Lack of OC Transpo riders could prompt system overhaul

An ongoing lack of ridership could force OC Transpo to overhaul its entire system.

Downtown Ottawa streets remain quiet. Many federal public servants are still working from home. OC Transpo had projected ridership would peak to 100 per cent by the end of the year. Omicron changed all that.

From the beginning of 2022, the transit system had a deficit of nearly $18 million.

Over $4 million in revenue was lost during the trucker convoy, which affected transit service for more than three weeks.

“It kind of makes sense,” says transit rider Jacob Paulin. “A lot of jobs in town kind of went to online and at home and what not. So not a complete shock.”

OC Transpo is counting on the federal government to cover the $4-million deficit caused by the convoy closures.

Councillor Allan Hubley, chair of the city's transit commission, is calling for a major rethink to bus service in the downtown core unless ridership gets back to normal levels.

“We have to start looking at more mid- and long-term. And to me, even in the mid-term, even with the price of gas today, I don’t think we’re going to get back to the numbers that we had,” says Hubley. “It’s got to be in the local streets in Kanata, Stittsville, Barrhaven, Orléans. That’s where we’ll pick up ridership, and provide a better service to our riders.”

And as the pandemic drags on, some transit riders are not relying on OC Transpo as much.

“I would take it at least three times a week. It also depended on my classes,” says transit rider Rebecca Wieler. “Sometimes I would only take it twice if I could take the car instead because if I had a late night class I didn’t always want to take the bus.”

“This is my first time in two and a half years,” says Kirsten Wahl. “I’ve been working from home since May 17, 2020. I don’t even know if my bus pass still works to be honest with you.”

Andrea Recht still uses transit every day. She’s just not sure if all the new LRT construction is going to put them even more into the red.

“I see how the construction is going and I don’t know how they’ll ever recover from that,” says Recht. “But I do use it every day and I have no complaints. I take the train and the bus.”

The transit commission will receive a major report in June that will crunch the latest financial numbers, including the option of free transit. That report could set a new road map for the future of OC Transpo.