The Truth About Watson’s Words

Here’s Mayor Jim Watson speaking on this YouTube video before the last election. We put his words to the truth test:


  • Council is working collaboratively. Yes, the Bobbleheads get along very well;
  • “Any objective analysis” which in this case is Watson’s opinion;
  • Yes light rail has been moved ahead at hideous expense and over-spending;
  • “Fixed-price” contract for LRT … the city paid dearly for that and now can’t enforce odd late provisions;
  • Yes, Phase 2 planning is under way with a line tunnelled where no one lives, the obvious best route ignored, no ridership study and more than $3.2 billion of unnecessary spending so Watson can build a monument to himself and staff can win some awards like that very interesting one from the Tunnelling Association of Canada;
  • Yes, sometime we will hit the ground running on Phase 2 when all the delays and extra costs from Phase 1 are completed;
  • Integrity … that’s an interesting concept. An auditor general who creates an audit to show that best management practices are being used. Or denying information to some councillors about the Christmas Miracle extra money found. Or knowing for months that light rail is late but only releasing that information after the budget is completed despite the fact that late LRT has a significant effect on the budget;
  • Yes we cancelled the first light-rail plan and lost $35 million in legal damages but current costs are overwhelmingly higher. The PR is two-per-cent budget increases. The reality is astonishing debt;
  • Watson is in absolutely no position to criticize previous light-rail plans on expense;
  • Yes the Watson LRT plan did a “less deep dive” and put people’s lives at stake with sinkholes;
  • Light rail will not solve traffic problems. Instead it will let people who take transit not be stuck in traffic jams. Will LRT be faster than driving? Well with everyone getting an extra transfer at the end stops of LRT, probably not.
  • Ridership at OC Transpo is at best stagnant.

Does Watson actually believe these things he’s saying?


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9 thoughts on “The Truth About Watson’s Words

  1. Let us not forget the best of all. The concierge program to assist developers build high-rise condos where neighbourhoods used to exist.


  2. Stagnant ridership. Why?

    If OC Transpo would set up smarter routes, I believe ridership would increase. In many cases, buses make a right-hand-turn off, say, Heron Road, onto Somewhere Street then a left onto Anywhere Avenue to pick up a small number of riders at various stops. The buses should stay on major roads and people should walk to them. My son, who works on Hunt Club Road, just east of Merivale recently moved to Prince of Wales and Meadowlands, both of which are major streets. A trip from home to work that takes 15 minutes by car, in rush hour, takes 90 minutes to 2 hours using OC Transpo. Where’s the benefit of using OC Transpo to him?

    This goes back to the question raised about a month or so ago “Is Ottawa a Major City?” Big League cities realize that a public transportation is vital to its continued growth and efficiency in moving the populace around the city. Revamping a number of bus routes would go a long way to increasing OC Transpo ridership in my opinion.


    1. sisco farraro:

      It’s called Liberal Math, ridership was reported to be down 3.5 per cent and that’s called stagnant.

      Kathleen Wynne sold off 60 per cent of Ontario Hydro and told reporters our 40 per cent still leaves us with the majority of shares.


    2. Sisco, there is an old adage about what gets measured gets managed. The trick is understanding what needs to be managed and determining how to measure it.

      It is easy for OC Transpo to measure operating costs. They just fall out of the accounting software. It is also easier to manage operating costs, by reducing the number and frequency of routes. Less fuel, lower labour costs, lower maintenance costs are a function of kilometres driven. Reducing the number of kilometres driven helps keep operating costs down. Managing operating costs makes management look better, as they can claim that they are being efficient, even if they aren’t.

      In contrast, ridership is more of a challenge. Measuring ridership shouldn’t be too difficult, by placing on/off meters (counting bodies on and off of the bus), counting Presto taps etc. Ridership is a measure of effectiveness (effectiveness being defined as doing the right thing), as, just as you posited Sisco, offering rides is what OC Transpo is supposed to do. If ridership goes down, then management has to explain why, and a competent Board (i.e. city council) would expect OC Transpo management to offer solutions on how to increase ridership. What would be obvious to even the most casual observer is that the most likely outcome of bus routes that are not optimized for riders, and reducing route frequency is a reduction in the ridership.

      If the metric (i.e. what gets measured and thus managed) is cost per ride, then OC Transpo management will focus on the part of the formula (in this case the numerator), as it is easier to manage than the denominator of the formula, notably the number of riders. Optimizing all of the elements of the equation is what competent management does. Focusing on only one element of the matrix is a sign of poor management.

      Given the quality of governance that this city demonstrates on a daily basis, no one should be surprised that city council does not hold OC Transpo management to task for declining ridership, or for its failures to offer viable solutions. After all, the shortfall between revenues (a function of ridership) and operating expenses is covered by the taxpayers, and we know how much respect the taxpayers get on Laurier Avenue.

      Speaking of respect for the taxpayers, note that the first installment on your 2018 property taxes are due tomorrow – the 15th – which is one of the two days per year that city hall actually appreciates input from its taxpayers.


  3. Ron. As an old colleague and mentor once told me “you determine success through measurement” (as you noted above). Too often we take a subjective approach to our valuations (“we’re doing great this year, I can just feel it”) rather than an objective one (“the statistics we’ve gathered indicate things aren’t going quite as well as we thought”). But moving from the cheery (subjective) thought to the not so happy (objective) reality allows us to determine which areas require improvement and this is good.

    The concept of measurement is simple. Begin by finding out what matters most to your users. In year one the data we gather, based on each of their satisfaction criteria, allow us to establish a baseline for each critical area. Measuring user satisfaction in the same areas the following year allows us to determine where satisfaction has improved and where we need to increase our efforts.

    If we don’t seek user input and only measure areas where we know we’ll score well then our product/service will never be successful. We always need to work to improve the areas that matter most to users. Once users are pleased with all the things that matter most to them we find out what we need to focus on next.

    This is how we build good systems/provide excellent service. It’s hard work that never ends but it’s fun and most importantly, it forces people to think.


    1. This discussion that Sisco and Ron are having is what I hoped would come of The Bulldog.

      Intelligent, rational and polite discussion. It’s very interesting and thoughtful.

      Thank you


      ps then I came along and ruined the whole thing lol k


  4. Sisco, I have this nagging feeling that by allowing ridership to atrophy in the lead up to the inaugural revenue runs of the LRT, the city is setting up the possibility of being able to present an amazing percentage increase in ridership once the LRT is operational, while purposely neglecting to point out that this amazing percentage increase is primarily the result of a ridership denominator that was allowed to decline in the first place.

    Cynical? Yes. Has the Watson administration given me reasons to be cynical? Yes, many times yes.


  5. And a bit more cynicism for you.
    By allowing our roads to fall into disrepair as well as become congested, eventually, the citizens will have no better option than OC Transpo (and don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of positives about the system). But I think management would prefer to have people use the system because they’re drawn to it rather than pushed away because the other options are problematic.
    If the latter is true then ridership will spike downward at the first opportunity. Many cities throughout the world, even within Canada, have public transit systems that are very successful, eg. Toronto (as mentioned in the original piece, they’ve had lots of time to practise). I wonder if the builders in Ottawa seek out best practices from other cities or are silly enough to think they know everything.
    There are many technologies that have made it easy to collaborate with others many, many miles away thereby reducing travel costs, lost work time, etc.


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