Will Light Rail Be A Flop?




Does this give anyone else pause?

Ridership on OC Transpo is essentially flat. Revenue is down.

Furthermore Transpo general manager John Manconi is hesitant to predict huge revenue boosts.

Even more, the baby-boomer demographic is reaching or has reached its retirement years. That means a huge bulge in the population won’t be commuting anymore.

All this comes as the City of Ottawa is putting a multi-billion-dollar bet down on light-rail commuting. It is doing so as commuting is stagnating.

Furthermore, the new Confederation Line won’t make commuting any easier. Exactly the opposite. Many riders will be receiving an extra transfer on their way downtown on hot summer days and cold winter mornings. That’s not likely to make them happy … particularly if you are accustomed to taking an express bus. As well, the city blew its fiscal brains out on building the tunnel so the resulting rail line is very short. In its present state, the Confederation Line is a line to nowhere.

Photo above: Ottawa’s current O-Train.

And if all this is not enough, the new line travels down the same route as the Transitway therefore making upticks in ridership difficult. You’ve already got the Confederation Line passengers on the Transitway. When Phase 2 kicks off somewhere in the distant futures, how many new passengers will the line pick up travelling along the Macdonald Parkway?

While politicians will be patting each other on the back in 2018 when light rail opens, one wonders if they will be doing the same thing once passengers discover they just bought a delay and extra transfer for $2.1 billion.

Could light rail be a flop? No one considered that in the early years of LRT discussion but that might be a real possibility come 2018.

And remember … as reported in The Bulldog, no professional ridership study was done on the Confederation Line. Will we discover in 2018 that the Confederation Line has just roughly the same ridership as the current bus line but with more delays, another weather-exposed transfer and a $2.1-billion bill?

If the line is a disappointment, there will be huge political consequences.



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19 thoughts on “Will Light Rail Be A Flop?

  1. Another white elephant the same as Orgaworld; pedestrian overpasses; and expanded O-train service. Will more tax dollars be used to continue support of non-essential and wasteful experiments? The park at Mooney’s Bay, Plasco and on and on? Who exactly is looking after the taxpayers money?

  2. Ask the City for their ridership number predictions for the LRT. They never prepared any. The first phase is simply replacing the middle of the Transitway so, other than population growth, there will be no added passengers.

    In extreme heat/cold, people will start to use other means of transport if they can instead of waiting outside at least twice in bad weather in both the morning and evening commute, thereby cutting the ridership even further.
    Not only are the boomers retiring and so not commuting to work but they are also moving from full fare to senior’s fare which reduces the income from any trips they will still take. The reduction is significant, i.e. for a senior pass, they’ll pay about 40 per cent of the regular adult pass.

    After the novelty of the first few months on the train passes, expect the ridership to go down. That will leave OC Transpo with two revenue choices: raise the fares or increase the proportion paid from the property tax. Not exactly something you want to discuss on the doorstep in an election year. Luckily for the politicians, those increases will show up in the 2019 budget which will only show its ugly head after the 2018 election.

  3. With the transfers from Tunney’s Pastures to the train downtown frustration will be the key factor. Coming back will be worst as you get off your train and then have to find your bus which will be stacked in mulitple stalls. I see people getting back in their cars and clogging their way in on the Queensway. To add more chaos to this scenario will be the construction delays and detours caused by building of Phase 2 of the WLRT which by 2023, if you are lucky, will get you to Lincoln Fields. Choo choo!

    1. Even though I’ve always been quite optimistic for the LRT in Ottawa (and still am), I’m actually quite agreeable on your comment. It will be interesting to see how OC Transpo handles operational departure times from the end stations.

  4. I don’t know if it will be a bust.

    My transit preferences are black and white … love trains, hate buses. I know there is a segment of the population like me who will go out of their way to take a train over a bus. The difficulty arises from it being such a limited route and I don’t know how many will use it because it won’t go anywhere for another 10 years. I suspect there will be an uptick when it opens from folks wanting to try it out, but it will stabilize to current ridership levels within a few months…

    I know it’s an old battle lost a long time ago, but just think of the ridership boon if it had been put down Carling where the new Civic is going (sorry Sheridan, I couldn’t resist).

      1. What’s the movie where someone says: “If you build it, they will come.” Looks like Ian will be making a long trip ( sorry Ian … bring a coat for standing around while waiting for your transfer. )

        1. Chaz:

          The movie is Field of Dreams.

          It was based on the book Shoeless Joe written by the recently departed Canadian W.P. Kinsella.



  5. The LRT is a solution for yesterday’s world. Add to all the comments already the fact that we are moving to a digital world. Working from home or from distributed centres means that the 9 to 5 routine will change for many. So there will likely be a reduced demand for mass transit, especially at commuting time.

    Buses would have been a better alternative. Flexible. Fewer transfers. If commuting decreases, then simply supply fewer buses. LRT will be in place for many years. With many empty or partially empty stations. Can’t imagine using it after hours. What about security? Especially when it is mostly empty.

    1. Ian:

      Thank you for the comment. I understand the sentiment.

      That said, I admire your optimism in that there is the possibility that you might find use of the LRT once you are in Beechwood Cemetery. The second coming of Ian. Good on you.

      I don’t believe you can expect more discount that the senior rate, however.

      Thank you for your comment and forgive me for having a bit of fun with it.

      cheers and good health


      ps And if you do rise from the dead, please contact The Bulldog. It’s a great story and we want it first. k

  6. You guys need to let go of your selfish ‘me-first’ attitudes and see the long term benefit here. Cities have adopted LRT and are leaving buses behind.

    The LRT project is an excellent one and is moving forward on-time and on-budget. It will have a transformative effect on Ottawa – you’ll see.

    1. Larry, you’re missing the point of this discussion.

      Just swagger your eyes over this.

      We’re kind of way ahead of you on this one. The common perception is that light rail is very useful and that might still be the case or it might be so 15 years ago.

      I’m not about to review all the opinions here, but what many people on this news site and myself for that matter are wondering is if the usefulness of light rail might be ending for all the reasons in this discussion. Mass transit growth is stagnating. Have you been commuting to work recently?

      Now to help you with your argument could you tell we little people how it will transform Ottawa? To make an argument it helps to answer the question ‘why?’

      Statements with no reasons behind them don’t carry much substance.

      That said, Larry, thank you for commenting.



    2. And oh yes, Larry. Just curious.

      Will you be cheering for Donald Trump in the debate this evening?

      He sounds like your kinda guy.



      1. I will certainly interested in what Trump has to say, thanks for asking!

        Now back to LRT:
        It sounds like you and your fanboys saying that buses are better than rail in major cities nowadays. That argument is of course preposterous.

          1. Larry:

            I wish you would use your real name. It would add some authority to your comments.

            No need to hide behind a pseudonym. You’re a proud, brave guy aren’t you.

            I put my name out there and I’m just little Ken Gray. Big guy like you should be upfront.



    3. One of the stated purposes of this exercise was to get the bus traffic off Albert and Slater. We could have achieved that if we’d just done the tunnel through that section, using it for buses not trains, and left the Transitway in place outside the downtown core. We’d remove the need to transfer between train & bus and save the cost of the train purchase & installation plus the cost of rebuilding the transit stations. How much would that have cost and how much more quickly could it have been done?
      I think it would have given us a much more flexible system in the long run.


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