It could be another cranky summer on the buses as mayoral candidates, both declared and prospective, squabble over the cost of light rail and the grumbling you hear on your morning bus may be your own.

According to a report prepared for the mayor’s office by consultant Bob Plamondon, Ottawa has one of the most expensive transit systems in Ontario, at $252 annually per capita (Toronto spends $160), but it seems the public is far from unanimous on the question of value for money.

This month, the Transit Services Annual Performance Report recorded a significant one-year drop in customer satisfaction. In the fall of 2008, 82 per cent of riders rated the service “good” or “very good.” By last fall, it had fallen to 68 per cent. Just less than half of those surveyed for the latest report agree Transpo cares about its customers.


Transpo, for its part, theorizes the bus strike of 2008-09 and multiple fare hikes may have something to do with the malaise. (Gee, ya think?)

Even though on-time performance has improved steadily and ridership has recovered from its post-strike doldrums, riders seem ever grumpier, to the point where a Transit Riders Union is in its early stages of organization, lobbying for a fare freeze and an end to no-show buses. Fed-up riders can email

Oddly, the rates of satisfaction decreased not only among transit riders but also non-riders. Again, the strike and the gruesome winter gridlock it generated for motorists no doubt had some effect on these numbers.

Bus-car relations are unlikely to improve this summer as the city proceeds with removing bus bays, the paved spots set up for buses to pull off roadways to pick up passengers. Now, instead of pulling over and then fighting to rejoin traffic, they will simply stop in the right-hand lane to pick up and drop off, leaving drivers fuming behind them. The complaints have already begun.

Meanwhile, bus stop improvements in the downtown core will result in even worse rush hour congestion than usual as already-clogged Slater and Albert streets suffer lane reductions and lost parking until September. I can hear the horns and curses now.

By fall, most of the traffic disruptions should be over with, and the buses themselves should be easier than ever to use, as the new NSAS system, which will not only automatically call out stops but visually display the time and bus’ location and direction of travel, comes online.

Any residual frustrations over transit are perhaps best taken up with the mayor and council in the Oct. 25 civic elections.

– Steve Collins lives, writes and walks in Ottawa;

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