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OC Transpo is cutting or merging 86 bus routes next month. Photo: Thorswolf/Wikicommons

Fewer bus routes means greater commuter dependence on smooth functioning of system

Ottawa’s LRT was officially launched this past weekend. In light of the Confederation Line’s inauguration, the entire transportation system in the city will face an overhaul, in which 86 bus routes will be cut or merged. These changes will take effect on Oct. 6. 

The renovation of the capital’s public transportation system has been a long-time coming. Even prior to my arrival to Ottawa just over two weeks ago to start studying at the University of Ottawa, many Ottawa-based friends had expressed their woes about the OC Transpo to me. Common phrases included: “the buses never come on time” or “the buses don’t show up at all.” 

I have also had my fair share of struggles navigating the system already in my 14 days here. I have been using three apps (OC Transpo, Google Maps and Transit) to try and figure out the best bus routes, and to make decisions about how long I should wait for a certain bus. I have also had moments of confusion finding bus stops, as the signage for new bus routes have been installed but old routes continue to operate.

Now Ottawa commuters must ask: Will the LRT make commuting easier? 

I commuted from the suburbs of Montreal to downtown beginning in high school all the way to the end of my undergraduate studies at McGill University (that’s 10 years, for those wondering). I’m used to waiting for long periods of time for trains and buses that do not show, and metros that break down. So, I think I can give an earnest response to the above question despite not being from Ottawa because, at the end of the day, every commuter in every city must put up with delays and problems. 

As much as Montrealers like to complain about the Service de Transport Métropolitaine (STM) bus and metro system and the EXO commuter trains, the current integrated system has been running for over 20 years and has had the chance to be changed and improved accordingly (Montrealers would say there are other changes that need to happen, but I’m not getting into them here). The system runs very well, with fairly well-coordinated transfers between the different options.

I received a leaflet in my mail the other day informing me of the LRT’s launch, which included other pertinent information about how efficient its implementation was going to be. According to the pamphlet, commuters should expect the LRT to come every five minutes during peak hours. 

Five minutes sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? However, there are many factors that could affect this wait time. Will winter cause many delays? What about mechanical malfunctions? As I already mentioned, Montreal’s STM and trains are also prone to delays. In general, however, there are good alternatives for commuters when things go awry. Unfortunately, the LRT only has one line, and with fewer bus routes, commuters will have to become increasingly dependent on the LRT’s smooth functioning. 

Moreover, the LRT will not make commuting easier for some, according to Craig Lord, writing for the Ottawa Business Journal. Residents living along the LRT’s route will find their morning and evening commutes easier, but those living in the suburbs in the west and east may have their commutes complicated by the LRT. 

I understand with anything new we must allow for an adjustment period to work out the kinks. In the long-run, the LRT may very well make people’s lives easier. In the meantime, however, commuters may be in for a few more hassles before the all-new Ottawa transport system becomes polished, which may take years as they continue to expand the LRT. 

When the LRT runs with no delays or setbacks, people will go about their day in silent contentment. But when it doesn’t, cue the expressions of frustration and annoyance.