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Ottawa city council extends transit fare freeze until after LRT opens

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One week after learning the Confederation Line would miss its June 30 deadline, Ottawa city councillors on Wednesday voted unanimously to delay a scheduled OC Transpo fare increase once again, this time until after the light-rail train has opened to riders.

A majority of council, however, refused to entertain a proposal to reduce transit fares for that period put forward by one councillor, a request that triggered a heated and lengthy debate around the council table.

Council had previously approved a transit fare freeze until July 1, 2019, after finding out the $2.1-billion LRT system wouldn’t launch in 2018.

The builder of the east-west line, the Rideau Transit Group (RTG), has since missed two other handover dates. No new deadline for the train — delayed now for more than a year — has been announced.

At city council’s meeting on Wednesday, Coun. Allan Hubley, who chairs the transit commission, put forward a motion proposing that the city implement the 2019 fare changes “on the first day of the month following the opening of O-Train Line 1 to transit customers.” Mayor Jim Watson seconded Hubley’s motion.

WATCH (March 4, 2019): Ottawa city councillors, staff invited to experience LRT simulator
Continuing the fare freeze until August 1 would cost the city about $328,000, according to the text of the motion; pushing it until September 1 would cost the city a total of $616,000.

The city will initially use funds from the municipality’s transit capital reserve to foot that bill, but the motion also directed the city manager try and recoup the costs of continuing the fare freeze from RTG.

Councillor’s request to explore fare reduction triggers heated debate; proposal defeated

Coun. Diane Deans proposed an amendment to Hubley’s motion, asking staff to look into and report back on the feasibility of reducing OC Transpo fares beginning on Sept. 1, 2019 and deducting the cost of that fare reduction from the city’s cheque to RTG.

“The fare reduction should be commensurate with the reduction in service reliability and remain in place until such time as Phase 1 LRT is fully operational,” Deans’ motion read.

The LRT delays have strained Ottawa’s bus system, leading to widespread delays and cancellations throughout the winter. A number of route changes and detours were implemented in anticipation of the LRT’s launch.

Deans argued that OC Transpo riders aren’t getting what they’re paying for right now and the city needs to “show some respect”  to its “severely inconvenienced” transit customers.

“When I go to the grocery store and buy a pound of grapes, if I only get half a pound, I don’t expect to pay for a pound. And it’s the same principle. If I’m not getting the full service, I don’t expect to pay for the full service,” she told reporters after council’s meeting.

A quarter of city council backed Deans’ proposal, including councillors Rick Chiarelli, Theresa Kavanagh, Shawn Menard, Rawlson King and Catherine McKenney. Carol Anne Meehan, who called the state of the city’s public transit system a “disgrace,” expressed some support for Deans’ idea but didn’t vote in favour in the end.

Other members of council fervently opposed a fare reduction, including the mayor. Watson claimed that reducing fares by 30 per cent would cost taxpayers $29 million over six months and argued that the city won’t improve its bus service by lowering fees while it waits for LRT.

Hubley said the city would be “gambling” if it reduced fares at a higher cost with no guarantee that RTG would agree to foot that bill. Coun. Keith Egli, for his part, described the proposal as “a shell game.”

“It’s a sham. It’s not going to fix the problem,” Egli said. “It sounds really good but at the end of the day it doesn’t fix the issue, which is people’s frustration with the service.”

Deans’ amendment was defeated 6-18.

“I don’t think it goes far enough just to say, ‘I’ll tell you what, the service is so unreliable we won’t charge you more for it,’” Deans told reporters.

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Ottawa Book Expo Author Boot Camp: What’s in it For You?

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Would you love to attend a writers’ book camp? If yes, then check out this upcoming boot camp on meetup.com organized in conjunction with the Ottawa Book Expo. The boot camp seeks to boost the commercial success of authors while providing a convivial atmosphere for social networking among authors. There you would learn what you need to do to boost the sale of your book. The goal of the group asides social networking is to empower authors to make money while also saving money.

What’s in it for you?

Whether you are a new writer who hasn’t published any books yetor you are a veteran writer who has been publishing for decades, a writers boot camp could still be extremely beneficial to you in a couple of ways. There, you would get to meet other writers, you would be motivated to start up your book or continue your writing journey. Ways you can benefit from a writers boot camp include:

  • You get to ask questions and have your questions answered.

The book camp is not just a place to make new friends and link up with old ones; you also get to learn new ideas. You could ask questions about any topic on writing and have these questions answered by professionals. You would also get to see other writers ask their questions, and learn from them. Your questionsare more likely to be answered directly by someone who knows their onion in the field.

  • Network with other writers

At the boot camp, you would get to make friends with other writers who would be in attendance. A lot of writers are introverts who would rather not make small talk; however, you have to remember that putting yourself out there, is what’s going to help you sell your books. You could also come along with a business card that has your name, what kind of author you are, and the links to your social media. Networking with other writers is definitely worth the time and money you’re spending at the Expo.

