The human impact of OC Transpo failings
People & Places

The human impact of OC Transpo failings

While the pandemic has changed the concept of a traditional workday, and far fewer people are using public transit daily, that doesn’t mean we should forgive and forget the failings of OC Transpo. After all, some people can’t work from home, and some of those people rely on public transit. The failures witnessed by transit users — and anyone who pays taxes into a system that supports questionable partnerships and cloudy approval processes — are worth remembering. Here, we share three stories of adaptation collected in February 2020.

“It shouldn’t take five hours to do two things!”
Sally Thomas on Para Transpo

Sally Thomas. Photo by Remi Theriault

I volunteer at the Ottawa Hospital and Para Parity, a group that advocates for improving accessible transit. The other day, after my shift at the hospital, I had to go downtown to do some banking for Para Parity, and then I had to go to the grocery store. I left the hospital at 2:30 p.m. and didn’t get home till 7:30 p.m. It shouldn’t take five hours to do two things! 

First, my 2 p.m. ride to the bank didn’t arrive until 2:30. The bus went straight there, which was good — it’s a shared service, so it’s not always that you get a straight ride. I did my business at the bank, then the co-signer helped me across the street to the Starbucks because I had 40 minutes to kill. (With Para Transpo, you have to leave enough time for the late arrival of your ride and to do whatever task you need to do.) My pickup time was 4 p.m., and I didn’t want to wait at the bank, so I called to ask them to pick me up from Starbucks. They said no. I’d only crossed the street! So I had to call my friend to come and help me back across the street. Then I waited an hour for Para Transpo. I got to the grocery store, did my shopping, and then waited for more than an hour for my ride home. 

When I can, I use the OC Transpo and the LRT, which has been much maligned but is still a lot better than Para. Even when a bus is late, I’m waiting out there with others. It feels better to suffer with others.

“It’s better for the environment. If they were just on time!”
Lea Albrecht on wasted time, money

Lea Albrecht. Photos by Remi Theriault

I moved to Ottawa from Germany five years ago. I don’t actually have a car. Back home, we use public transit for everything. They’re always on time, so I’m used to something quite different than what I experienced this past winter. 

When the LRT started out, I had a lot of patience. I’m commuting from Little Italy to Sparks Street, so it’s really not far. Ideally, I would take the 85b to Pimisi station, then ride the LRT to Lyon station. But after LRT launched, the bus never arrived on time. Sometimes I waited 30 minutes, sometimes 40, or maybe just minutes. But it’s never the same. So I just walked. In -30 C or when there was a lot of snow, it was tiring. Sometimes I just walked to Pimisi, but when the trains arrived, they were often full. I usually had to wait for a few trains before I could board. On those mornings I would have to squish myself on the train with strangers, which gave me a lot of anxiety.

Related: OC Transpo idling policies, lack of garages weaken environmental benefit of public transit 

I would always be late for work, which is bad. Thank goodness I work with flexible people. I was paying $120 every month but not really using my transit pass. Often I would just use Ubers to get somewhere on time. I personally like public transit — it’s better for the environment. If they were just on time! In Germany, the trains are reliable and the buses are there when they say they will be there and you get your money’s worth.

“All the while, OC Transpo’s communications was missing in action”
Justin Kelly on helping stranded riders

Justin Kelly. Photos by Remi Theriault

This past winter I wanted to help people using public transit, so I launched a website and Twitter feed (, @OccTranspo). I would get lots of emails every day, and nearly 100 tweets and direct messages.

One time in late February, people were stuck on a train for nearly an hour. Like most events, it started off with a “something is wrong” moment; after a few emails and the Twitter community pouring in information, we eventually pieced it together. In this case, it was an immobile train. After it was spotted, I got in contact with someone on the train and got to listen in as they waited — 50 metres away from Blair Station — for over 30 minutes. I was on my phone all evening at home trying to put it all together, to help get people the latest information — and help get them home. All the while, OC Transpo’s communications was missing in action.