Ottawa

Riders, councillors question reliability of delay-plagued trains

Three days of delays and backup buses have riders and city councillors questioning how much trust they can put in Ottawa's new light rail system.

'We just want to get to work,' says frustrated LRT commuter

Fraser Smith has been commuting from Nepean to downtown Ottawa using light rail, but he's now considering driving to avoid being late for work again. (Laura Glowacki/CBC)

Three days of delays and backup buses have riders and city councillors questioning how much trust they can put in Ottawa's new light rail system.

Fraser Smith, a 48-year-old government worker who travels from Nepean to downtown Ottawa on the Confederation Line, was stuck in delays three days in a row this week.

He said he's fed up.

"We just want to get to work," said Smith Thursday afternoon. "I paid to use the train today, but I didn't get to use the train today."

The bus he normally takes to Tunney's Pasture station just kept going east and dropped passengers off downtown Thursday, circumventing the train. Smith is now considering alternatives to public transit.

Some commuters urged 'understanding' when it comes to LRT problems, while others called out OC Transpo for the system's unreliability.  1:30

The city said door jams caused delays on the Confederation Line during morning rush hour on Tuesday and Wednesday. The service was disrupted Thursday morning when an on-board computer broke down.

"I know that right down the street I can park my car for 13 bucks a day," Smith said outside his office near Parliament station.

"I'm willing to pay extra because that means I get to work on time and I'm not getting smushed."

Street level at Tunney's Pasture station during an LRT delay on Oct. 9, 2019. Local bus service was greatly reduced with launch of new transit system. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

'We understand the inconvenience'

John Manconi, general manager of transportation services, promised Thursday afternoon the city is working to make things better.

"We understand the inconvenience and frustration our customers have experienced," he wrote in an email.

"We are focused and committed to doing what is necessary to ensure that we provide the reliable O-Train service that Ottawa expects and deserves."

Some riders like Gloria Moreno, who was about 25 minutes late for work both Tuesday and Wednesday, are simply leaving home earlier, anticipating problems.

"We just need to be a little bit understanding," said Moreno, urging her fellow riders to have faith in the transit service.

"To be able to improve the system you have to try it."

Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney, whose downtown ward includes a number of LRT stations, said her biggest worry is that Ottawa residents abandon the train altogether to avoid getting burned.

"People can't wonder if once a week, even once a month, that the train is not going to get them into work," she said.

Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney said Thursday her greatest worry is riders will give up on public transit after the Confederation Line experienced delays earlier in the week. (CBC)

McKenney is calling for OC Transpo to consider suspending the Confederation Line until they can be sure residents can fully rely on the service.

"I really need to hear that this system is working. If it isn't, perhaps we shut it down and we make sure that it is," she said.

Cumberland Coun. Stephen Blais, the former chair of the transit commission, said the city must convince riders to be patient and keep taking transit while OC Transpo makes every effort to solve the delay issues.

He's asking frustrated riders to contact city councillors with details about their trips to help OC Transpo suss out the glitches.

"This needs to get figured out and figured out quickly," Blais said. 

"Everyone is experiencing something slightly different over the last three weeks. It's much easier to diagnose specific problems or pinch points if we have as much information as possible."

The City of Ottawa said it's making a host of improvements on the Confederation Line, including changing the trains' "dwell times"  — meaning train doors will stay open longer at certain stations to allow all passengers to exit and enter.

Other changes include adding more wayfinding signs at Blair station and leaving buses at Blair and Tunney's Pasture stations, in case they're suddenly needed.

Train manufacturer Alstom is also reviewing the sensitivity of the doors and assessing whether any technical problems might be causing them to jam.

About the Author

Laura Glowacki is a reporter based in Ottawa and Winnipeg. Previously, she worked as an associate producer for CBC's Metro Morning in Toronto. Find her on Twitter @glowackiCBC and reach her by email at laura.glowacki@cbc.ca.

With files from Kate Porter

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