

"The fact is that regular transit users can have options we don't. And accessibility cabs are now becoming hard to get," said Redins, explaining why accepting the challenge was important.

"The concentration of all transit is dedicated to go downtown, but it doesn't help you in the neighbourhood areas."

Last time around, several of the city's decision-makers, including outgoing Mayor Jim Watson, did not take part. Some rural councillors also pointed out that they had limited transit options in their wards.

Lewis said those explanations illustrate why the challenge is necessary. 

"If they can't take the bus, if they can't get the train, if they can't use public transit as their main mode of transportation, that means that their constituents can't either," Lewis said.

The challenge runs until Sept. 17.


Uday Rana

CBC Ottawa reporter

Uday Rana is an Ottawa-based journalist covering city news. Uday has worked as a print, digital and television reporter in India. He was previously with the Times of India and then with CNN-News18. He's covered conflict, sectarian violence and the rise of Hindu Nationalism in India.