Fast, efficient transit is an important service for suburban communities such as Barrhaven. Many of us depend on OC Transpo to get us to work, special events or across town to visit friends. Today we feature a guest post from Barrhaven resident Mark Johnson who is a citizen commissioner on the City of Ottawa Transit Commission. His post explains his role as citizen commissioner, and provides an useful overview of the transit services available to Barrhaven residents.
The Voice of Barrhaven on the City of Ottawa Transit Commission
By Mark Johnson, citizen commissioner
With the ever-expanding OC Transpo service to our community here in Barrhaven, having one of our own on the City of Ottawa Transit Commission becomes more and more important. I am pleased to be filling that role on behalf of my friends, family, colleagues and neighbors and am humbled to be able to apply my experience, enthusiasm and expertise in this unique public service opportunity.
What is the Transit Commission? In essence, we serve as the de facto Board of Directors of OC Transpo. We are usually not involved in the day-to-day operations of the organization; rather, we set strategic policy and planning, review and approve budgets and procedures, and ensure steady, forward-thinking governance to make sure you can continue to depend on top-notch transit service as you ride the bus or O-Train for work, school, shopping or even just to explore our beautiful city.
Under the leadership of Mayor Watson and City Council, the city’s transit authority underwent a change four years ago whereby citizen representatives were added to the mix. In total, there are twelve members of the Commission: eight city Councillors and four citizen representatives, of which I am one. The citizen members are selected through a competitive process similar to that of a job – with an application, screening process, in-depth interview(s), etc.
The idea of citizen commissioners is to add an additional/wider perspective to the Commission, as well as capacity and representation that may be useful. I brought representation as a federal public servant, as a part-time post-secondary student, and as a resident of Barrhaven – all areas of representation that were not previously reflected at the Commission table. Through regular communication with citizens across the city – both by email and via Twitter @Commish_Johnson – I have done my best to bring forward these voices to the Commission while retaining a broad, open-minded and strategic perspective for the city as a whole. As was noted by Mayor Watson, citizen commissioners were added to provide outside expertise and insight from “people who understand the system and some of the frustrations of it.” I have many years of experience serving on boards in the not-for-profit sector, and have also been a daily transit rider for nearly nine years – almost entirely while living in Barrhaven – and know the bus system very well and can identify with the desires and concerns of my fellow riders.
I volunteered for this position (it’s purely a public service – there is no pay involved here) because I greatly appreciate public transit and the key role it plays in our city, especially as someone keen to leverage the economy-environment intersection. Being a commissioner involves a great deal of reading, research, and requires knowledge of key transit issues at the municipal, provincial and federal levels. Given that I joined the Commission at mid-term (due to a resignation), there was definitely a steep learning curve but I believe I met the challenge!
Having grown up in a rural area, I was overwhelmed when I first moved to Ottawa to find that I could get anywhere with just one low transit fare, and could spend my commute reading, talking on the phone, sleeping, etc. instead of stressing over the traffic jams I was accustomed to. I believe in making our great transit system even better and am pleased that I can bring the voice of Barrhaven, the federal public service, and students to the Commission, while talking transit with residents across our city.
I understand the realities of life in suburbia. I know that transit service is not an option for everyone. As an example, for me, at the time of day I go to work, taking the bus is no longer a trip than driving (we all know the traffic getting out of Barrhaven at rush hour). I love having the transit option virtually at my doorstep. However, for those who work irregular hours, or work in more remote locations or those less served by transit, I know taking the bus may not fit perfectly (or at all) with the commute. However, whether you are a user, occasional user, or non-user, we all benefit from public transit. We need not remember any farther back than the transit strike five years ago to know the melee that is the City of Ottawa when it is without transit.
Public transit is proven to boost local economies, create jobs, and reduce the frequency of traffic jams. Look at Toronto’s economy, for example, which takes an annual hit in the billions of dollars due to their frightening level of congestion. And think of the improved air quality by virtue of 90 or so people travelling on a bus versus in their own separate cars – and multiply that to cover the hundreds of thousands of rides taken each day. Transit, without question, benefits all of society.
I am very pleased that the City of Ottawa is moving forward with light rail. If you work in or commute through the downtown, you’ll know the logjams that are present each day on Albert and Slater. Those streets are at absolute capacity during rush hour, and with a growing population, the city’s transit needs will only continue to grow. This is why building LRT just makes sense, and is a wise investment in long-term transportation planning. LRT, given its right of way and access to tunnels that are being built, will result in a quicker, smoother and more punctual transit experience. Especially when LRT is expanded out to Baseline Station and down to Riverside South during Phase 2, commuters from Barrhaven will have several options to reach all corners of the city in a rapid fashion.
In case you are unfamiliar with Barrhaven’s transit service, I am pleased to provide a quick overview. The past couple of years, in particular, have seen massive transit changes in our community, and we are now served by three frequent rapid transit bus routes – also known as the “90 series”. From Marketplace Station, right beside the Loblaws at Greenbank and Strandherd, you can access route 95, which is the city’s most frequent bus route. Take it to get to Algonquin College, the O-Train, downtown Ottawa, both Via Rail stations, and even Place d’Orléans if you’d like to visit the east end. Route 95 stops at Longfields Station and Fallowfield Station before leaving Barrhaven. From Marketplace Station, you can also take route 99, which heads east, crossing the Strandherd-Armstrong Bridge, and is your connection to South Keys and area, as well as the Ernst & Young Centre. You can also catch the O-Train via route 99, at the Greenboro Station stop, which helps students at Carleton University get to their classes.
