City Fails To Set LRT Goals: Reader


light rail rep

An artist’s representation of the new Ottawa light-rail project.

Frequent Bulldog contributor Ron Benn weighs in on the fact that the light-rail plan has not set any targets for ridership.

Benn’s article is below. It should be required reading for anyone interested in Ottawa’s LRT.

The problems plaguing the LRT are plentiful. Rather than get bogged down examining the minutia, I think it prudent to view it from 9,140 metres (30,000 feet for those of us from the old school).

While I lack Sheridan’s considerable research skills and requisite patience in citing quotes and published statements, so I stand to be corrected, but I cannot find any publicly stated, measurable goals for the LRT, in any of its various phases.

With no measurable goals, there is no way to determine whether, when it is eventually finished, that it has been a success. More, farther, faster are imprecise measures. These are the measures for the social (faux) sciences (how many of you remember when these were called Social Studies), not from the applied sciences. As such, success or failure can be declared arbitrarily, depending on one’s agenda.

With no stated goals, the choice of route was not critical to its success. How many passengers, the length of the track (which is a proxy for the area covered) that it collects these passengers from, and the speed with which it delivers the passengers to their destination are of passing interest if one has no desire to measure the actual results and compare them against the baseline numbers, which might have come from a properly executed ridership study.

The route appears to have been chosen based on achieving some form of hybrid model. If one looks at the ink splotches that lay out the eventual, possibly maybe route for LRT Phase III, it eventually reaches the inner edges of the outer suburbs, so it has the potential to address the second half of Ottawa’s population sometime before everyone currently working retires. However, with so many stops inside the greenbelt, it morphs from a higher volume, longer distance, shorter travel time model to a modified street car (the Carling Avenue model). What applied scientists know about hybrids is that they fail to excel at either end of the spectrum they are trying to achieve. They are about trade offs.

Which takes me to SludgeHammer’s comment on a related post about Ottawa’s LRT being world class. How so? Will it be among the longest in the world? No. Will it carry the most passengers? Not even on a per kilometre, or per capita basis. Will it be the fastest? Not even close. Will it have the most inspiring paint job? Well, red and white are the colours of an inspiring nation, but seriously, horizontal stripes? Simply saying that it is world class is just a phrase some sociology major inserts into their mid-term essay. It is not something a student of the applied sciences would say, unless they could back it up with numbers.

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8 thoughts on “City Fails To Set LRT Goals: Reader

  1. Ron:

    An absolutely excellent observation.

    I would add that the city has set two goals: on time and on budget.

    City hall is terrified that it will miss both and will most anything to meet the on budget goal. On time is harder to fudge.



  2. “Social (faux) sciences”? Them’s fighting words, lad. But aside from that …

    One of the announced purposes of the LRT was to get the overload of buses out of downtown. What they omitted to explain was that they were going to take the people off the buses at Blair and Tunney’s Pasture and move them to or through downtown on a train. This applies to both regular and express buses.

    If you want to travel from Place d’Orleans to Lincoln Fields, you can now do that on one bus. With the LRT, it will be one bus to Blair, the train to Tunney’s and a second bus to Lincoln Fields. They have essentially substituted a train ride for the middle of the existing system.

    If you currently take an express route from the eastern or western suburbs to downtown, you will now be dropped off at either Blair or Tunney’s to transfer to the train. This will apply regardless of the weather and, if you take a look at the picture of the station, you’ll see that your wait will be outside. So instead of just waiting outside at the mercy of the weather in your neighbourhood for a bus that takes you all the way downtown, you’ll get to repeat that again at a train station. I’m not certain but I suspect that express routes from the south-east end of the city will probably disgorge their passengers at Hurdman to take the train into town until the tentacles of the LRT extend south. The other choice would be to take them to Greenboro to take the O-Train to Bayview and then transfer to the new trains to downtown or Tunney’s. Those coming from the south-west will get dumped out at Tunney’s.

    So what they are doing is taking the bus chaos that is now on Albert Street and moving it to Blair Station and moving the Slater Street mess to Tunney’s Pasture station. At least now when people get off the bus downtown, they are dispersing to their ultimate destinations or to another bus to head north or south. With the buses all ending at an LRT station, the majority of those thousands of passengers will be converging on the train.
    If everyone now using the bus to go to or through downtown continues to do so, the numbers will actually appear to increase for bus ridership since those who need to go beyond the core will ride two buses instead of one. They will all be forced onto the train for part of their trip so the folks doing the counting will tell us about the huge uptake of the LRT with its great ridership levels from Day 1.

    The only people who won’t be on the bus for part of their trip are those who live close to an LRT station in the Blair-to-Tunney’s corridor and who are going close to another station in that corridor such as somebody who lives at Holland Cross and works at the Via Rail station. This means that most train riders will still pay their fare on a bus on either their inbound or outbound journey.

    I don’t know if bean counters meet your definition of scientists but I expect some voodoo accounting when we hear how many people are riding that train to nowhere. The ridership numbers will probably be as clear and transparent as the costs of construction are now.

    1. The Voter:

      Excellent comment. Sue Sherring’s column pretty much tells us that the city is not interested in giving the truth to voters or the media.

      It’s spin.



  3. All of which Ron Benn stated should have been produced and applied to the business plan.

    A business plan is the key element to the success or failure of any business success.

  4. The solution to the bus-train transfer is simple. Build a “Donald” wall at each end of the train line and keep all the riff-raff out. Then build 50-storey condos at each end of the train line. If you want to go on the train to downtown, you will be forced to live on the right side of the wall.

    Now that’s social science.

  5. “One of the announced purposes of the LRT was to get the overload of buses out of downtown.” I’ve always wondered why the need to get the buses out of downtown? It seems to me that will invite more people to drive downtown and avoid those transfers. But at least the mayor and his buddies on council will have an easier commute.

    1. Merrill, you have just described one of the most likely outcomes of this particular failure to plan properly. Sadly, many members of City staff and our elected officials do not understand the concept of most likely outcomes, and therefore continue to assume away reality. On the bright side, once LRT III reaches the inner edges of the outer suburbs, perhaps some portion of the next generation of commuters will no longer use their cars to avoid the multiple daily transfers between their homes and their offices.


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