In general, it works when the city of Ottawa is doing a local infrastructure project.
The town’s public activities and recreational facilities are quite good; the outdoor ice rinks and arenas, the outdoor pools and splash pads, the indoor recreational facilities are top notch, and the city parks and trails are also amazing. The common denominator is here that the city is in charge of maintenance.
OC Transpo was in the same category until a few years ago. With over 900 buses in its fleet and five industrial-sized garages to maintain them all, Ottawa’s bus system, even though it had its problems, was efficient for a city of one million people.
After living in the York region of GTA and commuting to the University of downtown Toronto, the lack of designated bus lanes caused public transportation users like me to get stuck in traffic with other car commuters and the high monthly costs of Toronto’s non-integrated commuter transportation system could have been redirected to cover the lease payments for a Mercedes. By comparison, Ottawa’s transit system was a dream.
LRT’s Confederation Line has changed any perception that OC Transpo provides a decent service. P3 (public-private partnership) the maintenance and construction contract for LRT, which is shared between the city and the Rideau Transit Group (RTG), is the single most significant issue. According to the city’s website dedicated to listing P3 contracts, two of the “key benefits” of P3s for the city are: “creating high-quality infrastructure” and “Increasing efficiency and effectiveness”. The Rideau Transit Group has failed dramatically in doing either.
If the Covid-19 pandemic had not led to a wave of citizens working from home, Ottawa would have suffered a complete transit disaster.
The citizens of Ottawa deserve “high quality infrastructure” for the price they pay
The train derailment on the Federal Railway is just the latest in a series of quality assurance and safety errors. As early as March 2019, internal reports showed that the trains could not cope with Ottawa’s cold climate. The report was released before the line even opened. Clamped doors also repeatedly held commuters back and created massive backlogs. According to a press release from the Amalgamated Transit Union, the city spends between $ 4 and $ 5 million a month on maintenance of the O-train, provided through Rideau Transit Maintenance (RTM), a subsidiary of RTG. Nevertheless, a report by the Transport Safety Council “incomplete maintenance” blamed the derailment that has kept the system closed since 19 September 2021.
ATU 279, the Ottawa branch of the ATU union representing 3,000 transit workers, has expressed frustration and urged the city to take the maintenance of the system away from RTM and RTG and hand over any future tasks to the city and OC Transpo. The union says that the P3 program puts a profit on the safety of commuters.
ATU 279 is right; The P3 program does not serve the citizens of Ottawa. P3 has only been profitable for the Rideau Transit Group at the expense of any citizen dependent on public transport. Two years since the opening of the O-Train, it has proved complicated and murky to see the P3 project agreement. Much of the document has been edited or deleted. Most worryingly, the key person’s section, Schedule 9, is no longer listed. If Ottawa citizens want to hold accountable to those responsible for the system’s failures, they cannot do so without going to the council or the mayor’s office.
OVER: The O-Train Confederation Line documents from the City of Ottawa website are pretty much all edited, and the “Key Individuals” page is currently blank.
The city should not edit documents to hide information from Ottawa’s residents – the transit system is paid for from citizens’ pockets. If the chairman of the transit committee, Allan Hubley, and Mayor Jim Watson are serious about arranging transit in the city and restoring OC Transpo’s reputation, they should bring the O-train under a public maintenance system with checks and balances and with better supervision.
Ottawa’s fleet of buses operates under a similar system and has proven to be efficient. Call it bad policy or lack of work experience from city council members, but it’s awful to spend millions of dollars a month on maintaining trains that do not work due to sloppy maintenance and do nothing about it. The council is to put RTG on the next train out of town.
Continuing to pay RTG / RTM for system maintenance can be compared to corruption. RTG should reimburse city taxpayers for maintenance costs since the opening of the Confederations Line in 2019.
Re-summons for judicial review
The Council voted against a judicial inquiry into the Confederation Line on 13 October 2021 and instead asked the Auditor General to investigate the matter – a process that will take place behind closed doors. Councilor Catherine McKenney has renewed calls on the province to launch a two-part judicial inquiry, which Ottawa City Council is due to vote on on November 10, 2021.
With the city editing documents and a train derailment caused by faulty work, this is no longer a political issue; it is a health and safety issue.