In east Barrhaven, at Nepean Woods Station at Strandherd and Woodroffe, you can catch route 99 heading either west towards Barrhaven Centre (Marketplace) or east towards Riverside South and South Keys. You can also catch route 94, which starts in Riverside South and goes through Barrhaven along Woodroffe, to Fallowfield Station, and from there parallels route 95, so it goes to Baseline Station, up through Lincoln Fields to the downtown and Via Rail Station. In the east end, route 94 ends at Millennium in South Orléans. I frequently use route 94 to get to work and school, and find it to be highly efficient.
Across Barrhaven, there are also express routes (the 70-somethings) that run during rush hour to go downtown in the morning and back here in the afternoon. If you work near Baseline Station, Westboro, Tunney’s Pasture or downtown, these routes are ideal and typically get there faster than the 90-series routes, which have more stops. You of course always have the option of the 90-series buses, but the benefit of the express routes is that they begin right in our neighborhoods, so chances are you have one not too far from your house. They cut down on the need to transfer for those residents who do not live near the 94, 99 or 95 routes.
You can also choose to “Park and Ride” by leaving your vehicle at one of Barrhaven’s three convenient Park and Ride lots. The one at Strandherd Station (near Sobeys) tends to fill up but there is always lots of space just down Strandherd Drive over at Nepean Woods Station (at Woodroffe), as well as at Fallowfield Station.
Additionally, there are a number of “local” routes that run within Barrhaven and beyond. These are less frequent routes but which typically run 12-14 hours a day, every day (except perhaps Sundays and holidays). Route 170 serves West Barrhaven and connects to Barrhaven Centre and Fallowfield Station. Route 173 serves southwest Barrhaven, largely between Strandherd and Malvern and west over to Tartan and Strandherd. Route 171 serves Central Barrhaven, mostly between Greenbank and Woodroffe and down to Berrigan. Catch routes 171 and 173 at the Fallowfield or Marketplace Stations. Route 176 serves southeast Barrhaven, beginning at Barrhaven Centre, and then leaves Barrhaven via Merivale Road to connect to Hunt Club, Baseline Road, Carling Avenue (Westgate) and up to Tunney’s Pasture. South of Strandherd, routes 177 (Stonebridge West) and 175 (Stonebridge East) are what you’re looking for (departing from Marketplace Station), and looking even further south, you can take route 186 from Marketplace Station down to Manotick (peak periods only). For more information on these routes, and to view maps, please visit www.octranspo.com.
Even if you’re not a regular transit user, the bus can be a great option for you, especially if travelling with your family or to special events. Save on time, money and stress by taking route 406 to go see the Senators. It leaves Marketplace Station, passes by Strandherd and Longfields stations, goes through Fallowfield and then up and out towards the Canadian Tire Centre. As you will likely guess, I strongly recommend taking transit to Redblacks games. Unquestionably faster, cheaper and easier than driving, you’ll leave Marketplace, Strandherd, Longfields or Fallowfield stations and be at TD Place normally in about 35-40 minutes. Your fare is free when you possess a Redblacks ticket!
If you are not a regular user and do not have a PRESTO pass but are going to be using the bus heavily within the span of a day, go for a DayPass at $8.10 (available from the bus driver). And if it’s a Saturday, Sunday or statutory holiday, one DayPass lets your whole family (up to six people with a max of two over 13 years of age) travel all day! If you’re an occasional rider, you may opt to use “e-purse,” which means adding money to your PRESTO card and using it only when needed. Per-ride fare is $2.77 with your PRESTO card, and that is good for 90 minutes of travel anywhere you like in the city! To figure out how to get where you’re going, I highly recommend consulting the OC Transpo Travel Planner. This is a handy tool that makes using transit a snap. It can also be accessed via your smartphone.
I cannot overstate my gratitude for the fine transit service we have in this city. Yes, it could always be better, and we may look longingly at such cities as Oslo, Paris, Montréal, San Francisco and others that are leaps and bounds ahead of us with extensive subway and train networks and such, but we are definitely – and finally – moving forward to bring LRT to Ottawa and this week’s election results provide overwhelming backing for this progressive approach. There is light at the end of the “tunnel” and it’s a bright and prosperous light to be sure!
If you haven’t yet taken a ride with OC Transpo, why not give it a try? Depending on the time of day and your destination, it will likely take a bit longer than driving – but that need not be considered time wasted. Read a book, newspaper or magazine, phone up an old friend, relax and take in the views, or even grab a nap! I’m not exaggerating at all when I say I get nearly all of my course readings done while riding the bus. You never know what co-worker or old friend you might run into on transit! Studies show that people who take transit tend to be more fit and happier – perhaps because they do not have to deal with the stress of traffic congestion. With OC Transpo, kick back and let us do the driving.
Thank you for taking the time to read this column and I hope you’ve learned something new about how transit works in our community here in Barrhaven and across the city as a whole. If you have any questions, I am always at your disposal at firstname.lastname@example.org, or for a quicker response get me on Twitter – @Commish_Johnson. All the best for a safe and enjoyable autumn. See you aboard!