The beautiful new Hurdman station. Photo: Sean Marshall, CC
By Kieran Delamont & Tim KitzC
ttawa’s long-awaited light rail transit (LRT) has now had its first month of full operation, and WOW! What a success it’s been — an experience that definitely fulfills our great mayor Jim Watson’s promise of a “world-class transit system.”
Yes, there’s been some haters online, but here at The Leveller we can see firsthand the kind of glorious results you get when you rely on exciting partnerships with the private sector – who really know how to squeeze every drop of efficiency out of the taxpayer’s dollar. There’s no comfy government excess anywhere on this train system — it’s a lean, mean, taxpayer-value machine.
Sure, there were major delays on its very first day with commuters going to work — but what new train doesn’t take a little while to settle in? As the experts always say, transit systems are like shoes — you gotta break ’em in for a while.
When does it become unacceptable to be charging your customers full price for a service that fails every day?— k. (@aboringbitch) November 1, 2019
As the city’s director of transportation operations Troy Charter pointed out on the train’s first day, the LRT was probably delayed because of “customers jumping or bouncing on them as they are excited to ride the Confederation Line for the first time.” The system couldn’t handle the sheer excitement of its riders, undoubtedly pent up by a year and a half of being told it’s just about to open – “on track for 2018,” as signs assured us.
Having a new train in town feels to many residents as exciting as driving a brand new Maserati. It’s an experience that touches all the human senses. You can enjoy the sight of those grainy, monochromatic gravel pits out the window, soothed by the train’s lullaby of rumbles and squeaks as it placidly winds its way down the line; you can inhale that complex, musky, glue-y new train smell as you’re pressed up against multiple strangers during rush hour, who you would never have otherwise had the pleasure of touching.
Transit riders were so excited to ride the train that they couldn’t resist the urge to hold the doors open — a problem the mayor deftly solved by threatening to fine anyone caught doing it. All it took was a bit of pressure, which he applied to city staff too: “Solve this damn door issue once and for all!” the mayor told city management, who eventually set the doors to stay open a little bit longer.
Maybe we all just need a refresher: please don’t press the big green press-to-open buttons on the door; those doors will open and close on their own time, people!
A mayor blaming door holders for the failure of an LRT system built by a mega-corporation is a perfect metaphor for our time. #OttawaLRT— Christopher Canning (@cg_canning) October 10, 2019
Some users noted how well the LRT fit Ottawa: a system for us by us. “Having a wait time for the bus that is longer than the entire train commute is so Ottawa,” Kristen Williams told The Leveller.
As @ToothpickGirl helpfully pointed out on Twitter, “The great thing about the #ReallyBigServiceChange is that it’ll be a LOT easier to drive downtown now, and save yourself the #OCTranspo nightmare.”
That’s right, Ottawa taxpayers have paid a billion dollars for a tunnel that not only gives us a beautifully rebuilt Rideau Street, it makes bus traffic downtown a thing of the past, maximizing public transit dollars for political success. Everyone wins – those who own private vehicles, and those who hope to one day.
When winter rolls around, lucky public transit users will see how the beautifully designed, open-air stations allow for a seamless transition between the built structure and the natural environment. Seriously — fewer shelters, fewer seams!
By making LRT stations exposed to the elements, designers have protected them from use by pesky homeless people – a thoughtful exclusion by design that extends throughout the system. Compared to buses and bus stops, trains and centralized LRT stations are heavily policed and surveilled, ensuring that many racialized and economically marginalized folks will feel unwelcome. (Those who do not have a criminal mindset will obviously not have this problem.) This will surely come as a relief to middle-class and white transit users, whose comfort and ease is self-evidently paramount.
#OttawaLRT is purposely designed to keep poor people out. Even tho they put barriers to enforce fare, the stations arew swarming with police officers and fare inspectors. Transit should be free.— Kazimoto (@kaziimoto) September 19, 2019
Generous transit officials have also shown themselves willing to be cooperative with their harpy critics, too, offering bipartisan solutions like returning bus routes to the road — 40 of them in all, the agency announced on Nov. 1. This offers transit users unparalleled choice between the sleek comfort of a world-class train, or the familiarity and functionality of the very buses it was meant to replace.
Listen, just hear me out for a minute: if we build a tunnel under the LRT we can run the buses through it…— David Hicks (@ALL_CAPS) October 9, 2019
So successful is the city’s LRT rollout, forged through cooperation between the public sector and the profit-hungry corporate construction conglomerate, that city officials expect even further brilliance from Phase 2, when it opens in, like, a decade or something. (Remember how accurate the predictions of Phase 1 were?)
Yes, this $4.6 billion vote of confidence from the taxpayer in the technical expertise of global corporate leaders in construction innovation is truly well-deserved.
Citizens can also admire the foresight of our politicians and business leaders, who have built transit where people do not yet live. This is unlike the previous LRT plan, which was to run along densely populated communities along Carling.
The change means that developers have been able to snap up lands at bargain prices – many of them public, some of them on Algonquin sacred sites – near or in Tunney’s Pasture, LeBreton Flats, Blair, Preston, and Bayview. This previously under-used land will re-enter the private market through the construction of luxury condos with high profit margi—err, community benefits.
These benevolent developers get to rightly capitalize on the astonishing increase in land value created through this public infrastructure investment. Once an appropriate amount is sequestered in offshore accounts, the remaining benefits will inevitably trickle down to the public – eventually a product of our developer-friendly political climate.
At the end of the day, I think we can all agree on one thing: that, just as OC Transpo boss John Manconi promised, they are definitely making sure “taxpayers get everything they are paying for.”