Last week wasn’t a conspicuously good one for public transit in Ottawa, as the city’s $6.6-billion long-term plan to expand the system fell victim once again to skittishness at senior levels of government.
It may not have been surprising to see Ontario’s deficit-wracked provincial premier pour ice water on our downtown light rail and tunnel scheme, but it was certainly dismaying. The city was counting on the province and the feds to each foot a third of the bill. Looks like the route to the future of public transportation in Ottawa will have to be re-mapped once again.
I, for one, will be quite excited to see what the new, new transit plan. By the time it comes to fruition, though, I’m almost certain I’ll be riding on a discounted senior’s pass. More troubling news this week as the city suspended the procurement of the Smart Bus system, which featured automatic callouts of stops.
This gadgetry, you may recall, started with a $6-million price tag that soon inflated to $17 million. Council now has to make an unappetizing choice between cancelling the procurement outright and being sued by U.S. contractor Clever Devices, which won the contract, or going ahead with it and being sued by unsuccessful bidder Bell Canada.
Our other high-tech new toys, the diesel-electric hybrid buses, were pulled off the road last week so a bug in their radio software can be patched.
Meanwhile, fares will be hiked yet again in July, an average of 7.5 per cent, and the transit budget, to be voted on this week, calls for a 12.7 per cent increase in funding from the city, which amounts to another $21 million.
This increase would necessitate an increase of 2.1 percentage points on property tax bills.
On the slightly less gloomy side, OC Transpo says that ridership almost returned to normal this spring, down only four per cent in June, as opposed to the 7.8 per cent chased off by last year’s strike. Unfortunately that’s hardly good enough, as they’re counting on a ridership increase of 1.7 per cent in 2010 to make their budget numbers add up.