Ottawa's LRT is turning two

September 14 marks two years since Ottawa’s LRT system started carrying passengers.

The first phase of the system, billed as a solution to downtown congestion, quickly developed problems and users are still leery about its reliability. At a cost of $2.1 billion, Anjelica Barraza-Martinez says she uses the system daily but has learned to have a backup plan ready at all times.

“When it does not work, I have to use a bus as a backup, but it does not come as often and is really crowded and of course in these times it is not a great option,” Barraza-Martinez said. “When that happens I actually use an alternative bus.”

Steven Ryan lives steps away from Tunney’s Pasture Station. He relies on the LRT to get him to work at the St Laurent Shopping Centre, so when problems occur, it is a headache he does not need.

“Having to take the R1 or another scenic route like the 14 or the 7, it takes a little bit of extra time,” Ryan said. “But in the almost two years it’s been around I’d say it’s been pretty good.”

From doors that jammed to electrical issues and wheels that developed flat spots or derailed, the service has tested the patience of transit users when it first launched.

Ridership on the LRT plunged in 2020 and early 2021 as COVID-19 lockdowns and the shift to remote work kept riders away from the downtown core for months. During this time, OC Transpo said a lot of work was done to rectify the problems that plagued the line in 2019.

OC Transpo says service reliability was very high in 2021 until a derailment on the line in August shut down service for five straight days. Issues with axle bearings were discovered on 10 train cars. 

Riders CTV News spoke with Sunday have concerns that with Stage 2 under construction these problems might plague the new $4.6 billion extension. Barraza-Martinez says Ottawa deserves a modern transit system, subways and trains are essential to get people from point A to B, but she worries the lessons learned from Stage 1 will not stick.

“It’s scary they are building the other lines, right? So, if they are already having issues with these lines, like, what is going to happen with the next ones?” Barraza-Martinez said. “I feel like they maybe rushed it a little bit. So, it is scary”

Adam Studley has used the LRT a few times but has decided it is not for him.

“If something is not done right from the beginning, it’s just going to continue to have issues,” Studley said. “I’ve kind of decided to orientate my life where I don’t have to rely on public transit in Ottawa due to the history of it and its reliability.”