Transit users should be encouraged from the amount of attention municipal candidates are already paying to transit issues, months ahead of this fall’s election.

 

This emphasis only makes sense. Transit is a big ticket municipal item, and it’s important. Even if you don’t use it, as a motorist, surely you want other people to do so and hence get the hell out of your way on the roads.

 

So far, candidates for mayor include Alex Cullen, chair of the transit committee, who has extensive experience in the area and a record to defend, and former Ottawa mayor Jim Watson, who has resigned as minister of municipal affairs to run for the office.

 

Some candidates, as far as some media are concerned, are more equal than others. Watson’s candidacy was front page news in the Ottawa Citizen, while Cullen, a centre-left politico overwhelmingly unlikely to secure that paper’s endorsement, found his own announcement buried on page three of the City section.


But when it came to the substance of the candidates’ remarks, transit was very much on their minds, in particular our $2.1-billion light rail plan. Both generally support the tunnel project, although Cullen is a stalwart booster while Watson, expressing doubt about funding for the project and potential cost overruns, is more ambivalent.


Even when former mayor Bob Chiarelli, whose last re-election campaign foundered on another light rail project, announced he will be going after Watson’s seat at Queen’s Park, among the first things out of his mouth was his support for the transit plan even if (and this is entirely likely) the price rises.


Of course, there’s more to the transit file than sexy new infrastructure. The day-to-day operations of OC Transpo clearly need more attention. Managerial screw-ups there have been blamed for the cancellation of 200 bus trips just after new year’s when improperly maintained buses froze up, as well as the inflation of the cost of a new bus garage to $97 million from $60 million.


The adversarial climate between labour and management is also going to require more thoughtful handling than Mayor Larry O’Brien’s asinine threats to pre-emptively lock drivers out next spring. Cullen has vowed there will be no strike on his watch, but hasn’t said how he would accomplish this.


The election is months away, and we haven’t seen anywhere near the full offering of candidates or platforms, but it’s a good sign to see public transportation make an early and salient appearance in the campaign. It will make it easier for those who care about it to “vote transit” this fall.