Ottawa

City may fall short on long-term transit ridership goals

The City of Ottawa has been on a long-term path aimed at getting Ottawa residents to ride transit instead of taking their vehicles, but a new consultant's report suggests it may fall short of its goals.

Aimed for more than a quarter of morning commutes by transit by 2031

The City of Ottawa envisioned 26 per cent of morning commutes taking place by either bus or train by 2031. A new report suggests the city may fall short of that goal. (Stu Mills/CBC)

The City of Ottawa has been on a long-term path aimed at getting Ottawa residents to ride transit instead of taking their vehicles, but a new consultant's report suggests it may fall short of its goals.

Back in 2013, when the city last laid out a master plan for the transportation network, it believed it could nudge transit use higher by 2031 and have it account for 26 per cent of trips during the morning peak hours — compared to 59 per cent for driving, 10 per cent walking and five per cent cycling.

But a study by Hemson Consulting Ltd., which the city commissioned so it could take stock of its infrastructure needs and set appropriate development charge rates, suggests the proportion of morning commutes that use mass transit might only reach 23 per cent by that year.

The study points out that ridership forecasts have been revised since 2013.

In 2011, the city estimated 102,500 trips took place each morning by bus or O-Train, but the forecast for 2019 shows those trips have now actually fallen to 96,400 — a fifth of all morning weekday trips.

Recent uptick

Still, the most recent ridership numbers show more people are again taking the bus or train, after several months that showed the numbers dipping or flatlining, according to transportation manager John Manconi.

"One per cent increase with all the detours, with all the changes and so forth that we've seen, is a very good thing," said Manconi. "Our focus remains on launching the LRT."

Manconi said transit agencies across North America have seen falling ridership, and there's been much speculation about possible causes, like the arrival of ride-hailing companies like Uber.

"To have increased ridership, or not a decline, when five years ago there were many critics who said we were going to see a massive drop in our ridership — hats off to our customers for sticking with us," said Manconi.

John Manconi, the city's general manager of transportation services, says a recent upswing in the number of transit riders bodes well for the city's future. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

As for any concerns about the long-term goals going unmet, transit chair Coun. Allan Hubley said ridership should increase once light rail finally launches and the city can put in place the $5 million in new routes it set out in the 2019 budget.

"Next year should be a very good year, I would hope, for ridership if we can get some buses into the 'burbs," said Hubley.

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