Gas tax program delivers more buses

Jessica Kenny, Centretown News
An articulated bus pulls into a stop on Rideau Street. Ottawa is receiving $33.7 million for public transit.
Centretown residents may notice more articulated OC Transpo buses on their streets in the coming months as Ottawa is set to receive $33.7 million for public transit improvements this fiscal year.

The funding was announced on Nov. 13 as part of Ontario’s Gas Tax Program, which aims to ease traffic congestion and reduce air pollution in Ottawa and elsewhere across the province by getting more people out of their cars and onto public transit. 

“Each bus removes about 40 cars for our streets, so I think the addition of articulated buses is a step in the right direction,” says Ottawa Centre MPP Yasir Naqvi. 

Naqvi says each new bus keeps 25 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions out of the atmosphere each year, adding, “it will make our air quality much better”
Ottawa is being given the second largest share of the $321.5 million allocated to the Gas Tax Program this fiscal year. 

Only Toronto, at $162 million, will receive more money for public transit upgrades. 

In 2013, the provincial government renewed the program for 10 years, committing to an investment of about $28 billion in cities and municipalities across Ontario over the decade-long stretch. 

“Having the gas tax as a permanent and predictable funding mechanism has allowed our transit planning to be both better and more forward-looking, which is to the great benefit of the people of Ottawa,” says Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson.

Watson says that public transportation is the logical next step in making Ottawa more efficient.
“We can’t expand the streets anymore to accommodate cars,” says Watson. 

“We have to encourage more people to take bus service coming in and going out of the downtown core.”

Mona Monkman, the city’s deputy treasurer, says the city’s transit plans include committing 41 per cent of the Gas Tax Program’s funds in the next four years to the development of a light rail system. Many of the system’s largest stations will be in Centretown.

Monkman says the remaining 59 per cent of Ottawa’s Gas Tax Program funds may go to purchasing new articulated buses and refurbishing old buses and stations
 Decisions for where funding will be specifically allocated have not yet been made.

Watson confirmed that a portion of the funds will go to purchasing new Para Transpo buses, which provide transportation to people with disabilities.

“The buses we have now are quite old,” says Watson, “so we want to make sure that we get busses that are more comfortable and helpful to people with disabilities.” 

Naqvi says adding more articulated buses would help many of Centretown’s small businesses continue to grow. 

“One of the barriers for businesses to thrive is the current lack of parking,” says Naqvi, “so if you have good public transit, you will allow for people from other parts of the city to come to the downtown core more easily.”He adds: “This will stop people from saying ‘I’m not going downtown because parking is a mess.’ ” 

According to a 2013 document from the City of Ottawa entitled Working in Downtown Ottawa, approximately 98,000 people work downtown. In 2012, 48,200 people lived in Centretown, which encompasses a significant part of the downtown area, according to the City of Ottawa website.

Naqvi says that since many non-residents of Centretown drive into the area daily for work, traffic is consistently slow in the downtown core for everyone. 

“More buses and routes will give the opportunity for people that do not live in Centretown to be able to leave their cars behind and take public transit,” Naqvi says. “That will make our neighbourhoods that much more livable.”
In the coming weeks, OC Transpo is set to finalize plans for the $33.7 million they just received.