Ottawa traffic a perfect storm of events and incompetence
OCTranspo/Ottawa LRT derailment #2 Photo CBC
Ottawa is in the throes of a perfect storm of events and incompetence which could only be achieved by all levels of government working in tandem.
Thousands of workers who once took public transit to work have abandoned it in frustration. According to the public servant who shared this incredible story (with a request for anonymity), they have ironically reverted to driving their carbon-spewing cars to get to their desks, where they then cannot do their jobs.
Before then-Mayor Jim Watson launched the LRT in 2019, Ottawa City planners had over a century’s worth of successful transit projects to model. Montreal’s Métro; Toronto’s TTC; New York’s subway; or London’s “Tube” could all have served as studies in how to deliver effective urban rapid transit in a northern climate.
Instead, they intentionally designed a system which goes virtually nowhere, on oval wheels, and forces passengers to wait outside in the brutal Ottawa winter.
Anyone familiar with transit in the Greater Toronto Area can see that Ottawa built its train network backwards. Instead of running a line west to busy Kanata and east to established Orleans, Ottawa sent its first train south, to the sparsely populated but politically trendy campus of Carleton University.
(Imagine if Ontario had sent the first GOTrain went to Barrie, instead of the populous Durham and Mississauga Regions.)
Initially, commuters were able to avoid dealing with the triple-threat of bad geography, poor design and Ottawa weather because the LRT commenced “service” during the COVID-19 lockdowns. During the winters of 2021 and 2022, numerous LRT slowdowns and breakdowns had minimal impact on the hundreds of thousands of civil servants and others usually working in the capital’s core.
When these employees were sent home during the COVID lockdowns, they just fired up computers on their home internet and kept working. Very few even noticed at that time that OC Transpo had adjusted more than 100 bus routes, taking thousands of bus trips out of the downtown core.
Meanwhile, the City chose the middle of the pandemic to rip up major streets for repair, and those repairs are not yet done. In addition to the 1,000 licensed Taxis traditionally working, Ottawa legalized 10,000 rideshare vehicles to clog capital streets.
Most recently, Canada’s federal government decreed that all workers must abandon their home offices and return to their desks in government buildings.
Painfully, workers are now struggling to get to the office by driving their own cars rather than taking transit: imagine thousands of drivers attempting to get downtown in a city with very little capacity for private vehicles and even less parking.
The next brutal irony is what happens when they finally crawl into the office in a government building: there is not sufficient internet for them to do their job.
Just a few years ago, most office workers hadn’t used or heard of Microsoft Teams. With COVID, though, Teams became a staple in daily work. Now, Ottawa’s prolific use of Teams to conduct business means that most office infrastructure needs faster internet to cope with the added internet usage.
And so the piece de resistance of this whole, sad saga is that some workers have found they actually have to return home, in their own cars, in congested traffic, in order to get their work done.
Which is why the ten most frightening words in the English language may still be, “We’re from the government, and we’re here to help you.”