Today the Société de transport de l’Outaouais (STO) presented their plans to build a tram between Ottawa and Gatineau to Ottawa City staff and Council members

I requested an update on the STO’s study at the Transportation Committee in the fall of 2019.  Now that it was made public, I will be asking the Chair to ensure this item is added to a future Transportation Committee agenda this year.

I want to first thank STO and the City of Gatineau for conducting a study that looks into improving transit between Ottawa and Gatineau, as it highlights some important issues and opportunities for both cities. Here’s the STO’s Complementary Study Public Transit System in Gatineau’s West End

As per STO’s plan, the tram would run on the Portage Bridge, which is and will continue to be an important STO bus corridor to connect to the LRT at Lyon Station. This is significant as the STO is transititioning its routes off of Rideau and Wellington streets to properly connect to our city’s LRT transit at Lyon Station.

The objective of this plan would be to improve infrastructure and transit connections between these two cities.

STO’s reasoning for these plans focussed on the needs of Gatineau residents that currently commute to work at federal government offices in the downtown core. The statistics presented accounted for significant future employment growth in these offices in the core, yet recent signs have shown that these employment nodes are changing. This includes many departments, such as DND and RCMP, that are moving a large number of their employees outside the core (in this case by relocating their offices further west).

It seems like some parts of this plan are inconceivable and not fully thought out. It is clear that we need to not only allow consultants and staff to look into this matter, but also, to structure a public elected official governance table. It is important that these plans account for current growth and employment trends and that the measures implemented benefit all stakeholders, including the residents of Ottawa.

I argue that traditional employment nodes in the core of our city are in the midst of an important transition.

As an example, the GCcoworking pilot project spearheaded by Public Services and Procurement Canada has created 385 workspaces in five sites across the National Capital Region. These office spaces are in Kanata, Centretown, Orleans, Gatineau, and Gloucester.

Another point to be made is regarding COVID-19. STO has not addressed any potential changes or trends that may immerge from this period of physical distancing. It is my belief that workplaces and employment trends will shift in favour of work-from-home flexibility, which will impact commuting trends.

I believe that short-term transit solutions need to be developed alongside long-term solutions in order to improve transit while larger projects are planned, built, and made usable, in order to provide continual improvement for all transit users throughout the process.

Building a tram is a long-term solution that is expected to last at least 10 years. I have concerns with the use of the Portage Bridge, integration with public investment in LRT, and the land use impacts proposed (Wellington or Sparks). Additionally, short-term solutions need to be considered and implemented.

My suggestions are:

  • Establish an elected official governance table to meaningfully engage in connecting the LRT, bus, and tram. This would help with the following:
    • Issues with using Portage Bridge (only)
    • Issues relating to important bus service between Ottawa and Gatineau via Portage Bridge (today-connecting to Lyon LRT station)
    • Issues with use of Ottawa streets by STO (buses) and of OC Transpo buses (in Gatineau)
    • Issues with use of Ottawa Streets by proposed STO Tram (Wellington or Sparks)
    • Issues with growth, employment nodes, and ridership
  • Increase multiple-station integration between the STO Rapibus and OC Transpo (interim options). This would mean:
    • Creating STO or OC Transpo connections to Lees station in order to increase access to East-End employment areas (and for East-End residents in Ottawa to connect quickly from the LRT to the Rapibus)
  • Consider an extension of the Trillium LRT into Gatineau as an complimentary step (to increase multi-station integration). This would include:
    • Considering the sale of the Prince of Whales Bridge to the City of Ottawa (the City of Ottawa already owns land on the Gatineau side of the Ottawa River) to accelerate complementary connections. Doing so would:
      • Streamline integration of O-Train LRT phase 2 investments to Rapibus station (Bayview LRT connections, Future Airport Link)
      • Increase connections to Federal employment nodes in Gatineau for Ottawa residents (Chaudière et Du Portage areas)
      • Increase connections for Gatineau residents to Ottawa Airport

Technical Briefing: STO Presentation – Background Information

STO – Frequently Asked Questions

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