Informal virtual transit meeting being held tonight following cancelled commission meeting
OTTAWA -- One of Ottawa's four citizen transit commissioners says she will be preparing a report for the Transit Commission after hosting an informal meeting Wednesday evening on Zoom to discuss transit issues.
Sarah Wright-Gilbert announced her plan in late April to hold the meeting, after the Transit Commission meeting set for May 20 was officially cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Wednesday's virtual meeting is not sponsored by the City of Ottawa and is not meant as a formal transit commission meeting. Wright-Gilbert describes it as a chance for citizens who have questions or concerns about transit to hear from transit commissioners.
While many standing committees have cancelled scheduled meetings because of the pandemic, Wright-Gilbert argued there were urgent transit issues that needed to be discussed, including the budget deficit caused by the decline in ridership due to the pandemic and the ongoing issues with the LRT.
The chair of the commission, Councillor Allan Hubley, has said transit issues continue to be discussed at City Council meetings. There is a council meeting Wednesday morning and verbal updates on Stage 1 and Stage 2 of LRT are on the agenda. Council will also receive a report on the budget for the first three months of 2020.
Speaking to CTV Morning Live's Leslie Roberts Wednesday morning, Wright-Gilbert says the four citizen commissioners do not have a voice at council.
"The information should be shared with transit commissioners, whether they're city councillors or not," she says. "Four of the city's transit commissioners don't sit on city council so we rely on our council colleagues to share that information with us. We're just as responsible for transit in this city as city councillors."
Wright-Gilbert admits she has not been in contact with Hubley since issuing a joint letter—co-signed by Councillor Riley Brockington—calling on the transit chair not to cancel the May 20 meeting. Hubley said last month in an email to CTV News that the COVID-19 pandemic requires urgent decision making that "does not lend itself to waiting for monthly meetings."
Wright-Gilbert says she's not accusing anyone of hiding information, but argues instead for a greater degree of transparency.
"It's really important that we continue to talk about transit in this city, understanding that the pandemic has an effect on our transit system and we need to share that information transparently with customers in this city," she says. "I think it's really important that we talk about these issues and not put them on the backburner."
Speaking at city council Wednesday, Hubley announced he would be calling a special meeting of the Transit Commission for June 1, to discuss OC Transpo's transit recovery plan. He also said there is a regular Transit Commission meeting scheduled for June 17.
He addressed the cancellation of the previous meetings by saying the commission had no choice.
"The rules were clear; we needed statutory requirement or a time-sensitive report. That was our threshold. Councillors and commissioners were still able to ask questions and get answers on a daily basis. Riders contacted OC Transpo or their councillor and issues were resolved wherever possible," he said.
In response, Wright-Gilbert said he was happy to hear a meeting will be held.
"I am pleased to hear that a Special Transit Commission meeting will be held on June 1st, and that the regularly scheduled June meeting will likely proceed," she told CTV News Ottawa. "Even though we are in the middle of a pandemic, it is important that we continue to have discussions and receive information , especially as it relates to pandemic mitigation plans with respect to transit."
Wright-Gilbert says she will be preparing a report based on what she hears during Wednesday's Zoom call, which is scheduled to begin at 6:00 p.m. According to an agenda shared on social media, discussions will include pandemic measures, the transit fare shortfall, the LRT, and Para Transpo, as well as other items.
There are still spaces available for the meeting, which is limited to 90 participants. Anyone interested is asked to register online.