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The “lollipop” logo will mark O-Train stations throughout Ottawa, including the one on campus by the canal. Photo: Parker Townes.

Downtown core trips will be simpler, suburban students in for short-term complications

While we don’t yet have an opening date for Ottawa’s new light rail transit (LRT) system, it’s a safe bet that the new train will be carrying students to and from campus for the start of the new academic year in fall according to OC Transpo head John Manconi.

The new Confederation Line, which will run through downtown and the University of Ottawa, has largely been touted by the city council and OC Transpo as the next big step forward in Ottawa’s transit system, and our maturity as a city. But the new train has its costs, depending on how short-term our thinking, or how long-distanced our commute to campus.

Let’s deal with the obvious positives first: the train will make things a lot clearer both at U of O and in the downtown core in general. Mackenzie-King Bridge, behind the Rideau Centre, will be free of hundreds of express buses thanks to the new tunnel, meaning improved air quality for the bus-jammed street.

And on campus, Laurier Station will cease to exist as a commuter hub; passengers and pedestrians will not have to fight over the narrow sidewalks outside Desmarais and Tabaret. Instead, train passengers will use the centrally located O-Train station behind Vanier Hall, with its walkable plazas and links to the Rideau Canal.

But while the train will dramatically improve short-distance trips to places like Centretown, Hintonburg or St. Laurent, those with longer commutes from the suburbs are worried their journeys will become a bit more complicated based on the OC Transpo online travel-planner.

Matt Killeen, an undergraduate student who lives in Orleans, says that he has looked at his prospective trip with the planner, “and it just took longer, it seemed.”

“I think it will be good once there’s Stage 2, because as of now it just goes to Blair, and I’m in Orleans which is still another bus ride,” Killeen said.

The Stage 2 expansions will bring the train to more suburbs in the West, South, and East. But for the next few years — and any student who is now in their undergrad — commutes could involve one or even two long bus trips before a short stint on the Confederation Line.

Indeed, one user on the GeeGee’s subreddit commented on a Reddit thread that “LRT is going to worsen my Barrhaven commute hands down.”

However, OC Transpo claims the LRT will improve the reliability of existing bus routes by dramatically shortening their length. They claim the main cause of OC Transpo’s poor on-time performance is lengthy routes that often see buses travelling across the city through unpredictable traffic. With the new LRT these routes will be cut down to less than half their original length and connected to the new line, reducing the chance that buses will get thrown off schedule.

The Confederation Line will also provide a much faster route, via the north-south running Trillium Line, to places like Little Italy, South Keys, and Carleton University. If U of O students want to head to Carleton for a tussle, a stare-down, or a dance-off, they will now be able to do so in less than 20 minutes by train.

Even this will be disrupted, however, as the Trillium Line will close in 2020 for just under two years of renovations that will see larger, more frequent trains, an extension to the Ottawa Airport, and a complete overhaul to the line’s minimalist stations.

The Confederation Line will not solve all of OC Transpo’s issues by itself. But it lays the foundation for the city’s expansive network plan including links to Barrhaven, Kanata, Aylmer, the airport, and Orleans.