By Anca Gurzu
Commuters who travel across the Ottawa River to work may be one step closer to improved public transportation, after Ottawa city council passed a motion to propose a joint transit committee with their Gatineau counterparts.
“I think this is going to be a step forward,” says Rideau-Rockcliffe Coun. Jacques Legendre, who initiated the motion.
Bus congestion in Ottawa’s downtown and on Ottawa-Gatineau bridges is nothing new, as many people travel to work from one city to the other.
Although there are two municipalities, the two cities operate as one urban economy, Legendre says. This is why the two transit systems also need to be more integrated.
“[The transit systems] should reflect the reality of a large urban area,” Legendre says, adding there is nothing preventing the two cities from setting up mechanisms to work together.
The council’s decision comes after months of stalled collaboration between Ottawa and Gatineau on transit matters. At the beginning of last year the City of Ottawa, the National Capital Commission and the City of Gatineau began a joint study with the aim of improving transit links across the river.
A few months later, Ottawa requested a halt to the study until the mayor’s transportation task force completed its report. Although the report was filed in June, the study never resumed, as City of Gatineau officials expected it would.
Relations between the two cities did not improve, as Gatineau Mayor Marc Bureau accused Ottawa in August making unilateral transit decisions.
“We did it in a way that did not show a lot of respect to our partners in Gatineau,” Legendre says. “That is not a good way to work together, is it?”
This time, the City of Gatineau is open to Ottawa’s idea.
“We’re ready to discuss these [transit] aspects with the City of Ottawa and find a way to address the issue,” says Isabelle Fournier, spokesperson for Gatineau’s mayor.
David Jeanes, president of Transport 2000, a transit advocacy group, has been involved with the Ottawa-Gatineau transit issue for a few years.
He says a way to decrease bus congestion between the two cities would be to extend light-rail transit across the unused Prince of Wales bridge and into downtown Gatineau.
This might be one of the options Ottawa, Gatineau and the NCC will discuss as their joint study is now set to resume. Its exact start still remains undetermined.
Jeanes also says the collaboration between the two cities is slow and frustrating.
“It’s almost like the City [of Ottawa] wants it to be slow because they like the status quo,” he says.
However, this motion’s approval is a good sign, if the committee is set up, he says
He says the matter will finally be up for public discussion.
“Cross-river traffic is the biggest factor in our downtown planning that hasn’t had a public consultation process,” Jeanes says. “The public has been totally excluded from this.”
Vivi Chi, manager of transportation and infrastructure planning for the City of Ottawa, says there is definitely a transit issue to address, but this will take time.
The study team needs to rejoin and the purpose of the study also needs to be reevaluated, she says.
“A lot of people have different ideas and reach rapid conclusions, but there is a process we have to go through,” Chi says. “We have no preconceived [transit] ideas.”