O-Train travelling light

By Cheryl Kawaja

Although the O-Train is only carrying 17 per cent of its capacity, OC Transpo officials say they are pleased by the public’s acceptance of the new service.

“Everybody is really satisfied with the service,” says Mario Peloquin, manager for light rail.

OC Transpo initially expected up to 6,400 passengers a day, fuelled by curiosity and free fares between October, when the service started, and December.

But in January only about 5,000 passengers per day used the new light-rail service.

“We did experience a decline in ridership,” Peloquin says. “We expected the numbers to go down a little bit.”

The trains can hold up to 285 passengers per trip and run 104 trips a day for a total capacity of about 30, 000 passengers a day.

That means the trains are carrying about a sixth (16.6 per cent) of their potential capacity .

Peloquin says he can’t say what this means financially. “We don’t have a financial goal for the train. There’s no revenue target because it is a pilot project – to see if people like it, if they want it.”

David Jeanes, spokesman for Transport 2000 Canada — a group that promotes environmentally sound transportation alternatives — says he doesn’t think the O-Train is making money. He points out that most public transportation routes in the city turn a profit.

The $26-million O-Train was $2 million over-budget. The train runs north-south from Bayview station near LeBreton Flats to Greenboro Station at South Keys. Commuters pay the standard $2.25 fare for bus or train and are able to transfer between both.

About 70 per cent of passengers using the O-Train are commuters going to work or school, according to a survey released in January by OC Transpo,

Peloquin says he now expects the numbers to stay constant at about 5,000 a day.

That’s not good enough for Jeanes.

“We think the numbers are reasonable given the level of service but they could be much better,” he says. “The main thing is there has to be better service on evenings and weekends and better publicity about it.”

At the moment the trains run every 20 minutes. Jeanes says above all, “they need to get the trains operating at the planned frequency – four times an hour.”

Peloquin says that although the trains were originally going to run at 15 minute intervals, OC Transpo decided to run them every 20 minutes because the trains need to travel slowly at some crossings and the slower speed reduces noise level.

He says if the trains were to run faster – four times an hour – the tracks would have to be brought up to speed. Faster tracks he says would cost about a million dollars.

Overall, Jeanes says he’s happy the service is finally here. “People are finding that it is very reliable and not effected by the weather.”

Peloquin says a study started this month investigating the possibility of more light rail tracks in the city – – something Jeanes says should have been looked at long ago.

“We really are wasting time if we don’t get started.”

“Money is the problem,” OC Tranpso commissioner and city councillor Clive Doucet says.

The upcoming study will examine various possibilities for expansion, Doucet says. Declaring that he was very pleased with the first few months of the O-Train,

Doucet said he would like to see more light rail if it makes financial sense.

The pilot project phase of the O-Train will continue until April of 2003.

So far, Peloquin says, he considers the project to be a success.