LRT: Where’s The Mature Leadership? BENN

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It isn’t just time for a reset. It is well past the time for a reset.

Ottawa’s city council needs to understand that it is not just handling a public relations disaster. Council is a disaster of and by itself.

Earlier this week, the city released to the public some news regarding the never-ending saga of the LRT. Rather than providing comfort to the residents and employers of the city, the latest revelations reinforced that the city is clueless on how to handle the underlying challenges regarding the safe operation of the LRT.

Let’s start with a situation analysis.

First, Stage 1 of the Confederation Line is operational, but the litany of operating challenges has left the residents and employers of the city with legitimately held concerns about reliability. A significant part of the problem is that while there haven’t been any recent derailments, the city has not been able to agree with its co-conspirators (and I chose that word carefully) about the root cause of the derailments. Why? Perhaps because there isn’t a single root cause. Perhaps it is because there are a number of contributing factors, possibly attributable to the actions of the three main parties: the city, Rideau Transit Group and Alstom. Perhaps this, perhaps that. The point being that in the absence of clear, honest communications from the city, we are left with wondering what, why, who.


Second, the two LRT expansion projects are far behind schedule. The recurring slippages in those schedules are being publicly noted with excuses that not even an elementary school teacher would accept.

Third, the world changed. As it relates to public transit, the physical setting in which some people earn their livings changed with the pandemic. It doesn’t matter whether you like it, or I like it, or the nabobs down on Laurier Avenue like it. It has happened. Where once upon a time the vast majority of the public service based in Ottawa reported to work in offices located in central Ottawa, they no longer do. Very simply put, it is wishful thinking to consider otherwise. Council needs to not only accept this, but to demand, again a term I have chosen carefully, that staff come up with a strategy that accepts the new reality.

Put these pieces together. Council needs to address these three related problems head on and they need to ensure that the public is fully aware of what the mitigation strategies are. How long it will take to put them into action? How long before the action plan is complete? How much it will cost? Anything less just prolongs the well earned conclusion that the city is being run by individuals who are in over their heads and sinking fast.

A clear, honest communication would start by stating that who is ultimately responsible for what problem is not the primary concern. The primary concern is to re-establish public confidence in a functioning public transit system. That this is council’s highest priority. That means that all of the other top priorities, an oxymoron that no one at city hall has demonstrated an understanding of, are secondary.

As it pertains to the existing Confederation Line, the status quo will continue for an extended period. State clearly that the contributing factors to the derailment related safety issues are too complex to resolve on a timely basis, so the mitigating steps of frequent maintenance will continue.

As it pertains to the delayed expansion plans, identify with considerable specificity where the problems are, and why. For example, we can see track is being laid between Lincoln Fields and Baseline Stations. We can see that much of the trench between Dominion Station and Lincoln Fields Station has been capped. What we don’t know is what the pacing items are, and why these have caused a three-year-and-counting delay on a five- to six-year project.

The same applies to the Trillium Line. We can see trains running along the spur between South Keys and the airport. Where along the Bayview to South Keys segment is the delay? Is it through the trench between Bayview and Dows Lake? Is it in the tunnel beneath the Rideau Canal? Is it the bridge over the Rideau River, just south of Carleton University? Where are the problem areas, and why are these sectors taking so long to complete?

In the absence of clear, honest communications, we get speculation. And speculation leads to a loss of credibility. The credibility gap being that the city doesn’t know what it is doing. On a $6.4 billion and rising project that is based, for the most part, on century-old technology.

On to the impact on expected ridership on the overall public-transit system. What are the reasonable ridership figures? Not the fanciful, if all of the dominoes that aren’t under anyone’s control magically align ridership aspirations. Reasonable ridership figures. What are the financial implications of these realistic ridership levels? How will this impact property taxes? How will this impact the ability of the city to continue to spend money on not essential, as in mandated by the province, services and programs?

In short, it is time for mature leadership. Mature as in prepared to speak clearly and honestly about difficult situations. To demonstrate to the public that the city administration is capable of doing their jobs at the level required. That city council understands and is capable of performing its duties of oversight. Oversight, not overlook.

Why? Because the residents and employers of this city deserve nothing less. And less is what we have been getting for more than a decade now.

Ron Benn, a finance executive, has been a member of the Centrepointe Community Association for the better part of three decades.

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4 Responses

  1. Jake Morrison says:

    I would suggest that the Trillium Line delay is caused by the late-starting New Civic Hospital Development parking garage work.
    TOH closed thorium community consultation when it became difficult and all consultation has been behind closed doors since, between the city and the NCD
    Who, at the city, knows what impact that Trillium Line bridging parking structure is having on the Trillium Line opening?

  2. Jake Morrison says:

    Sorry, ‘thorium’ should be ‘their’.

  3. Ron Benn says:

    Jake, your speculation about the cause of the delays in the Trillium Line reinforces my recommendation. Clear, honest communication regarding the where and why of the protracted delays in this project would start to address the credibility of the city’s ability to oversee this project.

  4. Jake Morrison says:

    Ron, I agree.

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