LRT debate will wait until next council meeting in October

Despite a recent train derailment that has shut the Confederation Line down indefinitely, LRT was not up for debate at Wednesday's city council meeting.

The planned agenda did not include any formal motions or debates on the state of the system, though some motions were brought forward to discuss the recent issues, most of which will be debated at the next council meeting in October.

One proposed motion, which was an attempt to have the city's transit commission meet every two weeks until issues on the LRT are solved, did not pass council's muster.

Coun. Jeff Leiper put forward a motion, seconded by Coun. Shawn Menard, calling for bi-weekly transit meetings until service is restored on the Confederation Line. It also called for all TSB documents since the Aug. 8 derailment to be released to council and that council and all transit commissioners meet as a committee of the whole by Friday to discuss the transit situation in Ottawa.

The motion required three-quarters of voting members to support suspending the rules of order before it could be introduced.

Mayor Jim Watson asked Leiper whether he had consulted with Coun. Allan Hubley, the chair of the transit commission, prior to presenting the motion. Leiper said he had not, and Watson encouraged councillors to vote against suspension of the rules.

The vote was 16 to 7 in favour of suspending the rules, but council required 18 votes to suspend, so the item failed. Councillors Hubley, Moffatt, Tierney, Darouze, Cloutier, El-Chantiry and Mayor Watson voted against it.

The mayor told reporters after the council meeting that "never-ending meetings" were not the best use of resources.

"The number one priority I have is to fix the system, stabilize the system, and grow the system and I believe that the best use of our staff time is not preparing for a meeting every two weeks but actually getting to the root cause of the problems," Watson said.

Motions to be considered next month

Some motions were presented that would be considered at the next scheduled council meeting, including Watson and Hubley's proposal for no-charge transit in December. The mayor told the CTV News at Six on Tuesday that a month of service free of charge to riders of OC Transpo and ParaTranspo would be a small gesture of apology for the recent troubles.

Coun. Catherine McKenney put forward a motion for consideration, seconded by Coun. Carol Anne Meehan, to formally request a judicial inquiry into all aspects of the LRT transit system as it relates to the good government of the municipality, or the conduct of its public business, and its impacts on residents and taxpayers.

Coun. Diane Deans, seconded by Coun. Riley Brockington, put forward a motion that asks the city manager to explore the options around terminating the 30-year maintenance contract for the Confederation Line with Rideau Transit Maintenance.

LRT 'fundamentally a good system,' Watson says, despite recent troubles

Despite saying the LRT is far from world-class at the moment, Watson ultimately defended the Confederation Line when speaking to reporters.

"The fact is, the system, fundamentally is a very good system and phase two will make it an ever better system," he said. "What we need from our partners is consistency in delivering the product."

Watson noted that during much of 2020 and 2021, the O-Train was operating at a very high level of service, which has been pointed out by city staff several times in recent weeks. Reliability was between 97 and 99 per cent for many months. Watson said he wants to see the system get back to that level of service.

"People say, 'Well, there's a pandemic and there weren't that many people on it,' well, that doesn't matter. The number of people on it doesn't matter. The train was operating at close to 98, 99 per cent reliability," he said. "We need to get back to that reliability on a consistent basis. We can't go for a few months and have a problem and then go for another few months."

Watson said the city would be getting legal advice on next steps at an upcoming finance and economic development committee (FEDCO) meeting.

"We're going to be dealing with legal matters involving our partnership with RTG at the next FEDCO meeting, where we'll have an in camera briefing session for all members of council to get our independent legal advice as to what options are available," Watson said. "The primary objective I have right now is to fix the system, stabilize the system and grow the system."

FEDCO meets on Oct. 5 and city council will meet again on Oct. 13.