Transit committee presses OC Transpo to prioritize bus reliability

A number 2 bus turns onto Bayview from Albert in the summer.
OC Transpo said it’s looking to improve bus reliability. File photo by Charlie Senack.

By Hannah Wanamaker

The continuous LRT expansions, repairs and infrastructure projects have distracted OC Transpo executives from improving bus reliability.

On Feb. 8 Renée Amilcar, OC Transpo’s general manager of transit services, reassured transit committee members that she plans to prioritize rebuilding Ottawa’s unreliable busing system in 2024. 

Since becoming GM two years ago, LRT maintenance and expansion projects have been the company’s primary concern, she admitted. 

Pat Scrimgeour, director of transit customer systems and planning at OC Transpo, added their delivery service goal with buses, para-transpo and the LRT is over 99 per cent. Service delivery for the LRT is currently at 97.1 per cent; 97.8 per cent for buses.

Data the company collected about bus timeliness in 2023 found that 74 per cent of bus trips were on time. Scrimgeour defined that as being “no more than one minute early and five minutes late.”

He explained there are a number of hurdles preventing consistent bus reliability like construction, traffic and operator no-shows. 

Coun. Jeff Leiper added that during peak traffic hours, routes like the 6 and 11 crawl down Bank St. and Somerset St. 

Related: Kitchissippi Times sat down with Renée Amilcar to discuss OC Transpo issues.

Councillor Leiper sits with his hand on his face.
Kitchissippi councillor Jeff Leiper expressed concerns over fare enforcement. Photo by Charlie Senack.

Another problem Amilcar and Scrimgeour presented was a lack of engineers specializing in buses. 

Trip cancellations can occur when buses break down either in the garage or on route and cannot resume until the bus is fixed or a new one joins the fleet. 

Amilcar revealed that the lack of engineers produces prolonged delays to bus repairs, though she did not say how long buses average being out of service. 

Her team pitched working with trade schools to train and hire more engineers specializing in bus maintenance. More details about its rollout should be available later this year. 

Kenney Vandelinde, a Canterbury High School student who spoke as a delegate at the February transit committee meeting, said bus unreliability often means she arrives late for school and misses material. 

“I’ll get on in the morning and it’ll be really really busy and there will be a lot of us rushing to get to class,” she said. 

Canterbury is the only English arts school in the city, with 80 per cent of its students coming from beyond normal school limits. 

Vandelinde said students who stay after school for rehearsals and extracurriculars often wait over an hour for the 48 Hurdman to pick them up. 

“We’ve been waiting at the stop for over an hour and we’ve had to walk around to try and find another stop that can get us to where we need to go,” she said. 

Rene Amilcar sits at a board room table.
OC Transpo general manager Renée Amilcar at the Feb. 8 transit committee meeting. Photo by Charlie Senack.

Frustrated councillors pressed OC Traspo executives during question periods regarding anticipated timelines for improvements. 

“I believe staff know what the issues are but those key stats that we looked at are basically flat. We’re not seeing an upward trend or the times that we should be,” said Coun. Riley Brockington. 

“I hear a lot of ‘we’re working on that,’ but when are we going to start being asked to make some decisions around here?” echoed Leiper.

Scrimgeour said quarterly improvements should begin when bus route changes take effect in the spring. A comprehensive plan won’t be ready for another six months, added Amilcar.

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