One-on-one with Ottawa's new transit boss
Renée Amilcar began her new job as general manager of transit services on Monday, nearly a full month after an LRT derailment crippled the transit system.
Amilcar comes to Ottawa from Montreal, where she was the executive director of bus services for the Société de Transports Montréal. She is an industrial engineer with a degree from École Polytechnique de Montréal and an MBA from Université de Sherbrooke.
In an interview with CTV Ottawa's Chief News Anchor Graham Richardson, Amilcar discussed the challenges ahead as Ottawa's transit system remains hamstrung by the woes on the Confederation Line.
"The first thing I want to do is listen to people, listen to my team, and understand the issues to find solutions and put back the service in place," Amilcar said.
"I just arrived, but I think that it's impossible to not say the LRT problem is an issue. It's a technical problem and technical problems will be resolved by technical solutions."
She asked riders to be patient as she begins her new role.
"For sure, we'll find solutions to resolve the technical problems," she said.
An LRT train derailed on Sept. 19 just west of Tremblay Station and the system has been offline ever since. On Monday, City Manager Steve Kanellakos said in a memo that the Rideau Transit Group—the consortium that built and now maintains the $2.1 billion line—is aiming for a partial resumption of service on Nov. 1, six weeks after the derailment.
Kanellakos said, however, that RTG's return-to-service plan requires vetting, testing and independent verification by a third party before the city can safely decide when trains can start accepting passengers again. He expects some level of service to resume "within the first two weeks of November", which could mean up to two full months without LRT.
Ottawa's transit commission will meet Wednesday for what is expected to be a lengthy discussion on the plan to get the trains running again. Representatives from RTG and from TRA—the Philadelphia-based firm hired to independently verify RTG's plan—will be in attendance.
Amilcar also comes to Ottawa amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has contributed to a significant decline in ridership across the transit system. A report prepared for the transit commission said nearly half of Ottawa's workforce transitioned to working from home during the pandemic and that meant a significant number of transit users were no longer riding on buses and trains. Transit ridership fell more severely in 2020 in Ottawa than it did in other major Canadian cities, including Montreal and Toronto, according to the report.
Amilcar says one of her goals is restoring the confidence of riders in the transit system.
"I'm very concerned about that because for me, to restore the confidence, we have to restore the service," she said. "But, to do so, I need to make sure that the service will be reliable and safe."
Amilcar said the system is safe, but she and her team are working to improve it.
"The system is very new; it's a new technology, so we are working very hard with the team to make sure the reliability will be improved again."
Amilcar replaces John Manconi, the longtime head of OC Transpo, who oversaw the launch of LRT and became a public face for the system throughout its tumultuous beginnings, from stuck doors to wheel flats to the two derailments in August and September.