OTTAWA -- A special meeting of the city's transit commission Wednesday heard from several residents opposed to a plan to cut or reduce some OC Transpo bus service as ridership remains well below pre-pandemic levels.

A report prepared for the meeting outlined steps OC Transpo plans to take to find cost savings as fare revenue continues to be low.

 "A set of COVID-19 service adjustments are being made in mid-2021, which will better match the connectivity and capacity of the OC Transpo system to the current travel needs in Ottawa," the report says. "These service adjustments are based on current ridership counts and on suggestions from customers, employers, Councillors, and staff."

OC Transpo says nine routes will be temporarily suspended starting in June 2021. Their last day of operation will be Friday, June 18, 2021.

  • Route 17 from Wateridge
  • Route 224 from Beacon Hill
  • Route 225 from Orléans and Chapel Hill South
  • Route 233 from Orléans
  • Route 235 from Orléans
  • Route 251 from Bells Corners
  • Route 266 from Kanata
  • Route 275 from Barrhaven
  • Route 284 from Manordale

"These routes will be temporarily suspended until system ridership recovers to closer to normal levels," staff said.

Service on many 200-series "Connexion" routes will be reduced to every 30 minutes, while several other routes will see frequency reductions during peak periods Monday to Friday.

Some routes are to be shortened while others will be extended, staff say, noting that service to downtown has declined significantly but routes serving hospitals, shopping areas, and some employment locations have remained up to 80 per cent of normal levels.

In addition to the route changes, OC Transpo is planning to reduce its workforce by about 70 positions, through attrition and reassignment.

Staff say the moves would save the city $5.5 million in 2021 and $11 million in 2022.

Transit advocates opposed to cuts

Several groups that advocate for transit riders say they're opposed to the idea of route cuts and want to see the commission vote the proposal down.

“The reductions being proposed run right through the urban heart of the City, transit-dependent Ottawans will have to wait even longer for their buses throughout the pandemic,” said Stuart MacKay of Ottawa Transit Riders in a press release Wednesday. “These cuts are significant.”

Staff noted that there are alternate routes that customers can use in place of the temporarily suspended routes, but advocates are worried the cuts will not be temporary.

“Those who still take public transit like ACORN members who are essential workers and those who cannot afford to find any other way of getting around should have a say,” said Blaine Cameron, board member of Ottawa ACORN.

Through all of 2020, Transportation Services General Manager John Manconi was insistent that route cuts were a last resort. The city has made some adjustments to service on OC Transpo but has so far avoided cutting routes through deferrals of infrastructure projects and other cost-saving measures.

However, ridership has yet to recover significantly, as the pandemic continues to surge.

During the last transit commission meeting, commissioners heard that ridership had grown in February with the return of in-person learning, but was still only 27 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.

Speaking at the meeting, Kirstin Pulles with Free Transit Ottawa said reducing the frequency of buses would have a domino effect for travellers who rely on public transit.

"The schedules are not 100 per cent reliable," she says. "It's very hard to plan your day when you're not sure when those buses are coming and now you know the gaps between them are larger. If I miss that one bus, I'm a minute late, I'm now 30 minutes before I can get to where I'm going instead of 15."

"It’s OC Transpo. It's never perfect," said Lauren Stewart-Munday.

Transit riders warn the proposed cuts will make travelling more difficult during the pandemic.

"Already things were very hard and not accessible to get to," Stewert-Munday. "There were programs and after-school things I wanted to take my son to but couldn't."

Susan Redins added, "It's going to uproot our lives completely."

Redins says there are some days where she is forced to walk with her cane to her destination, and still arrives before the bus.

"I won’t be able to see my grandchildren. It will be harder to get groceries. Our dentist is down by Billings Bridge," said Redins.

OC Transpo insists the route changes will not leave passengers at the bus stop.

"We have all their alternatives for them. So we’re not stranding anybody," said John Manconi, Transportation Services general manager. "Where there is zero ridership, there are adjustments being made and there’s alternatives to them. Paralleled routes, or the frequency has been reduced significantly."

McKenney dissents

By the end of the three-and-a-half-hour meeting, the report was received by the committee, with only Coun. Catherine McKenney voicing their dissent. The meeting's purpose was to receive the report on the planned service cuts for information.

The next regularly scheduled transit commission meeting will be held April 21, where more information about the criteria for service changes will be presented.