  • One last thing

There’s no better way to gain some exposure as a writer than starting local. The boot camp would feature experts on all types of writing. This is one of the most efficient ways to connect with other local writers who would are likely to keep in touch with you through social media or in person, you can also connect with your fans and readers who would be likely to purchase your books. If you’re thinking about attending a writers’ festival, start local, with the Ottawa Book Expo.

The event is open to all writers and publishers locally and internationally. The Expo is a grassroots-oriented author, publisher, bookseller and literary services festival which supports authors and publishers who seek to promote marginalized voices such as those of different cultural backgrounds, gender and LGBTQ communities.The Expo would hold at the Horticulture Building in Lansdowne Park on the 20th of October 2019.

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Virtual farmer’s market comes to Ottawa

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Ottawa first-ever virtual farmer’s market has begun delivering food from local farms straight to people’s homes.

Farm to Hand is making it easier for people who cannot access their local farmer’s markets to find local, fresh organic food by bringing ordered food right to their doors. 

“The difference between us and the farmers market is really just the convenience and the on-demandness,” Sean Mallia, the co-founder of the business, told CBC Radio’s In Town and Out.

“[Often times a] person wants to make the purchase but they don’t have the time on Saturdays to go to the farmers market. Everyone wants to eat local … so when it’s easy for them to do it, it just happens.” In Town and Out No time to drive to the farmer’s market but really want to eat local?

Connecting farmers with people 

The online platform allows farmers to list all their own products, and buyers can have the goods delivered. 

“What we really are trying to do is build that connection between farmer and consumer,” Mallia said. “When people fill up a cart … they’re not just filling a cart full of food, they’re filling a cart full of farmers and farms and their stories.”

Mallia said the aim is to connect people to the “vibrant food ecosystem” around them, and to local support farmers.

The virtual market is currently limited to the Ottawa area as a pilot project, but Mallia, 21, said the company is looking to expand.

“[We chose Ottawa because] Ottawa really cares. Ottawa really thinks about local [food] and thinks about sustainability,” he said. “It just made sense to come out of Ottawa.”

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Denley: Stonebridge and Mattamy show compromise is possible over development in Ottawa

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In Ottawa, development proposals too often end up in acrimony and trips to the provincial planning tribunal. That’s why it’s so refreshing to see Mattamy Homes and residents of the south Nepean suburb of Stonebridge work together to resolve a dispute in a way that’s likely to lead to a victory for both sides.

A little over a year ago, Mattamy created an uproar in the golf course community when it announced a plan to build 158 new homes on golf course lands and alter the Stonebridge course to make it shorter and less attractive to golfers. To residents, it looked like the first step in a plan to turn most, or all, of the course into housing.

It’s easy to see why residents were upset. When people pay a premium for a lot backing onto a golf course, there is certainly an implication that the lot will continue to back onto a golf course, but without a legally binding guarantee, it’s no sure thing.

Mattamy’s situation was understandable, too. This is a tough time to be in the golf course business in Ottawa. There are too many courses and not enough golfers so it’s no surprise that golf course owners would find the idea of turning a course into a housing development to be attractive, doubly so when the golf course is owned by a development company.

This is a tough time to be in the golf course business in Ottawa. There are too many courses and not enough golfers so it’s no surprise that golf course owners would find the idea of turning a course into a housing development to be attractive.

In the face of the local opposition, Mattamy withdrew its development application. When things cooled down, the company, the neighbours and the city started to work together on finding a solution that would satisfy everyone.

With the city-sponsored help of veteran planning consultant Jack Stirling, they came up with an unusual idea that will still let Mattamy develop its desired number of homes, in exchange for a promise to operate the course for at least 10 years and redesign it so that it remains attractive to golfers.

At the end of the 10 years, Mattamy can sell the course to the community for $6 million. To raise the money, the community working group is proposing a special levy to be paid by Stonebridge homeowners starting in 2021. The amount will range from $175 a year to $475 a year, depending on property values.

If the deal is approved by a majority of homeowners, Mattamy gets its development and a way out of the money-losing golf business. Homeowners get certainty about no future development. They can choose to keep the course going or retain the 198 acres as green space. It’s not a cheap solution, but it keeps their community as it is and preserves property values.

If a majority of homeowners backs the deal, both the levy and redevelopment will still need to be approved by the city, something scheduled for late this fall.

Stonebridge Community Association president Jay McLean was part of the working group that prepared the proposal and he’s pleased with the outcome. The community’s number one goal was preserving green space, and the deal will accomplish that, he says. Mattamy division president Kevin O’Shea says the deal “gives the community the certainty they are looking for.”

As useful as this deal could be for Stonebridge residents, it doesn’t provide a template to resolve a somewhat similar dispute in Kanata North, where the owner of the Kanata Lakes golf course wants to work with a group of local developers to replace the course with housing. In Kanata, a longstanding legal agreement saying the community has to have 40 per cent open space strengthens residents’ situation. In Stonebridge, there was no legal impediment to developing the whole course.

Golf course communities have become an anachronism in a city intent on intensifying within the urban boundary. Redeveloping those lands for housing is in sync with the city’s planning goals, but it’s not politically saleable to homeowners who thought they had a deal. If it goes ahead, the Stonebridge plan shows there is a reasonable middle ground.

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