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Watson pushes for free transit for all riders in December

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OTTAWA -

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson says he will be pushing to make transit service in the city free for all riders this December.

The mayor made the announcement in an interview with CTV Ottawa Chief News Anchor Graham Richardson on Tuesday.

He said he and transit chair Coun. Allan Hubley would put a motion forward at Wednesday's city council meeting to come up with a plan.

"We will be putting forward a motion tomorrow at council that directs the city manager to come up with a plan that would allow the month of December to be a no-charge month for all of our passengers," he said. "People will not have to pay the fee, they would not have to buy a pass. We say in December because that will also help the retail industry and Christmas shoppers and people who go out to parties and have a drink or two to use the service at no charge."

Watson said the money to cover a month of service at no charge to the passengers of OC Transpo buses, the LRT and ParaTranspo would come from the funds that would have been sent to the Rideau Transit Group. The city has the power under its contract to withhold funding from the consortium that built and maintains the Confederation Line if a certain level of service is not met.

This comes following Sunday's derailment on the Confederation Line near Tremblay Station. New info from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada showed that the train had derailed just before the station, and kept going for about 500 metres until it hit a signal mast and switch heater just beyond the bridge over Riverside Drive. It was the second derailment in six weeks. Rideau Transit Maintenance told reporters on Monday that it could take three weeks to repair the damage.

The mayor says no-charge transit in December is a way to apologize to transit riders who have had to deal with a service he called substandard.

"It's a small gesture to say we're sorry to our passengers, first and foremost. Secondly, it will also help to stimulate the economy in different parts of the city by encouraging people to take this transit ride without a charge," he said.

The plan must be presented to and approved by council before it comes into effect.

Watson also apologized for the recent issues on the line.

"I apologize and certainly my colleagues do for a service that is substandard," he said. "We had a year and a half of really good service and then the last two incidents have shaken the confidence of me and our passengers and our staff, and RTG and RTM and Alstom have to get their act together or they're not going to be paid."

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