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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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Record one million job losses in March: StatCan

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OTTAWA — More than one million Canadians lost their jobs in the month of March, Statistics Canada is reporting. The unemployment rate has also climbed to 7.8 per cent, up from 2.2 percentage points since February.

Canada’s national statistics agency released its monthly Labour Force Survey on Thursday, using March 15 to 21 as the sample week – a time when the government began enforcing strict guidelines around social gatherings and called on non-essential businesses to close up shop.

The first snapshot of job loss since COVID-19 began taking a toll on the Canadian economy shows 1.1 million out of work since the prior sample period and a consequent decrease in the employment rate – the lowest since April 1997. The most job losses occurred in the private sector and among people aged 15-24.

The number of people who were unemployed increased by 413,000, resulting in the largest one-month increase in Canada’s unemployment rate on record and takes the economy back to a state last seen in October, 2010.

“Almost all of the increase in unemployment was due to temporary layoffs, meaning that workers expected to return to their job within six months,” reads the findings.

The agency included three new indicators, on top of the usual criteria, to better reflect the impact of COVID-19 on employment across the country.

The survey, for example, excludes the more commonly observed reasons for absent workers — such as vacation, weather, parental leave or a strike or lockout — to better isolate the pandemic’s effect.

They looked at: people who are employed but were out of a job during the reference week, people who are employed but worked less than half their usual hours, and people who are unemployed but would like a job.

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Employee at Ottawa’s Amazon Fulfillment Centre tests positive for COVID-19

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OTTAWA — An employee who works at Amazon’s fulfillment centre on Boundary Road in Ottawa’s east-end has tested positive for COVID-19.

Amazon says it learned on April 3 that an associate tested positive for novel coronavirus and is currently in isolation. The employee last worked at the fulfillment centre on March 19.

Two employees told CTV News Ottawa that management informed all employees about the positive test in a text message over the weekend.

In a statement to CTV News Ottawa, Amazon spokesperson Jen Crowcroft wrote “we are supporting the individual who is recovering. We are following guidelines from health officials and medical experts, and are taking extreme measures to ensure the safety of employees at our site.”

The statement also says that Amazon has taken steps to further protect their employees.

“We have also implemented proactive measures at our facilities to protect employees including increased cleaning at all facilities, maintaining social distance in the FC.”

CTV News Ottawa asked Amazon about the timeline between when the company found out about the positive COVID-19 case and when employees were notified.

In a separate email to CTV News Ottawa, Crowcroft said “all associates of our Boundary Road fulfillment centre in Ottawa were notified within 24 hours of learning of the positive COVID-19 case.”

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Ottawa facing silent spring as festivals, events cancelled

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This is shaping up to be Ottawa’s silent spring — and summer’s sounding pretty bleak, too — as more and more concerts, festivals and other annual events are cancelled in the wake of measures meant to slow the spread of coronavirus.

The province has already banned gatherings of more than five people, and on Monday officials announced city parks, facilities and services will remain shut down until the end of June, nor will any event permits be issued until at least that time.

“This leaves us with no choice but to cancel the festival this year,” Ottawa Jazz Festival artistic director Petr Cancura confirmed Monday.

This was to be the festival’s 40th anniversary, and organizers announced the lineup for the June 19-July 1 event the day after Ottawa’s first confirmed case of COVID-19. 

The Toronto and Montreal jazz festivals had already pulled the plug because of similar restrictions in their cities, so Cancura said the writing was on the wall.

“We have a few contingency plans to keep connecting with our audience and working with our artists,” Cancura said.

People holding tickets to the 2020 festival can ask for a refund or exchange for a 2021 pass.

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