OC Transpo’s planned overhaul of bus routes has been having a bumpy ride since being announced by the city.

During the Nov. 14 meeting of the Transit Commission, many community members voiced their concern about the disruption the biggest change in bus routes in a decade would bring.

“This isn’t going to make transit attractive to people … this isn’t going to help meet the goals of OC Transpo,” said Nick Grover from Free Transit Ottawa.

The transit service has struggled with reliability, delays in the opening of the Trillium Line (2) of the LRT, and financial concerns arising from the extension of the train, coupled with ridership that remain stuck below pre-pandemic levels.

Despite growing money woes, OC Transpo General Manager Renée Amilcar told the commission the route review is about improving service. The changes are expected to save the service about $10 million, money that will underpin Trillium Line operations. The city has also raised fares 2.5 per cent fare starting Jan. 1.

“This is not about cost-cutting but all about creating a sustainable network that meets current customer needs and service demand,” Amilcar insisted.

“With the optimized bus network and the launch of O-Train Lines 2 and 4, customers will see a range of improvements, including improved connectivity between communities, faster travel times, more connections to community destinations and changes to routes where ridership is low,” she said.

This slide shown during the Ottawa Transit Commission meeting Nov. 14, showing some of the bus route changes and the connections to the LRT and O-Train.

The Bus Route Review Report was designed to “examine and confirm transit service planning principles, [and] determine network design changes related to the opening of the Stage 2 O-Train extensions,” the commission was told.

The review outlines a plan for buses and the LRT that would see the elimination of 74,000 service hours per year and the loss of many 200-series Connexion Routes all done by the spring of 2024 when service is to finally start on the north-south Trillium LRT line. 

More than a dozen delegates, transit riders and stake holders were on hand to express concern.

“People don’t trust the service,” said a representative from Seniors for Climate Action Now (SCAN!), adding that indirect routes and farther walking distances to stops will not help.

“We will have to go farther, take longer and do extra connections,” said Brent Manuel. “Will it be accessible?”

Many councillors echoed concern about accessibility including Deputy Mayor Glen Gower, who said the loss of routes could make transportation more difficult for those with physical disabilities, those with mental health concerns, and those “who have trouble getting out.”

Some councillors were surprised by the short timeline for considering the changes. When asked when bus route decisions have to be final, transit planning director Pat Scrimgeour said that because of the amount of work that has to be done between now and the implementation of the plan, work on the changes will begin next week.

Counc. Riley Brockington told the meeting that he had only just begun asking community members about the proposed change this month and was displeased with the short time window allotted for community discussions.

“I would rather we take the time to implement this well then go through a process that the public just thinks is smoke,” said Brockington.

The route review began in January with consultations at in-person meetings, interviews with drivers and staff and more than 8,000 online submissions from the public. OC Transpo says it will communicate the changes to riders over the next few months through a public education blitz.