Why these 4 councillors and the mayor aren't taking the transit challenge

Ottawa council members who won’t be participating in a transit challenge this week cite scheduling constraints and a lack of transportation options in rural areas.

Ottawa Transit Challenge calls for city leaders to take only transit for a full week

George Darouze, Scott Moffatt, Eli El-Chantiry, Stephen Blais (from left to right) and the mayor say scheduling difficulties and the lack of public transit options in rural areas are among the reasons why they won't be participating in the Ottawa Transit Challenge. (CBC)

Ottawa council members who won't be participating in a transit challenge this week cite scheduling constraints and a lack of transportation options in rural areas.

The majority of city councillors — 15 out of 23 — agreed to take part in the Ottawa Transit Challenge, along with four citizen transit commissioners.

The second annual event run by a group of transit and environmental advocacy organizations calls on city politicians, top OC Transpo officials and the public to use public transit for all their transportation needs for one week.

The challenge started Monday.

Mayor Jim Watson along with four rural councillors — George Darouze, Scott Moffatt, Eli El-Chantiry and Stephen Blais — declined invitations to participate. 

Watson said he won't be able to take OC Transpo for all his public transportation needs this week because he has engagements in parts of the city that don't have regular transit options, such as Carp.

"I take the train and the bus as often as I can … but unfortunately my schedule is such that I'm often in parts of the city that don't have transit," said Watson.

"I don't need a formal challenge to go and take the train or the bus. I take it on a regular basis."

Rural councillors cite limited options

Both Darouze and Moffatt said all of their council-related business this week is in their wards, outside of the downtown core and out of the range of most transit options.

"The reality is I'm not going downtown this week and that's really all it comes down to, the opportunity is not there," said Moffatt, who said he has commitments in Richmond, Manotick and his home village of North Gower.

Moffatt said he was planning to take public transit to a meeting of the environmental committee at City Hall on Tuesday, but the meeting was cancelled.

Darouze said he has no other options than to drive his car to his office in Metcalfe and other business meetings this week, which include a board meeting of the South Nation Conservation organization in Finch, Ont., southeast of the city.

"I'd love to participate if I could," said Darouze.

Blais said he isn't participating because he's currently campaigning in next week's provincial byelection in Orléans.

"I have done many commuter challenges in the past, including riding all routes from Cumberland Ward into Ottawa," said Blais in an email.

Blais said he will return to using OC Transpo every day once he gets back to his normal commuting schedule.

El-Chantiry said he won't be participating because he'll be out of town for most of the week.

A spokesperson for El-Chantiry said he will be travelling to Toronto for conference Wednesday in his capacity as a member of the Ottawa Board of Health.

Another four councillors couldn't take part because they are out of town or indisposed. 

Diane Deans is on leave for medical reasons and Rick Chiarelli was released from hospital after heart surgery less than two weeks ago.

Laura Dudas and Tim Tierney are both on vacation, but both said they would have participated otherwise.

Tierney tweeted Wednesday morning he's joining the challenge in progress without being able to do the full week.