New OC Transpo initiatives aim to combat deficit and low ridership

Arya GundeSept 14, 2023

OC Transpo bus on Rideau Street through a cracked window (CHUO/Arya Gunde)


Last week, OC Transpo’s Tap And Ride initiative went live for all buses and LRT stations.

Tap And Ride allows riders to pay by tapping credit cards or electronic wallets when boarding transit. The initiative is part of a greater effort by OC Transpo to boost ridership back to pre-pandemic levels.

Tap And Ride reader on the right at Rideau Station (CHUO/Arya Gunde)


At the same time, OC Transpo has a projected $40.8 million deficit and an unfinished LRT project under tremendous scrutiny. To recuperate costs, OC Transpo plans to raise fares and cut services. “It’s the most mismanaged project I’ve seen,” says a passenger at the O-Train’s uOttawa station.

Over 300,000 people use OC Transpo daily, according to the agency. Service changes, route stoppages, and delays have recently become the norm for riders.

The lack of reliability has forced people to find other means of transportation around the city. As a result, OC Transpo ridership is still 30 per cent less than pre-COVID levels. Kari Elliot, Co-founder of Ottawa Transit Riders says transit advocates have had to purchase cars due to OC Tranpo’s inconsistency.

Out-of-Service bus (CHUO/Arya Gunde)


This issue faces further controversy as cities in Ontario are not allowed to run deficits.

During COVID, Ottawa had help from higher levels of government to fund OC Transpo’s operational costs. The assumption this aid would continue created a $39 million hole in OC Transpo’s budget.

The company now has to strategize frugally since neither the Ontario nor the Federal government has agreed to keep paying for the additional expenses.

On this, Elliot says, “We have a new rookie mayor who told people he was going to hold the line regarding tax increases…he seemed to imply that he was expecting some money to come from upper levels of government, and that didn’t happen.”

“We’ve dug ourselves into this hole,” says Barrhaven East Coun. Wilson Lo, a member of the transit commission.

He says he’s hopeful for the future, citing OC Transpo’s plans to create new bus routes more in accordance with the city’s new subsections and people’s travel patterns.

St. Laurent Bus Terminal (CHUO/Arya Gunde)


When asked about the LRT, he is confident that the relationship between the builder, Rideau Transit Group, and OC Transpo is rejuvenating under the new mayoral administration.

Both parties settled opposing lawsuits earlier this year. However, the details of the settlement are being kept confidential.

“I don’t think [The Public Private Partnership Model] is a bad model, where I think we need to improve upon the process, is the relationship aspect as well as the contract itself,” Lo adds.

The LRT’s Trillium Line is set to open in October. Many Ottawans remain pessimistic about the date since the delay in the line’s opening has passed over a year. The Eastern and Western extensions to the Confederation Line are still two-to-three years out.

The future of reliable public transport in Ottawa hangs in limbo between OC Transpo’s efforts to increase ridership while also cutting costs. For the many who rely on public transport to get to work, school, and other essential places, OC Transpo has more than dropped the ball. OC Transpo’s new initiatives attempt to gain riders’ trust back, but the road (or rail) ahead is a long one.


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