Overcrowding on Gatineau buses getting worse, numbers show

A Radio-Canada investigation has found an increasing number of Gatineau city buses — including many that run into Ottawa — are so overcrowded they're passing by waiting riders because there isn't enough space on board.

STO says it's trying to address the problem of buses blowing past stops

The number of overcrowded STO buses has increased by 70 per cent between September 2017 and September 2018, according to information obtained by Radio-Canada. As a result, many are blowing by bus stops — leaving riders frustrated. (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC)

Gatineau city buses — including many that run into Ottawa — are so overcrowded that an increasing number are forced to bypass waiting riders because there isn't enough space on board. 

This past September, the number of overcrowded Société de transport de l'Outaouais (STO) buses jumped 70 per cent compared to the same time in 2017, according to information obtained by Radio-Canada through an access to information request.

The number of full STO buses increased from 1,139 in 2017 to 1,936 in 2018, despite adjustments made by STO over the past year. 

The transit system's five most busy routes — the 24, 59, 100, 200 and 400 — remained the same as last year.

Buses blowing past Parliament Hill

Route 200 is the most frequently overcrowded, with buses speeding past would-be riders without stopping 375 times this September.

The number 59 bus passed people 195 times, while the 100 passed people 161 times. The number 24 failed to stop 115 times and route 400 left passengers waiting on 107 occasions.

The STO bus stop overcrowded buses most often blew right past was in Ottawa, close to Parliament Hill near Wellington and Bank streets. Buses bypassed the stop 173 times, according to Radio-Canada's analysis.

The failure of STO buses to stop — and the tense, close quarters on those that do — has left transit riders like David Rene de Cotret frustrated. 

"I have to stand all the time. A lot of people have to stand. We have those older couples that have to stand too, as well. And it's tough," said de Cotret, who boards the bus near a park-and-ride in Aylmer.

"This is a main stop for STO. I don't see why we don't have all the buses stop here."

David Rene de Cotret rides STO buses from Aylmer into Ottawa, and says they're often so crowded even elderly people have to stand. (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC)

'Happens quite often'

Caroline Tessier says it's stressful when she sees her bus blow past, especially when she's planning to pick up her kids from school. 

"I have to wait sometimes at least 15 to 20 minutes later," said Tessier. "It happens quite often."

Sandrine Nishimwe has taken the bus since she was a teen. She said she just deals with the overcrowding since it's less expensive to take transit and better for the environment.

"It surprises me to hear that they say that they tried to make a difference," she said.

Sandrine Nishimwe says she's seen STO buses so overcrowded that people push each other. (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC)

Philip Young who takes four buses each day, is also frustrated.

"I've had experiences where the bus has pretty much had to close its doors, because it was completely full, and [I] just had to wait another 30, 40 minutes for the next one," said Young.

"That was actually a pretty frustrating day, just because I do have to get home by a certain time."

STO says ridership is up

Guy Gosselin, president of the union representing STO drivers, said overcrowding can also lead to conflicts between drivers and passengers.

He encouraged frustrated riders to contact STO customer service and make formal complaints, and hoped adjustments will be made to curb overcrowding. 

As for STO, the agency says ridership has increased 15 per cent since the beginning of the year, partly explaining the rise in packed buses.

If you commute on STO buses, chances are you've had to stand for the bus ride-- or been waiting at a bus stop only to be passed by a full bus. 9:04

The agency said all of its buses are on the road during rush hour, and while it's tried to adjust its operations by adding more buses to busy routes, it has to work with the resources it has.

STO said it's also trying to maximize the use of its 83 larger buses, which make up about 25 per cent of its fleet, and is planning further changes in January. 

From 2020 to 2024, STO also plans to purchase 153 new buses, although some older buses will have to be removed from the network. 

Its current buses also have new technology on board that tracks more data and provides a more accurate picture of the overcrowding, the agency added.

Corrections

  • The STO originally said in an interview with Radio-Canada that it intended to purchase 53 buses between 2020 and 2024, it now says it will purchase 153.
    Dec 03, 2018 5:24 PM ET

About the Author

Krystalle Ramlakhan

Krystalle Ramlakhan is a multi-platform journalist with CBC Ottawa. She has also worked for CBC in P.E.I., Winnipeg and Iqaluit.

With files from Laurie Trudel