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OC Transpo head 'very pleased' with bus route review as Transit Commission debates budget

The city's Transit Commission discussed the results of the OC Transpo Bus Route Review at Tuesday's meeting, which will see some 200-series bus routes cancelled and buses redirected off residential streets with low ridership.

Facing a massive deficit, councillors are being asked to approve a nearly $800 million operating budget for OC Transpo.

If approved, transit riders are facing about a 2.5 per cent rise in fares next year.

The commission held an information session on the route review by OC Transpo and heard from members of the public and stakeholders to provide feedback to councillors. A decision on the route review is not expected today.

Transit Services general manager Renée Amilcar presented the details of the controversial route review to the commission Tuesday morning with changes to bus services which will include cancelling many Connexion routes (200 series), redirecting service away from streets with low ridership and increasing service to 15 minutes "at most times" on main transit corridors.

"I'm very very pleased that my team has developed this project" Amilcar said in French to councillors at Tuesday's meeting.

"This is a significant project - from experience it takes two to three years to do this and what we see here today is something that took a year only."

A report prepared for the transit commission outlines bus route changes coming in 2024 which will include the "recalibration of downtown-focused commuter routes to trips that improve connectivity to community hubs such as transit stations and grocery stores" and connecting riders with the north-south Trillium Line when it opens.

Amilcar says OC Transpo will operate 74,000 fewer hours of bus service next year as part of an overhaul to improve service along "important routes" and connections to the new Trillium Line.

"This is not about cost cutting but all about building a sustainable network that meets current customer needs and service demand," Amilcar said.

"As the stewards of taxpayer money, it’s the responsible decision to make."

Amilcar said she is open to suggestions and feedback by council and members of the public on changes that can be made to the review.

Delegates presented opinions to the route review, with many expressing dissatisfaction with plan.

Alayne McGregor, one of the delegates at the meeting, expressed concerns.

"I saw in general reductions rather than improvements to service," McGregor said.

"I also saw a lot of places where I couldn’t figure out what the changes were, but I am delighted that Ms. Amilcar says she's open to suggestions."

The Capital's transit system faces a number of problems as it recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic and prepares for the opening of the Trillium Line, which has been delayed until spring of next year.

"OC Transpo has had significant challenges over the last few years," said Transit Commission member Coun. Riley Brockington.

"There is a requirement to review our bus routes and make some redesigns and modifications and that’s what's coming out of the bus route review."

The review comes as OC Transpo is projecting a $40.8 million deficit in 2023 and a $35 million revenue shortfall for 2024.

"My focus is on improving reliability – not just LRT, but bus reliability has to be addressed," Brockington told CTV News Ottawa.

The Transit Comission will vote later today on the draft budget, which will be presented to council's final budget vote on Dec. 6.

With files from CTV News Ottawa's Josh Pringle Top Stories

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